London - Early reviews of the new West End musical, "Taboo," weren't exactly raves, but the look back at the 1980s London club scene has won approval from the man who matters most: its co-author and principal character, Boy George. "I was very quiet before the performance," said the 40-year-old musician, the former Culture Club legend who remains best known for such songs as "Do You Really Want to Hurt Me?" and "Karma Chameleon." Both numbers are featured in "Taboo," the latter in a clap-happy finale that pulls audience members from their seats. But the bulk of the show features original music and lyrics from the singer and a book by Mark Davies that is alternately biting and banal.
Despite the undeniable skill of the cast - headed by newcomer Euan Morton, a dead ringer for the youthful, baby-faced George - "Taboo" makes the so-called New Romanticism of the 1980s seem tired. Folded into a supposed expose of drug-fueled depravity is a dreary romance involving the photographer Billy (Luke Evans) and the quasi-punkette, Kim (Dianne Pilkington). While Boy George tries to seduce the determinedly straight Billy, Billy's mother follows her son to London, resolved to shed the suburban life that has all but ruined her family.
The result is an earnest and rather moralistic slab of recent history leavened by some terrific quips - "Who needs corn flour when the plot thickens all by itself?". Several newspapers sent rock critics, not theater reviewers, to cover Tuesday night's opening at The Venue, a new 329-seat space just off busy Leicester Square. Fiona Sturges in The Independent thought "only a handful" of George's new songs are worth hearing, while the show was "the usual drug hell, recriminations and the golden glow of spiritual redemption by the end." The (London) Times' Caitlin Moran faulted the musical for "a rather ho-hum, straight love story," though she admired the carnival of characters. That lineup includes not only Morton's rather elfin George but Mark McGee and Matt Lucas as Marilyn and Leigh Bowery, two other self-made (and self-conscious) legends of the era.
The show, budgeted at about $600,000, is booked until May. London's last original pop musical, The Pet Shop Boys' "Closer to Heaven," was one of the theatrical debacles of 2001.
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