Birds of Paradise review at Drayton Arms Theatre, London – ‘a fun, dynamic musical’
Winnie Holzman, who wrote the book of hit show Wicked, was also the creator of the ground-breaking television series My So-Called Life. Youthful rebellion, a key theme of both these works, also plays a major part in Birds of Paradise, an early collaboration with composer David Evans.
Essentially a musical reworking of The Seagull, Holzman sets her story on Harbour Island, where an amateur dramatic group await the arrival of Broadway performer Lawrence Woods.
One time resident Woods ends up directing and starring in Seagull, a musical adaptation of Chekhov’s masterpiece written by the youngest member of the flailing company, Homer. It’s not the smoothest of collaborations as Homer struggles with changes to the script and Woods stealing his sweetheart.
The show was panned at its premiere in 1987. MKEC’s production marks the UK premiere. It ticks a lot of musical comedy boxes. The score has a startling number of lush ballads, along with some great comedy numbers to balance things out. Holzman’s subtle re-working of The Seagull is almost as satisfying as Homer’s is quirky with Ashley Knight ruling the roost as Broadway’s answer to Trigorin.
An enthusiastic cast nail both the comedy and the beautiful harmonies, while James Kenneth Haughan, as Homer, and Lottie Johnson, as Julia, provide an interesting dynamic as a middle-American Konstantin and Nina.
There is no designer credited and the lack of one shows. The production values aren’t particularly high and Marc Kelly’s direction is occasionally a little formal but this is more than made up for by Oli Rew’s assured musical direction.