The first thing to say is that it is much better to see this show in a proper theatre. Enjoyable as it was at the Landor Theatre on 1/9/2012, it becomes much easier to follow on a big stage where the crew can properly alternate between the backstage view and view from front of house. It also meant that production numbers such as “Thataway”, “Kansasland” and “A Tough Act to Follow” could get the space they need. It is a charming musical with an intricate plot that riffs on all sorts of musical theatre cliches and a clever score. It is hard to know how much of the lyrics were written by Ebb before his death but it is fun to speculate that the sharp and witty, offbeat numbers such as “What kind of Man?”, “He Did It” and “It’s a Business” came from his pen: they seem to have the same DNA as “Money”, “Cabaret” and “All that Jazz”.
It is a whodunnit but of course the detection only takes up a fraction of the stage time. It is a tribute to the “let’s put on a show” musical, an affectionate parody of musicals such as “Oklahoma” or “Calamity Jane”, complete with a fraught mother/daughter relationship as in “Gypsy”, a stage-struck detective, a warring husband and wife team as in “Kiss me Kate”, and a former star forced by circumstances into making a comeback.
As the lyricist-cum-star Georgie Hendricks, Carley Stenson has the unenviable job of having to demonstrate her stardom in a glorious ballad, “Thinking of Him”. Jason Manford is a revelation as the detective who solves the crime, fixes the show, reconciles the warring lovers as well as the mother and daughter, and at the same time romancing Niki Harris, the ingenue. His razor sharp comic timing perfectly brought out the wit and humour of the script. Samuel Holmes is wonderfully camp and catty as the director, who always wants to take credit for everything that happens, even the murders. As Carmen Bernstein, the co-producer and forceful mother, Rebecca Lock seems to be channelling her inner Judy Garland but you cannot fault the brassy way she tears into “It’s a Business”. I would also like to comment on the enthusiasm and enjoyment communicated by Martin Callaghan in the role of the backer, Oscar Shapiro. he seems to be having a whole load of fun, which is all the better for the audience.