One of the most anticipated shows of the season made its West End debut last night, in a star-studded event supporting a legendary cast-filled production. Guillermo Nazara reviews this new original music based on one the most successful realities in British television, to let us know if this sweet attempt has turned out to be a pie in the sky.
You are the boss of that dough. Just knead, smash it and fling it until it releases its full potential… And that’s all you need when preparing for a nice sausage roll… Oh, sorry – maybe I went too far… I just forgot this show is about sugary treats. My bad! Whatever the case, the thing is the announcement of a new musical inspired by a reality competition has left no one indifferent for the last couple of weeks – from the excitement of a few curious gamblers to the preconceived judgement of those who think such an idea could never be suitable for the stage. I guess they would have said the same when talked about dancing cats or a rock-singing messiah…
There is a point to this prejudice, though. And that’s that bakery and musicals are, in some way, enemies in origin. While the first relies on an inflexible recipe to make it work, musicals relying on formula (especially when that only encompasses a bunch of catchy songs) tend to fail resound-Viva Forever-ingly. But as Julia Child used to put it (yes, I’m aware that it’s her second quote after just one paragraph, but I’m not as smart as you think… I’m even better): “the more you know, the more you can create”. And for sure, the ones who have brought this piece to life, know well their arts and crafts.
Bake Off (I’m not going through the whole title) is a perfect example of what an easy feel-good show should be all about. A nice, uncomplicated story, with simple but engaging twists and turns – effortlessly bonding the audience with its characters through an expectable but highly amusing plot. With music, book and lyrics by Jake Brunger and Pippa Cleary (the guys certainly like having fingers in many pies), the whole piece is packed with extremely enjoyable songs featuring funny, sometimes sharp words set to a good-humored modern Broadway score (the Marc Shaiman influences are obvious, but well received).
Mixing Americana (particularly through the style of its numbers) with a hilarious though always friendly mock on British pop culture, its sassy light-heart writing is no doubt the main reason to come see a show that’s highly unlikely not to put an, if not permanent, definitely enduring smile on your face. With set, costumes and cake designs (yes, cake designs! are you really that surprised?) by Alice Power, the staging, though basic, makes a good use of the space – cleverly enhanced by Ben Cracknell’s lighting. An additional mention is fairly deserved by Tom Curran’s orchestrations, thanks to his astute management of a limited though potentially promising band – all in all resulting in a much intricate transporting instrumentation.
Directed by Rachel Kavanaugh, the cast is the other element in this production you definitely don’t want to miss on. Whether it be for the high standards of their performances or the legendary background carried by some of its members (seeing Claire Moore, John Owen Jones and Haydn Gwynne altogether might be the definition of a wet dream to more than a few), the chemistry and infectious energy displayed last night was, by all means, a triumph of show-making. Apart from the already cited, Scott Paige (as Jim) shines with light of his own through his amazingly natural comedic ability, well sustained by his fictional TV accomplice Zoe Birkett in the role of co-anchor Kim.
The Great British Bake Off is still in need of a slogan for its advertising. Maybe an option could be “the musical that shut some mouths and open another few…”. That could be problematic, couldn’t it? Well, how about, “the show that exploded on everybody’s faces?”. Okay, let’s leave it. And let’s just focus on the important thing, myself, and perhaps also the fact that, whether you like it or hate it, the show does work – fairly accomplishing what it’s suppose to bring to the party: a joyous evening jammed with cheers, laughter and maybe a few tears. In other words, it draws out emotions and, most importantly, entertainment. Sweet and tasty especially during its first act, this is certainly a treat you can gorge on without your sugar levels going too high – though you may go a bit saccharine.
The Great British Bake Off Musical plays at London’s Noel Coward Theatre from Wednesday to Monday until 13 May. Tickets are available on the following link.