The Fields of Ambrosia
This is not your ordinary musical. The story tells of a executioner who falls in love with his first woman victim, and how he tries to help her. There are some bizarre scenes and I question the taste of the show at times.
The music and singing isn't that bad, with the best singing performance by Marc Joseph who plays Jimmy Crawford, he sang "Alone" quite wonderfully.
Firstly I should make it clear that I saw Fields of Ambrosia in preview so it is possible that elements have changed for the opening. Although some major surgery would be needed to make this anything like a sensible show.
There is no getting away from the fact that this is plainly a totally ridiculous musical. Possibly the nearest thing to pantomime on the musical stage. Ray Cooney would be thoroughly proud of the silly plot which is, according to the programme, based a screenplay which was in turn based on a real life character.
Our hero is one Jonas Candide, travelling state executioner. It sounds rather alarming and serious on paper and indeed the plot is actually quite sinister - shame it is played as farce. Candide likes to calm his victims down before frying them in his electric chair by singing to them about the "Fields of Ambrosia" being the place his victims allegedly end up a few seconds after Jonas throws the switch. No hint of Satan here. This is all scene setting stuff - for Jonas' next "client" presents a problem - she's a woman. Jonas falls in love - Gretchen (the woman) reciprocates and he can't face executing her so he stalls the process by hiding his chair and pretending it was lost - some other strange character finds the chair and chops it up with his axe. Jonas sends the chair to be fixed leaving plenty of time to think of an alternative plan to get Gretchen away. This finally involves bribing the prison doctor to essentially bring Jonas' love back from the semi-dead. To pay the doctor, Jonas brings prostitutes into the jail for the inmates - whilst the executioner's assistand becomes the subject of what I can only suppose is a homosexual attack. In a few frantic moment the plot becomes totally incomprehensible as bullets fly and Jonas ends up killing a guard and a guard ends up killing Gretchen. The detail is unimportant. As a result Jonas becomes a murderer (here is the best bit) and goes to the electric chair himself. Bet you couldn't see that coming. Aren't you just laughing your head off?
This is all played with smiles, grins, jokes and an upbeat score (by Martin Silvestri) which is actually quite good - it just doesn't fit the book or lyrics (both of which were written by Joel Higgins - of whom more in a moment). Performances aside this is a ridiculous musical - extraordinarily silly lyrics for a similarly stupid plot sitting in a totally euphoric score. As a comparison, Sondheim's Sweeney Todd conveys sufficient humour in a deeply moving score; portraying a similarly macabre plot, without the need to throw metaphorical custard pies around.
The cast was an interesting mix. Practically everyone on the London stage these days has at one time appeared in the ITV series, The Bill, but the actor playing Warden Brodsky has the unusual distinction of being one Bill actor that I actually recognise (Roger Leach played Sgt Penny)! Leach plays a support role along with Mark Heenan, Michael Fenton-Stevens and the rather good Marc Joseph. Our leading lady is one Christine Andreas whose voice can show some rich qualities in the limited opportunities this work gives her. For this show belongs (in more than one way) to Joel Higgins who (as well as writing this musical) plays the lead role of Jonas Candide. It really isn't worth commenting extensively on anyone else because we don't get to see them for long enough. Joel's teeth start shining through his grin just a few minutes into the opening number - and stays right through both acts to the very end. Joel leads in practically every single scene and sing practically every single number. His presence is total - I was half expecting him to serve the interval drinks in the bar. The few moments of respite are welcome relief and particularly notable is Marc Joseph's rendition of (the almost totally serious) "Alone". I ought to say that Joel Higgins is actually a very able performer he has character and given the limitation of his own lyrics and the plot - exhibits great confidence (if rather ham acting).
This musical is probably doomed - if only because the professional reviewers can be expected to tear this show apart. A shame really because everyone should get to see this piece of totally silly musical theatre. It is hard to classify Fields of Ambrosia as bad or good - it's just too bizarre for that. Take my advice and buy your tickets now while you have the chance - this may just get a cult following!
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