After years of cosy revivals and easy listening safe productions, the musical finally comes of age with the opening of ‘Taboo’. It’s a pop musical that charts that bizarre and extraordinary mix of new romanticism, tech-rock, euro-pop and passé punk which defined the eighties musical scene. What’s more, it’s written by the Queen of eighties pop, Boy George.
Last year Jonathan Harvey and the Pet Shop Boys took a step in the right direction with the contemporary musical ‘Closer To Heaven’, a gay fantasia on the excesses of club culture. Unfortunately, it’s explicit celebration of male sexuality proved too much for an audience more accustomed to falling chandeliers, swivelling barricades and feline dancing and it closed after a relatively short run.
Is Boy George’s entry into musical theatre any better? Yes, and the pink pound should love it. Both Boy George, and his writer Mark Davies-Markham, have taken heed, and are unashamedly peddling the pop and the glamour of the New Romantic explosion. Okay, so there’s not exactly much plot and the show does have a nominal ‘straight’ love theme as its main story, but it’s filled with camp one-liners and a gay appeal that goes far beyond the contrived plot.
Billy, a young and innocent photographer, moves to London and through his eyes we’re offered a snap shot into the colourful lives of the people he encounters. But the show isn’t about any one person in particular. It’s about the 80’s in all it’s hedonistic, sexually liberating, and outrageous glory. The real life characters of Marilyn, Leigh Bowery, Philip Sallon, Steve Strange and, of course, Boy George himself, may take centre stage in an amazingly accurate recreation of big hair, flamboyant costumes and joie de vivre, but we never get to know them. This works fine in Act I when Billy is the main focus, but the second half concentrates more on the facts and Boy George’s own biographical rise and fall, so that the series of vignettes become increasingly isolated.
The entire cast are wonderful and perfectly embody the spirit of the characters they are playing. Special mention has to go to Euan Morton’s spookily spot-on performance as Boy George and Matt Lucas’ manic and suitably outrageous Leigh Bowery. And what of the new score? Boy George has come up trumps with a series of catchy and clever songs that seem like old friends, interlaced with the moving musical motif of his classic hit, ‘Do You Really Want To Hurt Me’.
‘Taboo’ has the potential to become a cult hit and for once, it’s a show that deserves the attention.
Taboo, by Boy George and Mark Davies-Markham
5 Leicester Place
Off Leicester Square
0870 899 3335
Previews from 11 January; opens 29 January
Photo by Tristram Kenton