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Closer to Heaven review at Above the Stag, London – ‘lively revival of the Pet Shop Boys musical’

The cast of Closer to Heaven at Above the Stag. Photo: PBG Studios
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In 2001, when Closer to Heaven was originally produced, its creators Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe, aka the Pet Shop Boys, were firmly established as kings of the British synth-pop scene. At the time the award-winning stage and screen writer Jonathan Harvey seemed an inspired choice as collaborator on a clubland-based musical.

Yet Harvey’s book, with its thin character development and weak plot, is the thing that hamstrings the show. Several fringe revivals have been successfully mounted since then, but none have really resolved these issues. It’s a shame the opportunity hasn’t been taken to revisit the book and address its problems.

Steven Dexter’s production doesn’t really tackle them either, but there is enough talent on stage to make for an entertaining revival. Ian Hallard gets plenty of mileage out of his role as the merciless music promoter Bob Saunders and an intuitive Adele Anderson lends star quality to the stand-out role of Billie Trix. As cocky Straight Dave, Blake Patrick Anderson turns in a suitably self-assured performance but it’s actually Mikulas Urbanek as drug-dealer Mile End Lee who is more credible and emotionally articulate.

David Shields’ stark design is enhanced by Jack Weir’s trippy lighting design and Ben Walden’s collage of animated panels.

Ashley Luke Lloyd puts a team of athletic dancers through several lively routines, while musical director Aaron Clingham grapples confidently with the Pet Shop Boys score.

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Verdict
Showy performances and a fun score enliven a revival of the problematic Pet Shop Boys musical
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