Bel-Ami, by Guy de Maupassant
a new musical adaptation by Alex Loveless
Creating a new musical is always an ambitious project and this world premiere, based on the 1885 novel by French author Guy de Maupasssant, is a zeitgeisty take on the media establishment even as today's tabloid journalists are lining up in the dock for their part in the phone hacking scandal.
Set in present-day London, George Dury (Johnny Fitzharris), is a homeless ex-serviceman returned from Afghanistan. Just when you think he's on the verge of a post-traumatic stress comedown he meets his former commanding officer Charles Forester (Andrew Bowerman), now a foreign correspondent for a popular daily tabloid, who gets him on board as a fellow journo.
From this typical 'jobs for the boys' scenario George works his way up the ladder, manipulating various powerful women with his lothario charms who are able to play the system and aid his success as he eventually finds himself editing the celebrity gossip column Bel-Ami.
Performed by students at London College of Music, University of West London, the production displays a wealth of young talent who sing the house down thanks to superb music and lyrics by Alex Loveless, who seems to use an unusual mishmash of 80s synth and modern pop as his reference points.
catchy music the fabulous cast finish in style. The final verdict: those who love their musicals will delight in such an inventive adaptation
Guy de Maupassants uncannily prescient novel Bel Ami receives 21st century spin-doctoring courtesy of Alex Loveless vibrant, electro-pop musical.
Rarely off the stage is the excellent Johnny Fitzharris, who almost single-handedly carries the entire show as the increasingly repugnant yet strangely likeable Dury. Fitzharris has the devilish charisma and stage presence and importantly the voice and acting chops to pull it off, and his performance is spellbinding.
Particularly strong in the supporting roles are the women unfortunate enough to become entangled in Durys life: Abigail Poulton as Madeleine, Shelbie Stuart as Clarice, Tessa Leake as Victoria, and Kathryn Kitchener as Suzanne. Of course, theyre all grotesque characters yet, as with Dury, theyre played with enough sass and vinegar that youre compelled to find out what happens to them, even if you dont sympathise with them a bit like watching Rebekah Brooks being dragged over hot coals.
Loveless edgy, pumping music definitely delivers. The most effective numbers are those involving the whole company the LCM ensemble is disciplined and taut, and time has clearly been invested in the chorus work.
At their best, the musical numbers are biting, satirical commentaries on modern life rarely do the words Sunni, Shia and Al Qaeda make it into musical theatre and the most ambitious numbers manage to concentrate and develop the plot, turning songs into entire mini-scenes. Love/Hate, for example, probably my favourite segment of the night, segues neatly from the death and funeral of Durys boss Forester to a wedding between Dury and Foresters widow, riffing on the theme of a Dies Irae.
No Going Back, a quintet for female voices, is also nicely realised, as is the hilarious Too Much Money, which gives Brett Jay-Davis a delightful spell in the spotlight. The lyrics are witty and contemporary (trial by media trial by Wikipedia ), and the book is peppered with delicious Dorothy Parker-esque bon mots.
Alongside director Chris Loveless, Anthony Whiteman keeps the action ticking along with his vogue-ing choreography the Phone Tap dance routine is inspired! and MD George Carters five-piece band, augmented with Andy Smiths programmed synth backing, deliver a real punch.
Expecting a strained, student interpretation of a 19th century novel, I was surprised by an edgy night of new music that, in my notes, I judged as lying somewhere between Chess, American Psycho and Evita. a thrilling, bold and wickedly amoral night out that showcases some of the next wave of musical theatre talent.
The BA Musical Theatre students of the London College of Music deal with racy scandal and socio-political themes, which one might think, would be beyond their playing ages as actors. However, under the vivid direction of Chris Loveless the actors plough through this rich material remaining engaging, professional and on the right side of the sassy humour in the show at all times.
Johnny Fitzharris as George Dury is seamless and whilst Dury is arguably a villain in the musical; using manipulation and seducing numerous women; he is not one-dimensional. What makes this character so interesting is that the audience can see Durys unwavering belief that he is inherently entitled to status and success and so the means he must go to make others fear him are just unfortunate collateral damages.
Similarly, this is mirrored in the female characters that initially appear wholly superficial and selfish but eventually are presented as chess pieces in the society in which they exist. There are some particularly strong female performers in the production. Shelbie Stuart is hysterical as the snooty bohemian Clarice with silvery vocals. She plays Georges first mistress in the show and gains our sympathy by the second act as her irrelevance to George becomes clearer. Equally as accomplished is Abigail Poultons performance as Madeleine, Georges wife. She portrays a complex and powerful woman whose dilemmas may be beyond her own life experience yet are played with vigour and skillful characterization.
What also works extremely well with such a young, vibrant cast is the modern score which features pop, rap, R&B, epic electric guitar solos and some superb lyrics which tie the story together. Some musical highlights include No Going Back sung by the female leads, Dont Question Me; a powerful solo from Fitzharris and Too Much Money; a lively and satirical ensemble number in the second act.
