This new musical by Boy George, which is performed in a basement dance hall that has been converted into a 350-seat theatre, is terrific.
It has music & lyrics by Boy George and book by Mark Davies. This is not a musical concerning Boy George as such, rather a show that tells the story of the 80’s music scene which saw the birth of the ‘New Romantics’, a phrase used to describe a wide range of bands and musical styles of the time.
The show follows Boy George from his humble beginnings living in a squat to becoming one of the most famous pop stars of the time, his drug addiction and subsequent re-habilitation. We meet his friends such as the extravagant Marilyn, the club entrepreneur Philip Sallon and other stars of this generation such as Steve Strange of Visage. However, this is not an exhaustive life story of Boy George, mere snippets! The main plot actually concerns a young man called Billy who leaves his Bromley home to search for fame. In London he meets Philip Sallon and through him is introduced to Boy George and the New Romantic scene. It is here that he meets and falls in love with Kim. However, true love never runs smoothly and so we have the typical boy meets girl, boy falls out with girl and boy makes up with girl. This show though is more a revue of the 80’s and the flamboyant personalities of the time, characters far to colourful to be captured by a simple story.
Most of the music is new with only a few of Boy George’s old hits contained within the show, and George has certainly written some catchy and witty new songs. But it is the characters that are Taboo’s appeal and they are very realistic. Euan Morton and Mark McGee are the spitting images of Boy George and Marilyn respectively. In fact, I cannot believe that only a couple of weeks ago I saw Mark McGee in Starlight Express playing Rusty and now here he is dressed up as a beautiful ‘woman’, now that’s what I call a versatile actor!! Luke Evans as Billy and Dianne Pilkington as Kim perform admirably, and there is a terrific performance from Mark White playing Petal, a transsexual drug dealer and pimp. Gemma Craven produces a solid and warm performance as Josie, Billy’s down trodden mum who eventually leaves her husband to join Billy in London. However it is Matt Lucas as the outrageous Leigh Bowery and Paul Baker as the witty and camp Philip Sallon who steal the show. I’m telling you now you will not find a more outlandish looking character on the West End as Leigh Bowery with his extraordinary costumes and make up.
This is a ‘safe’ musical with hardly any sex, nudity, swearing or vulgarity. There is no heavy Aids message and the drug scenes are done as tastefully as one can. Instead, there is lots of high camp witty acid dialogue along with terrific songs and music.
The show has been well received by most of the popular press.........CAITLIN MORAN for THE TIMES says, “The casting is impeccable, the bitching is bewitching, and positively no one is underdressed.” CHARLES SPENCER for DAILY TELEGRAPH says, “Taboo is a genuine breakthrough, and, despite its flaws, deserves to succeed……..the show has heart as well as attitude….Boy George's music and lyrics are terrific, blessed with melody, wit and a yearning vulnerability.” MICHAEL BILLINGTON for THE GUARDIAN says, “It makes up in gaiety and tunefulness what it lacks in social analysis.” FIONA STURGES for THE INDEPENDENT says, “The good news is that George has come up with some new songs, rather than trawling out the old ones, karaoke-style.” MICHAEL COVENEY for THE DAILY MAIL says, “Enjoyable new musical … that is also surprisingly conventional. NICHOLAS DE JONGH for THE EVENING STANDARD says, “Safe and conventional are the words for it.”
If you loved the 80s music scene you’ll love this fresh and enjoyable musical.
This is not a “greatest hits” show or a show which relies only on a big name to draw in the crowds. A very enjoyable evening.
When a show works this well, one doesn’t necessarily appreciate while watching how good it is, and how rare it is, until one thinks about other shows that did not work as well. After all, competence is taken for granted in the West End.
The evening was quite warm, and the air conditioning system was not up to the task of making the basement theatre comfortable. The ushers handed out paper fans to supplement the system. Always a bad sign when they hand out paper fans. It helped that the night was mild enough to go outside during the interval.
However, the show was good enough to let one ignore the discomfort.
Matt Lucas no longer plays Leigh Bowery , but Boy George does an outstanding job as his replacement. During the part of the play when Leigh Bowery comes into the audience to interact, he said “I’m not really an actor, but then neither is Madonna.” I haven’t seen Boy George in another role, but he certainly performed well in this role. He served the play very well.
The structure of the musical was impressive, as well as the smooth, lively, polished execution. When going to the theatre, one engages in a suspension of disbelief, and enters the world of the play. The role of Billy and his sweetheart grounds the play to reality so the audience can appreciate the outrageous characters, rather than simply accepting them as part of the play.
The high standard in music, and the seamless integration of the songs into the storytelling was impressive. There was no point in the evening when the play ground to a halt (or even slowed) for a musical number or anything else.
Since it opened at the beginning of this year Taboo has been delighting audiences with the irreverent wit, excellent score and overall panache that perfectly captures the early Eighties music scene when the New Romantics were in fashion. Although the music & lyrics were penned by Boy George and he features as a principal character, this isn't specifically his story but follows the fortunes of the fictional Billy who leaves home to find work as a photographer just as the new music scene in London is evolving and the likes of George, Marilyn, Steve Strange and the outrageous Leigh Bowery are strutting their stuff.
Julian Clary has just taken over in the latter role and brings his customary insouciant style to bear on proceedings, shaving his head for the part and lapsing predictably offscript during the audience interaction segment. Lyn Paul is now ensconced as Billy's forthright Mum and very good she is too, as indeed is Paul Baker's nightclub impresario Philip Sallon and the majority of the cast who make this such a wonderful night out. One of the joys of Taboo is the ensemble spirit that shines through every scene - a perfect example of superb casting transcending a somewhat cliched script and firing on all cylinders with consummate style.
When you've got such a dream team in action it's hard to single anyone out, but Euan Morton really must be mentioned; he's the spitting image of George in his youth and delivers a mesmerising performance that elsewhere would literally be showstopping; here he's in such good company that no one individual can hog the limelight but he comes close. Staged in London's newest theatre, now transformed into a nightclub for this production, it's vitality provides everything a show should be and a perfect antidote to the tide of saccharine mediocrity prevailing elsewhere in the West End.
Links to full reviews from newspapers...