Based very loosely on the classic film All About Eve, this one-man play features Luke Bayer as a cast of many as drama club president Desmond Channing, in his junior year at the Ronald Reagan High School, unravels his inner Diva and makes a pact with … Kevin Kline?
His Eve is not a naive youngster with an ambitious heart who arrives to hero worship and imitate, but one Evan Harris who steals the girl he has crushed on for years and his place in the society show The Pirates of Penzance.
The setting is a cabaret club in the depths of Hell so think Hadestown or Faust, and Diva Channing is the main attraction, holding court at the top of the bill. He struts, emotes, and generally thinks of himself as top of the tree.
It’s a good idea on paper which manages to bring some calculated musical theatre references (a running Bob Fosse joke; the house band being Geri and Her Men) as well as a run of songs which bump along the plot.
Bayer handles the role switches with wit and elegance, but is at his best when playing up as the damaged Desmond, who lets his neediness for fame drive him to utterly gruesome actions, described with relish.
The book by Nora Brigid Monahan gives enough slack and change to the original plot to make it both fresh and familiar. On the composing side Alexander Sage Oyen’s music and lyrics showcase enough different styles (and key changes) to make this a joy for an actor to perform.
One clever update is that of waspish writer Addison de Witt, who becomes nervous and lisping Ally Hewitt, a pivotal classmate who is initially as invisible as Amos in Chicago, right down to apologising after her big number for “taking up our time”.
With ambitious staging, it is no surprise to see a couple of technical mishaps, but they were handled in character and with good nature. That’s equally true for some deliberate issues which serve to prove you’re watching a show within a show within a show within a show.
You may need to know the source material of Margo/Eve to fully embrace Diva – Live From Hell, and I was not totally on-board of us being in Hell, but there is an enjoyable show in here with a voice cameo from, at this performance, Claire Moore.
Directed by Joe McNeice, this is a tight one-act show at 75 minutes with impressive lighting by Alistair Lindsay (who also produces the show for Unusual Theatre Company) and creative choreography from Anna Hale.
Diva – Live From Hell is playing at the Turbine Theatre until 3 September: book your tickets here.
Image credit: Harry Elletson