Guest reviewer: Scarlett Westbrook
The three-time Tony Award nominee Dave Malloy’s musical Preludes follows the life of Sergei Rachmaninoff (the role is split into two with musical theatre star Keith Ramsay taking on the role of Rach, and the incredible concert pianist Tom Noyes as Rachmaninoff). Rachmaninoff began his career at 19 with a single composition becoming an international hit, engaged to the love of his life (Georgia Louise).
However, the world-famous composer’s picture-perfect career as a successful composer shatters when a performance of his first symphony goes disastrously after a drunk conductor massacres the delivery of Rachmaninoff’s music. The musical follows Rachmaninoff’s battle with depressive paranoia and anxiety three years on as he processes the harsh blow of confronting failure; paralysed so much by that one night that he can no longer compose the simplest of melodies. In a bid to restore his former notoriety and skill, Rachmaninoff begins to see the hypnotherapist Dahl (Rebecca Caine) to work through his crippling debilitation.
Through a delicious conflation of Malloy’s contemporary and Rachmaninoff’s traditional compositions, we follow the young Russian composer through his debilitating new normal as he comes to terms with what the outside world has done to him, with the music, lighting and staging forcing us into every crevice of Rachmaninoff’s mind at full intensity.
This is no ordinary musical biography – its bold and abstract portrayal of Rachmaninoff’s struggles do not spare us the gritty messiness of coping with trauma as we are catapulted into a flurry of gorgeous vocals, striking lighting, stupendous instrumentals and fabulous staging. It is the perfect intersection of modernity laced with classic. This musical manages to make 21st century audiences connect with a late 19th-century icon through a perfectly wacky depiction of confronting failure, something that people of any time period will be familiar with. It shows the glorious tonic of art, love and therapy being used to fight insurmountable struggles, together, using music to communicate what words could not.
Malloy’s remarkable musical is brought to life by director Alex Sutton and producer Danielle Tarento, and there is no doubt that every cast and creative team member is the perfect fit for their role. Rebecca Bower’s set and Andrew Exeter’s lightning are breathtaking, managing to be both eccentric and minimalistic at once as its colourful light rod contrasts with their jet black surroundings, adding a beautiful hit of accompaniment to the performance itself.
Keith Ramsey’s portrayal of Rach is masterfully erratic, depicting carefully the dishevelled persona of Rachmaninoff as he fights to find himself once again. His depicted fragility is striking and his voice is remarkable. Tom Noyes, on the contrary, shows a bolder Rachmaninoff in his peak, effortlessly flying through stunning compositions and showing the stark difference of Rachmaninoff’s life before and after this one fateful night.
Georgia Louise is a true gem of musical theatre, and it is an honor to be able to watch her perform and thrive in this role. Her stylistic choices for the role of Natalya are beyond perfect; every word is savoured by the audience as her intention behind them is so clear and carefully pinpoints the very essence of her character. Paired with her stunningly wonderful voice, every moment she is on stage is a pleasure as she is nothing short of a talented genius.
Rebecca Caine is as brilliant as ever, craftily piercing as she dissects Rachmaninoff’s past with him in order to help him reach the future. Her stage presence is powerful, and she is glorious in everything she does.
Norton James and Steven Sterlin also star, playing their roles to a magical excellence that is well received, and talentedly great.
Preludes is no ordinary musical play; it is best watched with no prior expectations. It defies theatrical convention and catapults us into a world that is intimate yet exposed, connecting with everyone through its unique presentation of growing up in a world where success is the only option; and showing us what happens when that goal isn’t met. If you ever have the chance to watch this beautiful piece of art, run at the opportunity; I know I certainly will.
Review: Scarlett Westbrook