COULD YOU? WOULD YOU? FOR A MILLION BUCKS?
Here’s a struggling young couple (well, not that young, both on second marriages and he has a daughter going to college). Along comes a billionaire, offering a million dollars for the wife to spend one night with him. Will they or won’t they, and what will it do to them? The film, from Jack Engelhard’s novel, rather confused the morality of some of us in the late 80s, n because the rich exploiter was Robert Redford , and even the blokes fancied him more than the drippy husband.
So there was an existing curiosity for me about what Michael Conley (book and lyrics) and composer Dylan Schlosberg, would make of it as a chamber musical.And Southwark is always worth a punt. And designer Anna Kelsey has set Charlotte Weatenra’s production in a beautifully seedy nightspot: the Ruckus Room In an awful casino resort in Atlantic City under a washed up compère-chanteuse Annie. Who frankly steals the show because she is Jacqueline Dankworth and a great credit to her parents. So atmospheric is that set hat you can almost smell the stale beer , vomit,testosterone, gambler-panic and disinfectant.
So far so good. But one problem is that the music , absolutely right for the seedy, mawkish plasticky setting, never rises to express the reality of emotions as it needs to in a musical. Norman Bowman and Lizzy Connolly do their best as the couple, and she has some good low-key numbers alone in her bathroom, offering the best example of singing through cold- cream and eyeshadow remover you’ll see this year. But the weakness of the early scenes means it’s hard to believe in their relationship, and the few zingers in the script rarely fall to the lot of the supposed stars. The best indeed are from Larry the rich tempter – a suave Ako Mitchell. Notably when, late on, the sacked old Annie in her spangly jacket drily asks “Any advice for an older woman who’s broke and unemployed?”. “Yes” he replies. “Don’t be any of those things”. Ouch.
A puzzle for me is that nothing is made of the fact that in this casting Larry is black and the couple white. Which normally would be unremarkable race-blind casting but…this is Atlantic City, not unknown for racial tension, either in the past or right now with BLM demonstations . And in the original novel (an aspect ignored by the film) the husband is Jewish, and the billionaire predator Arab.
Yes, using that extra edge even subtly would have made it a different show, but certainly a grittier and more satisfying one. As it is , all we have is the disintegration of a not very lovable couple’s relationship, and a few good lines about the sovereign power of money. But it is a reminder that I want to see a lot more of Ako Mitchell in big roles. He deploys an excellently judged flatness in his most outrageous lines: so when he pleasantly says to the husband after buying his big night: “It was nice doing business with you”, hairs stand up on the back of your neck.
It’s unusual for any peace loving woman like me to want to see someone punched in the face, and to struggle with your own affront when it doesn’t happen…
Box office southwarkplayhouse.co.uk. To 27 nov