Review: Americana (Concert Version)

On at Stratford East until 2nd April
Hungry Bitches Productions

4*

Americana burst on to stage at Stratford East last night with quite some force. Described as a ‘High School Musical’ and ‘All-American’ nightmare, the concert version of Hungry Bitches Productions’ new musical brings something truly phenomenal to the table. First staged at the Edinburgh Fringe in 2014, it’s been on quite a journey since then.

Set in a small town in South Carolina, we follow the love story of David and Brody, and the lives of their friends, as they rally against the homophobic abuse fired at them from all angles and battle against the notion of ‘The American Dream’, which, as we see, is far from inclusive.

It not only has all of the ingredients essential to any hit musical, but wears its heart on its sleeve with bold statements and clear cut politics. It’s incredibly current, and packs in a great deal of themes and issues I imagine many of us feel passionate about.

The show, directed by Matt Reynolds and written by Gez Mez, was delivered by an immensely talented cast, so much so we totally forgave the very occasional accent slip.  Jackson [Sienna Sebek] is a well rounded protagonist and a refreshing break from the Mean Girls trope, or the Elle Woods-eque types us 90s kids grew up with. Jackson’s final speech on freedom and her dream for a better America had guts and nerve and fired up my own aspirations to be a little more courageous in my political pursuits.  It took a while to warm to a couple of the leads, but by the time the group of queers, misfits (whatever you may call them) came together as a tight unit, just before the interval, I was on their side and rooting for them. I was particularly fired up by the anarchy they burst in to the second act with; it was hard to sit still as they catalysed a want within me to get up and join in. For me Mouse [Lucy Edge] and Peaches [Ailsa Davidson]  stole the show. Both captivating performers, with great energy in solo and ensemble numbers. The two shone together on stage in the song Crystal Meth, which was one of my favourites. Davidson had a way of effortlessly casting her lines out with seemingly great ease, yet we found ourselves hanging off her every word. It’s an addictive score – I’ve been humming it all morning, with songs you could both crazy dance around you bedroom to, or chill out and relax with. They had me hooked, I want to know where I can get the soundtrack!

At times the story felt a little slow between songs, it seemed like we got quite a way through without covering much ground. Whilst the story lagged a little, the show was successful in opening a vivid window in to this small American town, with all of the usual high school tropes present and correct, but the characters that would usually be on the sidelines forced in the roles of the protagonists, which was satisfying to say the least.

The show came down to a standing ovation, I’ll confess, I cried in the curtain call, moved by both the story, and the synchronicity of the anti-LGBT law in North Carolina last week; it’s highly relevant, work like this is so important always, but especially now.  It’s colourful, crude, bright and gorgeously unapologetic. Hungry Bitches are no doubt headed somewhere wonderful with this show, so try to catch it if you can, if not only so you can say you were there when it all started!

© @AmieAmieTay 2016

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