IIt seems an unlikely, if not indecent, proposition to turn the story better known as the Demi Moore-Robert Redford film into a musical. But after Pretty Woman, Heathers and Back to the Future, how about another classic VHS revamp for the stage?
In fact, writer Michael Conley hasn’t seen the movie. His plan is the 1988 Jack Engelhard novel, a less brilliant and more complex tale. Here, the central couple, Johnny (Norman Bowman) and Rebecca (Lizzy Connolly), are both in their second marriage. She gave up a comfortable life; he has a daughter who needs money to go to college. Now they live in a ruined room, working multiple jobs at Atlantic City casinos, when a stranger offers them a million dollars to spend the night with Rebecca.
Charlotte Westenra’s production of this bedroom piece communicates their sense of hopelessness. Struggling songwriter Johnny is a man who has walked through the mill, his voice straining into the mic on a conveyor belt of thankless concerts. Ako Mitchell’s smug billionaire Larry has been playing with them from the start and no one is doing well. Johnny’s response to the offer: “A million dollars?” It’s pretty classy!
The subject is fascinating. Questions of power and consent emerge. Can a relationship survive infidelity? What would you do for a life changing amount of money? Johnny is visibly upset, but the grappling remains to the surface, the songs are often literal inner monologues – should I do this or should I do that? And Dylan Schlosberg’s music rarely makes us feel anything beyond words.
Tonally, it shocks. We’re in an 80s casino, but the music is a pop guitar strumming. Dark themes alternate with comedy (including an incongruous punchline on Hi-de-Hi!). Rebecca’s retro wardrobe reads like a 2021 hipster, while Johnny wears a plaid shirt and work boots on the casino stage – no wonder he doesn’t book better gigs. Their connection with a soul mate is never entirely convincing. And you realize what you’re missing out on when jazz singer Jacqui Dankworth stars as lounge singer Annie. The range and tone of her voice, her ability to connect with a song and an audience: the class in this act is entirely her own.