Review - Bananaman the Musical at Southwark Playhouse
Broadway's newest musical hit is SpongeBob SquarePants, based on the late ‘90s television animated cartoon of the same name, and 50 years earlier none other than Hal Prince - one of the greatest of all Broadway directors - directed a now mostly forgotten Charles Strouse-scored musical It's a Bird... It's a Plane... It's Superman before going on at the end of the same year (1966) directing the original production of the now classic masterpiece Cabaret.
And of course Annie (now back in the West End at the Piccadilly) is also based on a cartoon strip, and that's one of the most divinely pleasurable of all Broadway kids musicals. So there is form and ambition to adapting well-known comic cartoons for the stage: as with jukebox shows, they sell title and character recognition.
But unfortunately Bananaman The Musical is a chaotic mess of a show. And after 2017 ended on a massive high with the UK premiere of Broadway's Hamilton, this homegrown entry launches 2018 on a mostly excruciating low with this stage version of the 1980s British-born comic book parody about a wimpy schoolboy (even his family name is Wimp) who transforms into a villain-slaying caped crusader whenever he eats a banana.
Turning a parody comic strip into parody of a musical a stretch too far, though. Writer Leon Parris burdens his show with simply too much plot, though it has to be recognised that a partisan audience did find it at times wildly funny. Parris does better with some perky songs that he has written both music and lyrics for, and these are engagingly performed, at least, by a hard-working cast. The ever-invaluable Jodie Jacobs, in particular, voices and manipulates the hand-puppet character of Crow with dexterity and wit. Mark Newnham as Eric, Matthew McKenna as his Bananaman alter ego, and Lizzii Hills as his devoted mother (and provider of duff sandwiches) are all as likeable as Marc Pickering and Carl Mullaney are dastardly as the villains.
Director Mark Perry, who is also the show's lead co-producer, doesn't so much reign in the show's excesses as indulge and expand them - it runs for over two and a half hours.
Bananaman Tickets are available now.
What the popular press said...
"Bananaman may seem trite to younger viewers who can’t lean back on nostalgia, but stick with it and the second bite offered by this new musical is a real treat."
Kate Wyer, The Guardian (three stars)
"Mal Hall’s musical direction flies better than Bananaman ever could. (In fact, the satire reaches fever pitch when Bananaman does finally ‘fly’, but we’ll leave spoilers at the door.) Strong scores fill every inch of this miraculously feel-good show."
Adam Bloodworth, Metro (four stars)
"Most of the time the musical really holds on to the spirit of the cartoon. With a bit of judicious peeling and chopping, it could be a really strong new British musical."
Tim Bano, The Stage (three stars)