“Welcome to Hard Times on Easy Street, a place where beautiful losers meet.” Just one of the memorable and whistle-able song lines that echo in your mind following this new musical by renowned writer Julie Burchill.

The story is straightforward, or is it? A young singer, Anna falls for an older gay man, the about to be married owner of a Brighton cabaret bar, Otto, who is lusted after by an older lesbian singer, Elle.  Then the near-villain Rory enters the scene threatening everyone’s livelihoods and relationships. The bouncer, Precious looks on wisely.

The ground floor bar of the Latest Musicbar acts as the perfect setting for the threatened cabaret bar, draped in red curtains and making use of the bar, the actors use the space in an interesting way. The audience are both onlookers to private conversations behind the scenes, as well as the immersive audience to jazz torch songs. And what torch songs they are!

There are so many gorgeous, well-crafted songs thrown up by this musical. The eponymous song Hard Times On Easy Street starts and ends the show and I’ll bet once heard, you’ll remember the tune weeks later whilst clicking your fingers Sinatra-style.  Other memorable tracks amongst a list of all winning songs are You’ve Changed, Never Is Your Name, Don’t Do It Here, I Can’t Drive, Nothing Personal, Speculate to Accumulate and Incorrigible You. You can see the enjoyment in the singing of these songs.

It helps that the composer and musician, Robin Watt who has melded jazz themes with musical theatre styles is sat squarely in the middle of the action, reading the Racing Post and wordlessly playing his jazz saxophone on cue. The cabaret bar’s musicians, Tim Wade and Mike Edmunds are like a friendly part of the furniture. And they all happen to play world class jazz!

Hard Times on Easy Street

What sparkles here as well as the songs are the witty one-liners peppered throughout the script, a nice counterpoint to the unusual jazz chords of the music. Burchill is well known for her barbed comments a la Dorothy Parker, and here the barbs are mixed with pure comedy.  Otto played by the debonair Matt Wright, is very convincing as a seen-it-all-before club owner. Matt plays the character with a light touch and his internal struggles are beautifully played behind a poker face.  The young ingenue Anna played by the sassy Temesis Conway in one of her first big musical roles has a wonderful air of naivety and a very fine voice. She shows a great emotional range from harbouring an innocent crush to being swept away by murderously passionate feelings. Elle played by Deborah Kearne offers a marvellous performance as a lusty and talented wisecracker, with her rich jazz voice and worldly portrayal.  Precious played by Joseph White, also in one of his first big musical roles, draws the audience in with his air of innocent charm, cool soul vocals and behind-the-scenes warm commentary.

A special mention to Seth Morgan, who played both the part of the villainous character, Rory as well as being the excellent Director for the musical (aka Darren Robinson).  As well as the sexual frisson supplied by Anna, Otto and Elle, Rory adds the dramatic tension to the play. If there was one tiny criticism, it is that the ending comes all too soon after the dramatic cliff-hanger is established.

But without giving away any spoilers, this musical deserves a happy ending! For it to develop further and to run and run, with the songs becoming as well-known as any of the musical greats.

Bravo Julie Burchill, Robin Watt and all involved in the premier of Hard Times On Easy Street. More please!!

5 stars.

Words and songs written by Julie Burchill with musical score composed by Robin Watt
Latest Musicbar
Brighton Fringe performances
May 21,22,23

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