The geeky underdog triumphs over the arrogant high school jock. Misfits find love. The perky heroine even overcomes a blackmail attempt.
“Loserville,” the new London musical by Elliot Davis and James Bourne (from the group Busted) ticks lots of musical-theater boxes. That’s its problem.
We’re in suburban America in 1971. Nerdy Michael Dork (Aaron Sidwell) is trying to create the first networked computers and survive the attacks of preening bully Eddie (Stewart Clarke). When clever love-interest Holly (Eliza Hope Bennett) arrives at school, Michael plucks up courage to ask for her help.
We’re rooting for the underdog. Tick. There’s a romantic subplot. Tick. The acoustic soft-rock score trundles along nicely. Tick. Up to the interval it fulfills genre expectations pleasantly, if unadventurously.
Then, in the second half, evil Eddie reveals that he has some old photos of Holly, and blackmails her to turn traitor. She’s forced to develop the vital computer program for the glory of Eddie instead.
What could be in those photos of Holly? A whole football team in Nazi uniforms? A donkey at least?
No. It turns out that Holly used to be a party girl. She now wants to be an astronaut. She worries that looking like a cheerleader will turn NASA against her.
“Cursed with brains and looks,” she wails in one of her numbers.
If you’re wondering why she should worry, or why such a supposedly sweet and plucky heroine should sing something so narcissistic and vulgar, or why she doesn’t just tell Michael the truth, I can only answer: me too. And since Eliza Hope Bennett is pretty, but not exactly cursed, disbelief remains even further unsuspended.
Those crucial boxes -- motivation, unexpectedness, a tiny degree of plausibility -- stay unchecked, and dramatic torpor prevails. It’s not so much a show with numbers, as a show by numbers.
The score includes five songs from album “Welcome to Loserville” by James Bourne and his group Son of Dork. The rest are newly composed for the show. If the album is as unvarying in its pop-rock major-key style as the music here, then it would hardly have made much difference.
The energetic young performers give it their all, and sing attractively. Aaron Sidwell holds the stage with goofy charm as Michael, and Stewart Clarke is a particularly enjoyable villain.
Designer Francis O’Connor uses cartoon sketches of doors, trees and walls on placards to switch between locations, and it works neatly and efficiently. Stephen Dexter’s direction, even if it can’t disguise the gaping holes in the plot, keeps things moving and achieves the requisite Day-Glo perkiness.
It doesn’t stop “Loserville” feeling like a bit too much of a lost cause.
“Loserville” is at the Garrick Theatre, 2 Charing Cross Road, London WC2H 0HH. Information: http://www.nimaxtheatres.com or +44-844-412-4662
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(Warwick Thompson is a critic for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)