"We were the last romantics," wrote WB Yeats. He reckoned, however, without the New Romantics: a phrase used to describe the bands, musical styles and fashions of the 80s which are the subject of this self-admiring new musical with songs by Boy George and book by Mark Davies.
Opening a new 329-seat space off Leicester Square that resembles an overheated crypt, it makes up in gaiety and tunefulness what it lacks in social analysis. In structure it is not dissimilar to the recent Pet Shop Boys musical, Closer to Heaven: in this case suburban Billy comes to the West End in search of fame and finds himself caught up in exotic eighties pop world of Boy George and Marilyn, club organiser Philip Sallon and performance artist Leigh Bowery. Of plot there is not a lot: Billy, a rising snapper of the famous, has girl trouble and finds himself witnessing the rise and fall of his hedonistic heroes. But all ends happily with Boy George and his followers seeking spiritual renewal in Bangalore.
Even though the show deals openly with Boy George's drug problem, Bowery's death from Aids and Marilyn's disastrous New York debut, there is something vaguely narcissistic about the whole exercise. It is a hymn to the glories of self with George and Marilyn at at one point telling each other: "I see a legend in you" and Bowery, while putting himself on display in a West End gallery, announcing to the punters: "I am art, you are parody." The show also offers little explanation as to why the New Romantics movement should have blossomed in the Thatcherite eighties.
Yet it's a musical it's impossible to dislike. It is on the side of sexual freedom and spiritual independence, it exudes a touchingly innocent belief in the healing power of fame and the 22 Boy George songs have an instant melodic appeal: they at least put the British musical back in touch with the world of pop. Christopher Renshaw's production also has a certain louche charm and there are good lookalike performances from Euan Morton as George, Mark McGee as the transvestite Marilyn, Matt Lucas as the exhibitionist Bowery and Gemma Craven as Billy's newly liberated mum.
The show doesn't tell you much about the New Romantic phenomenon - but it confirms there's still life in old Boy George, otherwise known as rowdy Dowdy.
Until April 6. Box office: 0870 899 3335.
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