On her 63rd birthday, Anna Edson Taylor survived a trip over Niagara Falls in a barrel of her own design on the 24th of October 1901 – making her the first person to ever survive such a feat. Taylor’s story, adapted by Michael John LaChiusa of The Wild Party fame is brought to the Brockley Jack Theatre in its UK premiere by Pint Of Wine theatre company.
The original Off-Broadway production won the Outer Critics Circle Award for Outstanding New Off-Broadway Musical, and was also nominated for multiple Drama Desk awards. These nominations, plus the Tonys collected by LaChiusa, mean the production garners high expectations.
The opening is impressive, and it is clear from the off-set that the small cast of 7 and the live band of 8 are talented musicians – as the show is nearly 100% sung through. Trudi Camilleri heads the cast as Anna Edson Taylor, and her operatic skills are allowed to shine with LaChiusa’s score. Other than Camilleri and Will Arundell, giving a defining turn as Taylor’s manager Frank Russell, the rest of the cast play multiple roles with synchronicity with their harmonies and movement.
The musicianship from Jordan Li-Smith and his band excellently blends with the cast, but unfortunately LaChiusa’s score – albeit expertly executed – has no memorable songs. Likewise, his book is too long. Taylor’s story is so drawn out and would have worked a lot better as a one act piece. In particular the second half lags, with her eventual death from old age feeling excessively long.
Notable, though, is Dom O’Hanlon’s staging and movement direction with such a small space; which is magnificently complimented by Bethany Gupwell’s lighting design. Gupwell’s lighting is one of the best things about the production, and she definitely has a strong career ahead of her in this field – this alone makes the production one to watch.
The cast are talented, with a strong creative team behind them. Camilleri and Arundell are a fine duo, with the ensemble truly augmenting them – particularly Tom Blackmore’s turn as the Young Soldier and Connor McFarlane as the Man With Hand Wrapped In A Handkerchief.
Taylor’s story is an initially interesting one, but unfortunately LaChiusa makes it tedious enough that the talent behind the production cannot save it.