Musical comedy is a style that can flit from the inspired to the mundane in the tinkle of an ivory, making it being very much a love-hate thing, a cliché that’s as equally well-worn as many a comedy song. For some, musical comedy is treasured, the making of superstars like Tim Minchin, Bill Bailey and Flight of the Conchords, not to mention the more offbeat stylings of David O’Doherty or John Shuttleworth. But it’s also a genre that has its fair share of knockers, a place for OK comedians to hide behind their OK guitar strumming. Be that as it may, the Musical Comedy Awards, now in its 4th year, has had its fair share of success stories and on tonight’s showing at the Bloomsbury Theatre, there are still plenty of comics ready and able to take it to interesting new places.
First act Rachel Parris could well be one of these performers. Clearly a gifted musician and with an impressive singing voice, she certainly dispels any ideas of musical comedians lacking genuine musical talent. Her jokes feel a little reliant on pull-back-and-reveals but it’s a minor quibble of an otherwise very strong 10 minutes. She’s a great start to the show and wins 2nd place in the competition.
Bob and Jim are a likeable cockney geezer duo, decked out in matching blazers, ties and pork pie hats. Their apparent predisposition to intentionally bad gags gets a mixed response from the crowd and their ukulele-wielding-takes on various well-known musical hits are certainly fun, though perhaps lack the originality that the evening’s headliners, Frisky and Mannish, display.
The Tom Basden-like Rob Carter is something of an unknown to myself and the majority of the audience inside the Bloomsbury. However that is surely about to change. His opener ‘It’s Boring Being 12’ is without doubt the funniest number of the evening, so well-crafted and characterised (traits that were evident in all his songs); from that moment on he is the act to beat. He deservedly goes on to win the competition.
Clare Lomas enters to one of the most rapturous receptions of the night. She possesses all the musical and vocal skills to make her a confident and watchable performer but sadly lacks the material. We get a few fairly uninspired numbers about English singers using American accents and a vision of N-Dubz doing the Lord’s Prayer. If she can bring her comedy into line with her clear musical talent then she could become a very promising act.
Next up is the very different Tom Adams, arguably one of the more established acts on the bill and certainly the most original. Focusing more on song set-up, he is one of the best comedians on the bill, playing with musical comedy conventions to the point where he only actually performed one song. As refreshing as this is, it is perhaps his lack of songs that stops him walking away with the crown, athough he does go on to scoop 3rd place.
Closing the first half is James Rowland. The award nominee bounds onstage, with a big smile and a mop of scruffy yellow hair, wearing what appears to be a giant novelty hamster costume, something he never once references or explains. He has an abundance of energy and enthusiasm but unfortunately it all feels very jarring following on from the low-key tone, high-volume laughs we’ve just experienced with Tom Adams. He shouts, bellows and bashes his piano, packing his songs with sweary, slightly naughty punchlines – it feels like 10 minutes with a very excitable toddler.
In the second half, while awaiting the verdict, we’re treated to a pair of near faultless performances. Fair and Square had already been awarded the Best Newcomer at the Wilmington Arms-hosted award heats. A trio of wide-eyed lads who could barely be older than 18, they’re sharp, daft and at such a young age show quite frightening levels of potential.
They’re followed by the far more established Frisky and Mannish who, through their headline set, show just what can be done with musical comedy – clichés are firmly locked away in a stuffy old guitar case and hurled through a window. They’re unlike anything else, a vibrant whirlwind of pop-culture references and innovative takes on everything from Lana Del Ray to Destiny’s Child. They were former Musical Comedy Award competitors and, for some of the acts here tonight, they are an impressive marker for the heights and hilarity that can be reached through musical comedy.
Photos by Alex Brenner
(Originally published on spoonfed.co.uk)