“…Love is rare and life is strange, nothing lasts people change”, the Lyrics to ‘Old Friend’ aptly describes the complex dichotomy of relationships (hell, life in general!) in this epic pioneering feminist musical by dream theatre production team; composer Nancy Ford and lyricist Gretchen Cryer. Whilst it had a less than tepid response when it opened in 1978, I’m Getting My Act Together And Taking It On The Road has since found worldwide acclaim, playing in over 50 countries.
This time around Director Matthew Gould teams up with Musical Director Nick Barstow to deliver a revival which stays true to Cryer and Ford’s challenge of gender roles through the exploration of friendships, relationships and the pursuit of goals within the intimate setting of Jameson & Horner’s Jermyn Street Theatre.
Gould & Barstow’s Getting My Act Together opens in the rehearsal session of singer Heather Jones and her band – vocalists Alice and Cheryl, Scottie the female Bassist who appears to be stuck in swinging 60s mode, and Jake the young guitarist who throws his own curve ball at the most “wait…what??” moment – who are preparing to deliver Heather’s comeback concert following a return from hiatus.
Heather; gloriously enacted by Landi Oshinowo (Barnum, Fame Lion King, Sweet Soul Music) whose personification of the protagonist feels so personal you would automatically assume this was written for her… It being Heather’s 39th birthday we are led on a smartly navigated life journey from a little girl expected to please, to an independent woman now being instructed to please by her stage manager, Joe. But, Joe’s goal to see Heather’s performance sell out and achieve the fame and big ticket status he believes she is worthy of is at odds with Heather’s need to let the world know she is more than a pretty face and a nice voice.
Nicolas Colicos (Snow White, Sister Act, Mamma Mia! and Young Indiana Jones Chronicles) creates a fantastic Joe who at first is amused at Heather’s desire to introduce new songs which is more tribute to her coming of age (yes, even at 39) and rejection of traditional gender roles, soon tires of the ‘insults’ and demands Heather stick to the old formula.
The marriage of these two performances is sublimely supported by feisty backing singers in Rosanna Hyland and Kristen Gaetz who often give off a sense of being in awe of Heather’s leadership especially during the performance of songs such as Strong Woman Number and Put in a Package and Sold. But, the band members are understanding of Joe’s dilemma of keeping his artist happy by allowing her some artistic freedom whilst having commercial appeal. In the end, it is clear that this is less about commercial success and more about Joe’s own struggle with getting to grips with “the new woman [and her] ego trip”.
Edward Iliffe expertly transforms the cast and limited stage space into believable settings and time stamps; from rehearsal space to family home, graduation ceremony to church wedding and back again. The score is a wonderful rollercoaster of Cryer’s exciting storytelling underlined by Barstow’s ode to 80’s style ballads and bass-heavy rock n’ roll.
Audiences that may be put off by either the ‘feminist’ theme, of the production, or the era in which this was written should be assured that the issues are still relevant to today; whilst woman’s liberties are better than the times in which Cryer and Ford were born – where career choices are limited to being wife, secretary, teacher or nurse (the latter three were generally so that you could support the family should your husband not have a great job), other hotly debated issues such as a woman’s general role in society and relationship creates some fiery and though-provoking dialogue between Heather and Joe.
Definitely not one to miss!