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The Route To Happiness is a musical in its purest form, in that it is purely music. It’s a feat tricky to pull off even if you’re BBC comic songwriter Alexander Bermange and have been writing songs professionally for donkey’s years as the pacing has to be just right – otherwise the songs begin to all sound the same and you start to wonder whether you’ve accidentally walked into the choral version of purgatory. Thankfully Bermange’s skilful composition never reaches those Dantesque lows and generally achieves the varied musical styles he is looking for between each character. However, with songs names such as “A Fateful Meeting” and “Better We’d Not Met” by simply reading the list of musical numbers through you’ve pretty much already digested the ins and outs of the plot, a fault not due to the lack of spoken dialogue in-between but because the songs in The Route To Happiness commonly don’t progress any further than the one idea that their title is written from, although there are some witty one liner lyrics.
Indeed, there are several witty lyrics, helped immensely along with the calibre of cast in tow. We follow the interweaving lives of three present-day Londoners in pursuit of their perspective dreams, whether it’s love for Lorna (Shona White), money for Marcus (Niall Sheehy) or fame for Trinity (Cassidy Janson). Each actor has had a score of successful West End roles before from Wicked to Les Miserables and it definitely shows, with everyone hitting their notes easily, no mean feat as Bermange has not written a musical that keeps the actors always safely within their musical comfort zone (and rightly so). Whilst it’s great seeing and recognising the same overly ambitious dreams that we all secretly share brought alive on stage, the problem with focusing each particular dream on one specific character is that it makes everyone very one dimensional. This is just about acceptable for wealth obsessed Marcus and fame-mad Trinity – played with absolutely hilarious melodrama by Janson – but it becomes a lot clearly stereotypical when Bermange is writing for lovesick Lorna. It’s not really the fault of actor Shona White; she gives the role her all, but rather the character of Lorna herself. Lorna is fed up of men who cheat, are gay, steal the remote, watch football, and oggle porn. Lorna loves shopping, has loads of handbags and wants to dance to Take That all day long. Lorna is a little dull.
If you can look past the clichés especially surrounding your typical woman and just take The Route To Happiness as a fun, mildly catchy collection of songs then you’re in for a great time. I’m not sure I found complete happiness at the end of the night but I did find a way of passing an evening rather enjoyably, and who could really want for more than that anyway?