As a showcase piece for the students, this show really does have it all; comedy, pathos, some slick tapping and shuffling and exciting, fast paced scenes. Political points are cleverly woven in without being laborious and this makes the show both slick and topical. As well as this, the pinpointing of the artificiality of love as the punishment for these ambitious characters is very powerful. These factors combine to form a very impressive contemporary political musical, which has an underlying morality and a heart and soul.
Emily Mae Winters
Johnny Fitzharris plays the charismatic lead with strong vocals and a distinct stage presence. He has an animal lust for women, particularly women married to men in power. He falls for the wife of the newspaper owner and callously celebrates her husbands death. A nice touch is that the funeral scene seamlessly merges into their shot-gun wedding. This offers an insight into the callous attitudes and motivations behind marriage within this world.
The show is interspersed with a range of musical styles including dance, rock and RnB. The dance routines are well-choreographed by Anthony Whiteman and the recurring songs are catchy and rousing. The cast perform the songs, dances and dialogue excellently A shining light throughout this slick production is Alison Poulton, who plays Madeleine, the wife of the deceased newspaper owner, who is every bit as manipulative as George and equally besotted by power. Strong support comes from two of Georges other conquests. Tessa Leake was particularly amusing and Katherine Kitchener, represented a rare innocence in this world and shone vocally.
This is a contemporary take on power, greed and the medias relentless appetite for carnage at any cost. Id definitely get down to Charing Cross Theatre for this interesting, lively and very well acted musical.
Centring on the intertwined worlds of journalism and politics, Guy de Maupassants novel, Bel Ami, told of corruption, greed, immorality and hypocrisy at the highest level of public life. The original setting was France in the 1880s, but crossing the Channel and leaping forward to the 21st Century, it is remarkable how little of the story has needed to be changed and, with the Leveson inquiry and phone-hacking trials still hitting the headlines, it could hardly be more topical.
There are two alternating casts and, at this performance, the lead role of George Dury was played by Johnny Fitzharris; he attacks the part with supreme confidence, commanding the stage and belting out his big number, Dont Question Me, as if he really believes he could be the next Michael Ball. He may just be right.
The score by Alex Loveless is lively and varied, incorporating contemporary pop, a little rap and traditional musical theatre styles. He knows how to mix things up too, as when the show gets a little heavy in the second act, he diverts from the main narrative and throws in Too Much Money, showing MPs frolicking in their Caribbean playground. It is unusual in musicals for a single person to take on all three tasks book, lyrics and score and Loveless needs to be congratulated for this
Chris Loveless direction and Anthony Whitemans choreography are fluid and imaginative, performed on an uncluttered stage with minimal props. Most heartening is that their production shows a clear understanding of what is uniquely possible in the art form of musical theatre. As examples: trial by media is explained in a gem of a routine with two rival groups facing each other one (phone) tap dancing, the other performing a liberal shuffle; earlier a sombre funeral merges into a joyful wedding during a single song, the characters emotions seen to be equally shallow at each; and the corrosive effects of unethical journalism are demonstrated with the chorus waving their red tops as they sing Read All About it, creating visual images that endorse the cynicism of the lyrics.
Bel Ami is not the sort of of story from which we expect a happy outcome, but this production could well lead to several of them.
The world premiere of Guy de Maupassants novel Bel Ami couldnt have come at a more topical time. Delving into the murky world of journalism and politics Bel Ami churns up a story of corruption, greed, immorality and hypocrisy at the highest echelons of society. Originally set in the 1880s it is rather worrying how easily this story befits its 21st Century guise with headline ink still drying on reports from the Leveson inquiry and subsequent trials.
The lead role of George Dury was played spectacularly by Johnny Fitzharris who embodied the role incredibly well. Belting out tunes such as Dont Question Me with such a formidable force that it left you in no doubt as to his capabilities as a performer. The ensemble were fantastic and did well to set the scene creating brilliant moments to watch, such as the commuters journey and Too Much Money, showing MPs frolicking in their Caribbean playground.
London College of Music should be congratulated for this endeavour it is a brave undertaking to achieve what they have and the cast certainly gave it their all.
"What energy and professionalism by the cast of this musical on their opening night. The music was great and the singing by the cast was excellent. Surely some stars in the making."
|Final year BA Musical Theatre students from
London College of Music, University of West London, present a new musical by award-winning
composer and LCM alumnus Alex Loveless, based on the Guy de Maupassant novel Bel-Ami.
A contemporary take on celebrity, crony capitalism, press and political corruption, with a score including dance, rock and RnB, Bel-Ami continues LCMs tradition of developing new musicals.
Disillusioned former soldier George Dury joins the ranks of his friends newspaper, working his way up to become editor of the celebrity gossip column Bel-Ami. Manipulating his way into the highest echelons of British society by charming, seducing and blackmailing those who cross his path, he is rewarded with ever-increasing wealth and prestige. But his ultimate goal will always be power
Suitable for ages 14+.
|Listen to No Going Back
BEL-AMI Rehearsal photos by Jane Salisbury