Sunday, June 18, 2017

Review: LONDON CALLING, A MUSICAL Doesn't Connect

British punk rock invaded the U.S. during my formative years. The Ramones, Sex Pistols and The Clash started a movement that aggressively pushed back against the system and provided an outlet for the angst of an angry generation. Defiant in every way, from the sound of the music, to the topics it addressed, to the look of its bands and followers, it was the resistance, and it was exciting.

London Calling, The Clash’s third album, is considered by many to be one of the band’s greatest achievements. It is also the title of a musical that has been knocking around for the last decade, now being presented at the Hollywood Fringe Festival. Using songs by The Clash, it is the story of four bandmates who share a dream of making it big. According to the program it is not based on The Clash’s rise to fame but on the creative team’s (Peggy Lewis/writer, Mark Hensley/creator) own experiences of, “A youth spent playing in bands, living in squats and pursuing dreams…” 

It’s a retread of the frustrated musician story; nothing unexpected here. Unable to get a break, the boys eventually peel off into the traps of youth. “Get a job,” is a common thread as one goes to the army, one to jail, one to work for his snobbish girlfriend’s father, and one to London to try it solo. Each finds disillusionment with his choice until they all conveniently reunite to reclaim the dream.

As a longtime fan of The Clash, I really wanted this musical to succeed, but the ten years invested in creating it has not produced a strong, cohesive production. The program says, “The lyrics of the songs are the dialog, they propel the story forward…” Sorry, they don’t. In some cases they might, if you could hear them, but the show is run by a sound engineer from the house who doesn’t seem to notice his singers can’t be heard.

They are also singing to pre-recorded tracks, which feels disingenuous when you’re watching a show about a band if the audience never gets to see them perform. We’re meant to take them at their word when they say they are brilliant but they never actually play together onstage. Show us, don’t tell us. It’s much more powerful storytelling.

Missing too is a consistent artistic vision under Rod McLachlan’s direction; surprising since he is an actor with multiple Broadway credits and knows the drill. The actors wander around the stage sometimes relating to each other and other times speaking or singing directly to members of the audience without rhyme or reason.

L-R: Paul Holowaty, Sam Meader, Duane Asante Ervin, and Tom Conlan

The boys (Sam Meader, Paul Holowaty, Duane Asanté Ervin, and Tom Conlan) do bring a certain raw, ignorant charm to the piece and two punk rock dancers (Sarah Marquelle Kruger and Natalie Davis) add the brash cheekiness the music demands. Sean Smith is particularly compelling as Tom’s father, lending weight to an otherwise loosely-sketched production.

London Calling may appeal to die-hard fans of The Clash, and friends of those involved with the production will certainly be invested. In fact, the night I attended it was well-received by the audience. Unfortunately, I expected more.

June 17, 2017
Hudson Theatre
6539 Santa Monica Boulevard
Los Angeles, CA 90038
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