We take a look at what is being said about the new musical based around the politician Silvio Berlusconi.
WhatsOnStage: *** “Musical theatre obsessive will have a field day spotting all the references and influences from other shows and styles: there’s the Fosse-esque hands springing through the floor, a transformation number reminiscent of Evita’s “Rainbow High” sequence, a musical argument recalling Rent’s “Tango Maureen”, a trio of female leads that could have come straight out of The Witches of Eastwick, the list goes on…”
Broadway World: ** “Emma Hatton (Veronica) and Natalie Kassanga (Bella) are the highlights of the piece. Hatton’s performance is sophisticated and subtle, while Kassanga’s only big song truly is a show-stopping ballad. Matthew Woodyat’s Antonio finally introduces his role as the premier’s minion and confidante towards the end. He is tied down as the comic relief in a production that already tries too hard to be funny and his solo is misplaced, but his role shows once more that Berlusconi could be a catchy, interesting production.”
The Telegraph: *** “Despite the finger-wagging commentary, Berlusconi would be rather pleased with his magnetic portrayal in this bonkers production.”
The Guardian: ** “We never feel the sting of the satire, or come to know these characters. At over two hours long, it’s a shame such an inspired idea ends up feeling so banal and interminable.”
Lou Reviews: *** 1/2 “Torkia often interacts with the audience (at all levels), which pulls us into the conspiratorial charm his character used to get ahead. James Grieve’s direction makes the most of the space and the motifs that suggest Berlusconi’s instability.”
The Reviews Hub: **** “As a satire, the show really takes off at the beginning of the second act. A night club dancing scene demonstrates the thin line between politics and show business and then Berlusconi joins a bare chested Vladimir Putin (Gavin Wilkinson) in a chilling, but hilarious duet which resembles a bizarre courting ritual. This is followed by an equally hilarious sequence in which Berlusconi strides the world stage with the heads of G7 leaders popping up from below him. It all leads to a finale in which, the chorus faces the audience and sings “Be Careful Who You Vote For”. The audience response could well be “Si”.”
Evening Standard: ** “What’s the point of it all, though? This tells us less than we already knew about Berlusconi and nothing new about populist politicians. A few good songs and a lot of fillers wrapped around a grab-bag of quirky ideas do not a musical make.”
West End Best Friend: *** “A highlight is Natalie Kassanga as Bella. In ‘Smoking Gun, her intonation is reminiscent of Lily Allen’s soft form cockney as she gives voice to Berlusconi’s young female victims who are forced to keep schtum. Her fear and sadness is palpable in her stillness on top of the steps as her hands tremble.”
Time Out: ** “And yet… glimmers of something great peek through the fog, especially the brilliant, breezy duet between Berlusconi and Gavin Wilkinson’s shirtless Putin, done as a dainty love song. Why couldn’t every song have form and purpose like that one?”
London Theatre1: *** “Still, the production has a strong cast, with standouts from Veronica (Emma Hatton) and Bella (Natalie Kassanga) in their respective ballads. The narrative needs tightening and it needs to be staged somewhere larger: neither challenge is insurmountable.”
iNews: ** “The music comes in a variety of styles, but the sheer quantity of it is exhausting – though it is jauntily played by the five-piece band. The lyrics remain unsubtle as Berlusconi powers on, singularly devoid of self-knowledge or contrition. On this evidence, his one redeeming feature appears to be that he had a decent mother. A bare-chested Vladimir Putin pops up for one skit-style number in which Berlusconi is transfixed by the Russian leader’s strong-man persona. Yet if Simmonds and Vaughan wanted to make their piece an admonitory template about the danger of misogynist populist politicians in the Berlusconi mould – Trump and Bolsonaro, to name but two – it is not strongly pointed enough.”
Theatre Weekly: “It’s not all bad, there are some fantastic performances within Berlusconi. As the titular character Sebastien Torkia is magical, just the right amount of sleaze, charm and charisma that has the audience warming to Berlusconi just as much as the Italians did when they voted him into power.”
The Arts Desk: ** “Sung through, the score, played with a driving enthusiasm by Jordan Li-Smith’s five strong band, gives a Tommy-like rock opera feel to the production that never quite takes off as it’s so hemmed in by the set. On occasion, drums, guitar and bass overpower the voices, despite the cast amplification.”
The Upcoming: *** “As an Italian who experienced first-hand the chaotic, life-changing events of those turbulent years, protesting outside school against Berlusconi’s education cuts, this writer cannot help but feel somewhat dissatisfied. That being said, it was also an entertaining evening, filled with funny moments and beautifully sung pieces, that hopefully will encourage people to reflect on the devastating effects of corrupted power.”
The musical continues to play at the Southwark Playhouse’s Elephant venue until the 29th April.