Theatre Review: WAG! The Musical (Charing Cross Theatre, London)

WAG-ger swagger! From left to right: Nia Jermin, Alyssa Kyria, Pippa Fulton, and Lizzie Cundy. Photograph: Courtesy of Kevin Wilson PR.

WAG-ger swagger! From left to right: Nia Jermin, Alyssa Kyria, Pippa Fulton, and Lizzie Cundy. Photograph: Courtesy of Kevin Wilson PR.

Rating: ***

WAGs: the pseudo-celebrities you love to hate. Armed with silicon tits and lipo-legs, they’re here to snatch up those premiership footballers and live off their hard-earned millions. On the face of it, these glamorous gold-diggers seem like an unlikely subject for a musical, and with the promotional material ablaze in hot pink with stilettoed stunners, it looks like it could succeed only on the back of being a guilty pleasure, or perhaps the so-bad-its-good factor. But thankfully Belvedere Pashun’s book is actually something that surprisingly has depth and demeanour for something that looks shamelessly sassy; so do away with all your preconceptions made from the posters.

For starters, calling the show WAG! The Musical is a slight misnomer as the main characters are two down-and-out shop girls selling cheap make-up in a grubby London department store (think Debenhams, but with less dignity). However, one of them, Jenny (Daisy Wood-Davis), is set to run off with her own premiership footballer to Italy as his bit on the side. Cue a high-profile make-up launch at the store with a bevy of WAGs in tow, and the musical turns to discussing the pros, cons, and morality of what WAGs do best, and causing a right old riot in the process. The WAGs themselves are mere mechanicals in this kitsch analysis of modern femininity and relationships.

Highly billed for the show are; West End staple (and first American to have ever won an Olivier Award), Tim Flavin, as the sneering and snivelling overlord/manager of the cosmetics department; real life WAG-cum-TV presenter, Lizzie Cundy, as WAG-cum-TV presenter, Zoe; and singer-cum-WAG, Pippa Fulton, as bitchy full-time WAG, Vicci. Whilst all of them hold themselves well, the latter two ladies slipping into their WAG roles with playful and knowing ease, it’s lead Wood-Davis that really turns out to be the star of the show. Great comic performances also come from Katie Kerr as common and frumpy wannabe glamour-puss Blow-Jo, and Welsh Wag, Charmaine, played by Nia Jermin.

Wood-Davis really captures Jenny’s hopeless-romantic and hapless dreamer personality with a cute charm and grace. Although her character is hardly Lady Macbeth in terms of complexity, she strikes the right balance between dippy and downtrodden. But her singing is what is particularly stunning. Her big solo number, “How Could I Not Leave A Scar”, was belted out with a ferocity and panache that made it into an absolute showstopper.

However, there are a few things that hold the show back from being great, despite Alison Pollard’s slick and energetic direction and choreography, and Ken Powell’s bright and colourful costumes. The songs aren’t particularly memorable, bar a few such as Wood-Davis’s aforementioned solo, and cheeky lambast of going under the knife, “Original Me”. The rest seems to be something stuck in the shadows of Jonathan Larson’s Rent! and Duncan Sheik’s Spring Awakening. In fact, “Always Tomorrow” sounds as it was plucked straight from Larson’s celebrated La bohème pastiche, leaving you a little uninspired rather than it being the epiphanous rouser it’s trying to be.

Although the depth to the narrative comes as a surprise to the campy gloss of the promotionals, it does sap the energy a little from the first act. It just doesn’t quite have the spark of frivolity that it needs, even if Flavin does end up in a rather saucy samba outfit at one point! Furthermore, the portrait of domestic violence, an attempt at being a little bit topical and smart, is so simplistic that a more gender aware crowd might find it a little offensive, despite the fact that Pashun clearly means well. Also, as far as climaxes go, the plot is overall quite predictable.

It’s only when comedian Alyssa Kyria comes in during Act II, as her acclaimed character, Ariadne the Greek WAG, that the show really picks up. Writing her scenes herself as additional material to the book, she is absolutely hilarious, injecting the hedonism and humour that was missing from Act I. While she’s a brilliant addition to the show, it’s a shame that she ends up stealing it. It says a lot about the calibre of the writing when you realise that a single personality, Kyria’s, is what really drives the musical home.

On press night, too, there were problems with sound balance, and a lack of the sense of ensemble and intonation among the cast. Either there are issues with the feedback speakers (which would easily account for the discrepancies), or they just need more rehearsing. Either way, it’s not quite becoming of such a high-profile opening with a red-carpet arrival, paparazzi, and celebrities such as Vanessa Feltz and Anita Dobson in the audience, and does a disservice to Pollard’s snazzy production.

But criticisms aside, ultimately WAG! The Musical is far from bad; in fact it’s alright. Despite its flaws, it’s a fun frolic that breezily resists becoming bawdy, tawdry, and dumbed-down dross: actually having a smack of thought behind it. It’s not quite Prada, but it’s certainly not Primarni! WAG! The Musical is a jaunty and sparkly summer theatrical diversion that will bring a smile to your face.

WAG! The Musical plays at the Charing Cross Theatre, London, WC2N 6NL, until 24 August 2013. Tickets are £14.50-£44.50. To book, visit www.charingcrosstheatre.co.uk.

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