Landor Theatre, Clapham, London
“Music can bring people together… it can also tear them apart.” So says the tagline of Best of Friends; a new musical with music, book and lyrics by Nick Fogarty.
Jim Ryan (Fogarty) and Mike Chariot (Aidan O’Neill) are the titular best friends who play together in a band sharing dreams of stardom. That is until Mike enters a TV talent show and abandons everything he holds dear – including his girlfriend Natalie Jones (Rosie Glossop) – in pursuit of fame and fortune.
Twenty years and a secret pregnancy later, we find Mike on a mission to promote up-and-coming talent, inevitably leading to his discovery of Natalie’s musical son Taylor (Alex James Ellison). Meanwhile Jim has turned to a life of crime and continues to harbour a grudge against his old bandmate.
As you’d expect from the talent show setting, Best of Friends’ musical numbers consist of upbeat and melodic pop tunes. They’re pleasant enough to listen to although it’s unlikely you’ll find yourself humming them the following day. At the heart of the show are some strong vocal performances from the whole cast, particularly O’Neill and Glossop’s energetic duet First Kiss and Ellison’s acoustic guitar ballad On Your Pages.
Best of Friends deals in the classic themes of friendship, love and music but falls short of saying anything truly profound. The plot is too predictable and the characters too generic to offer anything new. Surprisingly little time is devoted to the central friendship between Mike and Jim, which serves as a source of conflict whenever the plot demands it. Particularly jarring is one climactic scene in which a character goes from nought-to-nutter out of absolutely nowhere – a standoff that is never actually resolved.
Much of the story is devoted to the romances. Both stage couples share believable chemistry yet the characters mostly conform to type. Glossop’s vocal talent adds substance to Natalie although her role is restricted to “supportive girlfriend” then later “supportive mother.” We learn little about Taylor’s love interest Jodie (Sarah Goggin) other than the fact she’s “troubled” yet she still manages the all-important task of being – you’ve guessed it – a supportive girlfriend. Two pull-string dolls alternating between the phrases “believe in yourself” and “follow your dreams” would serve the same function.
Ultimately, it’s All About the Music, as reinforced by the title of Act Two’s opening song. The notion of “real music” is referenced throughout and the mercenary elements of the business are highlighted for comparison. In fact, Best of Friends itself was the victim of showbusiness murkiness. An earlier version of the show, titled The Golden Voice was scheduled to run last summer at the Arts Theatre, starring Darren Day, but was delayed many times due to promised funding not materialising, before it was ultimately cancelled. That this show exists at all, is a testament to Fogarty’s tenacity and (TV talent show buzzword warning) passion.
Best of Friends may not be anything earth-shattering but it has some solid performances, a few laughs and likeable pop music. If this sounds like your cup of tea then you’re in for a good night. If you rolled your eyes at the mention of TV talent shows then you might want to give it a miss.
Best of Friends runs until 10 May 2014. Visit www.landortheatre.co.uk for more.