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Sleepless, A Musical Romance

by on 28 September 2020

Roller Coaster Romance

Sleepless, A Musical Romance

by Michael Burdette, Music and Lyrics by Robert Scott and Brendan Cull

WPT at Troubadour Theatre, Wembley Park, until 27th September

Review by Stephen Leslie

It was with sense of curiosity and some trepidation that I set out on my first trip back to the theatre since everything closed in March (including my own show Annie Jr, which as producer I had nurtured right through to the dress rehearsal).

I had the pleasure of being part of the socially-distanced audience for Sleepless, A Musical Romance, a new musical which was playing the Troubadour Theatre in Wembley Park, a shiny new venue I’d not previously visited.  It had in fact not been open many months before lockdown hit.   The Troubadour Theatre, with its up to 2,000-seat auditorium as well as bars and restaurant was built on the site of the former Fountain Studios television complex, which had live broadcast many well-known TV shows, such as Who Wants to be a Millionaire, and more recently, The X Factor and Britain’s Got Talent.

Sleepless, new show based on the 1993 movie, Sleepless in Seattle starring Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan, had been due to open in March, almost at the same time as our own Dramacube production of Annie Jr. but was put on hold when the UK went into lockdown.

The new rules around social distancing, sanitising and ‘bubble groups’ are confusing at best, so how 400 people would be safely guided into a theatre was a puzzle to me.   My first observation was how well set up the theatre was, with four or five staff at the gate checking temperatures, helping guests to register using the QR code and carefully explaining what rules to follow once inside the foyer.

I’m told that every member of the cast and crew undertook a test for Covid-19 each day before being allowed to enter the theatre.  Having experienced this rather unpleasant process myself, I have to say I admire their commitment!

We were swiftly ‘processed’ in a friendly and professional manner before entering a very large and spacious bar area where interval drinks could be pre-ordered to avoid unnecessary crowds building up. 

Brightly coloured arrows were clearly marked out directing us to the toilets, which as you’d expect were appropriately set up to ensure a sufficient distance was maintained at all times.

When entering the vast auditorium, I was immediately struck by the size and scale of this production with an impressive set which spanned around 30 or 40 metres across and boasting a large houseboat structure on a revolve, artistically lit with appropriately themed projections. 

The production starred pop sensations Jay McGuiness from boy band The Wanted and Kimberly Walsh from Girls Aloud, but the real star of the show, I’m immensely proud to say, was former Dramacube student Jack Reynolds who played the role of Jonah. 

The show, which could be described as a play with great musical numbers, features a twelve piece jazz orchestra.  It opened on a sombre note at Maggie’s funeral.  Dealing with the loss of a mother and wife is no easy topic to explore on stage but it was done with sensitivity and courage, endearing Jonah and his dad Sam to us from the very start.

For those of you who’ve seen the film, you’ll be familiar with what happens next but, in a nutshell, Jonah takes it upon himself to contact a radio station on Christmas Eve and Sam is “coerced” into sharing his story live on air which leads to a torrent of letters from women declaring their interest. 

However, it is Annie Reed a reporter from Baltimore who hears the broadcast and falls in love with Sam.  Brilliantly played by Kimberly Walsh, the smart and determined Reed sets out to meet Sam, convincing herself this is a story she cannot miss, but in reality, she is driven by her emotions.

We are taken on roller coaster ride of highs and lows with the pair so close to formally meeting but it never quite materializes and just when you think the moment has passed Annie and Sam finally meet, resulting in the happiest of happy endings.

The story is tied together by Jonah, played to perfection by the extraordinarily talented young Jack Reynolds.  His natural charm, warmth and all-round talent was a joy to watch as he flitted from emotional trauma to extreme joy, lighting up the stage with the best musical number in the show. 

The cast of eighteen was deep in experience and hugely talented, with every actor contributing so much.  Stand out performances from Cory English as Sam’s best friend Rob and Tania Mathurn as Annie’s editor Becky added further to the overall enjoyment of this production. 

The tremendous effort made by the theatre staff, technicians and performers was evident in every way, and this must be a leading example of how the industry moves forward.  I applaud not just the wonderful actors on stage, but everyone who made it possible for myself and 399 others to enjoy this wonderful show.  I sincerely hope that we see Sleepless lighting up a West End Stage when the industry gets back on its feet next year.

Stephen Leslie, September 2020

Photography courtesy of Wembley Park Theatres Ltd

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