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A CurtainUp LondonLondon Review
by Lizzie Loveridge

Give me a freak
Any day of the week.
I'm comfortable with someone who could be called demented.
--- Lyrics to "Freak" sung by Paul Baker as Philip Sallon

Euan Morton as Boy George
(Photo: Borkowski PR)

Boy George's new musical Taboo, a tale of pop music, drugs and sex set in the 1980s, is a gentle, melodic picture of life in the London clubbing age of the New Romantics. The boy gets girl - loses girl - doubts his sexuality - returns to girl, story-line may not be groundbreaking but unlike other musical vehicles like Abba's Mamma Mia and the Beatles' musical All You Need Is Love, at least it does have one.

The personalities of George's world are all there: George, himself, famous for his outrageous and beautiful appearance, using makeup and flamboyant clothes to express his personality. . .  his friend with great legs, transvestite Marilyn, the performance artist and artist's model for the painter Lucien Freud. . .  Leigh Bowery, new romantic Philip Sallon, Steve Strange club stylist, the photographers of the press and girls, snappers and slappers. Their lives are touched by discovering their sexuality, sometimes bi or gay, breaking into the music business, experiments with drugs and exploitative and sensational journalism putting their lives under close scrutiny by the media.

The musical opens in the context of a suburban London area, Bromley, where teenager Billy (Luke Evans) is growing up with his unemployed, wastrel father, Derek (Mark White), and his oppressed, unfulfilled mother Josie (Gemma Craven). Billy leaves home to make his way in the city, and through a career as a photographer meets the celebrities of London's clubbing scene. Leigh Bowery (Matt Lucas) poses in a variety of increasingly strange outfits until his death of AIDS. George (Euan Morton) and the talentless Marilyn (Mark McGee) break into the music business, but at the height of their celebrity are narcotic dependent and almost throw it all away. George is arrested for possession of heroin. Billy, who endearingly keeps in touch with his mother, finds and almost loses a girlfriend, Kim (Dianne Pilkington). Billy's mother leaves her abusive husband and starts her own business. These lost souls, who under the sequins and makeup are brittle children from dysfunctional families, finally find some kind of peace in Eastern religion guided by a guru in India.

All the music and lyrics are Boy George's own. The music is tuneful, original and charming, the lyrics surprisingly intelligent and perceptive. I liked the Leigh Bowery style fascist number where, to strains of the rhythm of Cabaret, he becomes increasingly Germanised, to declare himself, "Ich bin Kunse" - "I am Art, You are Parody". The ballads are pretty love song and, slow rock numbers. There is a glorious four part song towards the end where George , Billy, Steve Strange and Marilyn contribute reprises of individual numbers to "Out of Fashion" as they reflect that their Warhol "Fifteen minutes of Fame" has passed. The cd of Taboo is under production and will be available in six weeks.

Euan Morton bears an amazing resemblance to George, who was sitting close to me the night I attended so I could compare them. His singing is mellifluous and attractive. Luke Evans is fine as Billy, especially in his two solo numbers, "Safe in the City" and "I See Through You". The excellent ensemble and orchestra are well balanced. With the emphasis being placed on the musical performances, the choreography suffers.

The costumes are authentic and detailed as befits a show about people for whom fashion was an important aspect of their personality. The styles include tartan bondage trousers for the Boomtown Rats fans, punk for those still clinging to the 1970s, Gothic black makeup and pale faces, and George's own distinctive kimono outfit with high piled hair or his hat and ribboned braids.

The Venue is a converted basement of a church in Leicester Place which was home to a comedy club. It now seats 320, cramped in places, but gives the show a pleasing intimacy. The mundane set encompasses the Bromley flat on one side, with the bar, a real bar from which interval drinks are served on the other, with a vintage red telephone kiosk to make calls home to Mum.

Although the musical deals with Bowery's death, George's drug addiction and has someone stabbed in a drug related incident, it is not gritty or hard hitting. The night I saw Taboo, the audience seemed to be the thirty something generation who could have spent their teens and early twenties in London's club culture. Of course the 1980s was the era of Thatcherism, the thrusting, grabby yuppies and like all counter youth culture, the rebellious element of Boy George's music was one of sensitivity and humanity. Just as the show draws to close, they take the curtain calls and you think George has not included his very biggest hit "Karma Chameleon " . . . but you would be wrong. Taboo is a refreshing addition to London's musical offerings and the producers have already announced an extension of the booking period to 14th September.

Music and Lyrics by Boy George
Book by Mark Davies
Directed by Christopher Renshaw

With: Paul Baker, Luke Evans, Mark White, Gemma Craven, Dianne Pilkington, Euan Morton, Drew Jaymson, Gail Mackinnon, Matt Lucas, Mark McGee, Michelle Hooper, Hannah Jane Fox, Lucy Harris, Andy Morton, Joe Docherty, Declan Bennett, Zee Asher
Design: Tim Goodchild
Costume Design: Mike Nicholls
Musical Director: James McKeon
Choreographer: Les Childs
Lighting Design: Chris Ellis
Sound Design by Jem Kichen
An Adam Kenwright and John Fuchs Production
Running time: Two hours 40 minutes with one interval
Box Office: 0870 899 3335
Booking to 14th September 2002
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge based on 7th February 2002 performance at The Venue, 5 Leicester Place off Leicester Square London WC2

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