A home listen to Frank’s Closet by Stuart Wood

A lively musical album which gets its own listening room love-in at the Cock Tavern, Kennington, on 10th August – Frank’s Closet was originally staged and recorded in 2009 and performed at Hoxton Hall.

Tickets: https://www.outsavvy.com/event/9900/franks-closet-listening-room-love-in

Background

“In what seems like a different age, Frank’s Closet was the off-West End summer hit of 2009. In three short weeks, this site-specific musical staged at Hoxton Hall, one of England’s last remaining Victorian music halls, sold out with packed houses and glowing reviews:

A dazzling, kitsch wonder: steeped in cultural history, hilarious, irreverent, triumphant’ – Time Out, London

In a time before gay weddings and Instagram, Frank’s Closet had to be seen to be believed; created by a group of talented theatre-makers collaborating around an idea that was original, timely and funny. We meet Frank, played by Donna King,  in a nod to Edwardian male impersonator, Vesta Tilley, on the eve of his gay wedding to Alan, played by Carl Mullaney.

Frank’s dilemma is he thinks he must give up his costume collection, dresses worn by some of the iconic divas of the last century, in order to fit into the hetero-normative expectations of marriage. In his fantasy world, as chairman of the music hall, he conjures up the powerful wisdom of the divas who once wore the dresses, all played by Mullaney, who steps through the closet doors and raises the roof in song and dance. The Gaiety Girls, Portia Emare, David Furnell and Debbie McGee act as the chorus.

Carl Mullaney’s ‘astonishing’ performance as the six divas who step out of the closet, including Marie Lloyd, Julie Andrews, Ethel Merman, Karen Carpenter, Judy Garland and Agnetha Fältskog from ABBA, was described by Time Out as ‘one of the most remarkable series of turns you’ll see anywhere.’”

What did I think of the recording?

This is an absolutely smashing show, with the recording now beautifully restored, and my thanks to Stuart Wood for sending me a copy through to review at home. The idea is right up my street, with some really snappy lyrics and backing vocal work.

The melodies are just on the right side of naughty with a strong hint of the music hall pit with a larger choral bent than you might expect.

Clear Out Your Closet is a particular piece of fun as the nervous Frank frets about his upcoming wedding day, and the chorus cheer him on. King’s vocals boast a strong range and power which also hark back to the male impersonators which inspire the character.

“It’s never been in the sun, lovey, only the limelight”, opens Boys of London which showcases Mullaney’s first diva, the incomparable Marie Lloyd. He has a lot of flair and great diction which really connects to the audience through his counting off of cottaging sites where the boys can be had.

When his Julie Andrews talks about being pretty and not being a freak, it is taking a musical theatre goddess and making her the queen of the tribe. It’s glorious and gorgeous.

I loved the ways the rhymes were so playful across this piece and I was left smiling from ear to ear, having had a really good time. This is a musical on a great scale, and I’m really surprised I haven’t come across it before. The name of Frank of course might make you think of the “sweet transvestite” in The Rocky Horror Picture Show but there are no real similarities or comparisons to be had.

Frank’s Closet is a plea for sexual equality from a time when gay marriage was still seen as unlikely, and, perhaps, before the rise of the more gender critical aspects of the trans debate. It is also a place to celebrate and be onself through embracing icons and identity.

If you know the divas Alan embodies, all the better – his Merman is note-perfect – but if not, you’ll still have a great time. Do go along to “listen in” at the Cock Tavern if you can. After all, as the recording was found at Stuart’s mum’s house during the pandemic, we have to celebrate its rediscovery!

What do you think?

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