Channelling Glee along with The Big Bang Theory with a dash of The Inbetweeners thrown in for good measure, Elliott Davis’ and James Bourne’s new musical Loserville is light on originality, but it makes up for this with energy and enthusiasm.
The show is set in 1971 – mainly to accommodate an ‘invention of email’ plotline – in a generic US high school that brings to mind numerous cinematic and TV incarnations, from Rydell to McKinley, and concerns the exploits of a couple of teenage computer geeks, Michael and Lucas.
Anchoring the story so specifically in time brings its own issues: the anachronisms come thick and fast and while it’s perhaps churlish to dwell on them (who goes to a musical for veracity?) they occasionally jar. Did people really refer to themselves as geeks or slackers back then (both words were popularised in their current form much later)? Did schools really have computer rooms back in 1971, given that personal computers only went on sale in the late 70s? Why is one character wearing what looks like the make-up from David Bowie’s 1973 Aladdin Sane album? And crucially, someone should have probably told new girl Holly that her ambition to be the first female astronaut is doomed to fail since the first woman went into space in the sixties. Nitpicking aside, the 1970s setting does have an upside, allowing a nice – if overdone – line in Star Wars jokes, and enough Star Trek references to keep your inner Sheldon Cooper happy.
The cast are on universally strong form, even if the characterisation is at times wafer thin, little more than a collection of stereotypes whose actions are entirely motivated by the expediency of the plot (Richard Lowe’s Lucas – he of the proto-Star Wars script – is a particular victim of this, over-gullible and over-ready to betray his friends for gain). Aaron Sidwell’s Michael is convincingly gauche as the geek with a plan (though occasionally the script seemed to forget he’s actually still at school) and he and Eliza Hope Bennett’s Holly prove that nerds don’t need a lab to generate chemistry.
As their nemesis Eddie Arch, Stewart Clarke is a delightful vision of entitled narcissism, while Charlotte Harwood, as his girlfriend, the ‘princessy’ Leia – did you get the joke? Did you? – brings an appropriate Mean Girls bitchiness to the role. Although no one manages to overcome the limits of their geek/jock definitions, I did like Witney White’s ‘secret geek’ Samantha, but even in this instance it felt like the ‘don’t judge people by appearances, they might be just like you’ message was being hammered home.
Steven Dexter’s production is smartly staged and tightly paced. The musical numbers – slickly choreographed by Nick Winston – are suitably lively and, while unlikely to become classics, they are all unfailingly catchy and vibrant.
It is, however, a slight shame that in cashing in on the Glee trend a British musical sees the need to wrap itself so completely in Americana; it would have been interesting to see such enthusiasm invested in a UK-based story, instead of a lightly repackaged bundle of US clichés that all seem vaguely familiar from better-known shows (Eddie is a ringer for Warner from Legally Blonde and the ‘wooing by starlight in the astrodome’ sequence, charming as it was, recalls a similar ploy by Ross to impress Rachel in Friends).
This lack of authenticity means that for all its amiability, the show lacks genuine heart, and there is little sense of anything much going on beneath the admittedly pretty surface But Loserville isn’t really designed to weather such dissection: it’s a fun, fast moving production, bright and energetic, that never takes itself too seriously – and taken on those terms it more than succeeds.