Review of The Braille Legacy, the new musical at the Charing Cross Theatre
Not, of course, to be confused with The Bourne Legacy, this new musical called The Braille Legacy is cut from a very different cloth to that instalment in the action film franchise. It's own legacy would seem to be those portentous late 20th century European pop operas, of which Les Miserables was the most successful, but also included such later disasters as Notre-Dame de Paris, Dance of the Vampires and Roméo et Juliette, which transferred from European premieres to variously curtailed runs in the West End or on Broadway.
It also, sadly, revives the unfortunate knack of London's Charing Cross Theatre to house some pretty terrible new musicals (witness shows from Legacy Falls and Dusty to Wag the Musical). Things felt like they'd been turned around here with last year's appointment of Thom Southerland, a wizard at musical reinventions at theatres like Southwark Playhouse, as artistic director. He revived his Southwark production of Maury Yeston's Titanic and followed it with a thrilling revival of Ragtime and the UK premiere of Death Takes a Holiday.
But now he comes badly adrift with this British premiere of a French-originated show that defeats even him and his usually inventive choreographer Lee Proud; the most moving thing about the show, in every sense, is the set, which is a rotating cube that is manually set spinning at regular intervals but fails to change our sense of place or space.
Characters at the school for blind students where it is mostly set are either confined to the forestage (the schoolkids, whose blindness is represented by blindfolds they wear, are kept there presumably for safety reasons so they don't bump into the set) or, for no reason at all except to provide staging variety, to prowl to the upper level of the cube. At one particularly absurdly motivated point, two characters who are talking (or rather singing) to each other, part and ascend two opposing staircases as they continue to do so.
There's an interesting story in here of how a young blind boy Louis Braille, longing for access to the world of literature, invents a method of raised dots that can be read by touch. But is is drowned in a story that involves schoolboy and adult teacher rivalries and even child abduction that are told only as melodrama. And when the show finally runs out of steam, it wraps itself up with narrative factual delivery to tell us how everything ended up.
The poor script is one thing. Some good tunes might have got us through, but even here composer Jean-Baptiste Saugray only supplies us a succession of ill-fitting samples from different genres: supposedly comic ditties and earnest anthems vie in turn for aural space, and although orchestrator Simon Lee makes them sound full-bodied, they're mostly bland and dull.
As translated by Ranjit Bolt, Sebastien Lancrenon's lyrics are even worse: a clunking, clumping parade of rhymes but without rhythm. In the circumstances, the cast keep admirably straight faces; there's not an awful lot they can do to save this stuff, but newcomer Jack Wolfe, in his professional debut since graduating from Mountview, does an appropriately earnest, well-meaning job as Louis Braille.