Build Me A Bridge, Bridewell Theatre, London

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The Independent Culture

If you were to stick Build Me A Bridge within gigantic inverted commas, it might come across as a deadly satire on the terminal derivativeness of the great mass of current musical comedy writing. But this compilation revue, which celebrates the songs and shows of Charles Miller (composer) and Kevin Hammonds (lyricist), is not so much wickedly waving as drowning defiantly in the exhausted gene pool of the musical genre. Reviewers whose judgement I respect gave a warm welcome earlier this year to the Bridewell's staging of Brenda Bly: Teen Detective, an apparently tuneful and witty spoof of the Nancy Drew mystery books, penned by the same pair and lauded by one critic for turning "what could have been a mix of Daisy Pulls It Off and Little Shop of Horrors into one of the most original shows in town". The knack for pastiche is certainly evident in Build Me A Bridge; what's somewhat harder to discern is, well, anything else.

Attractively sung by a personable cast, the excerpts of the Miller/Hammonds shows heard here suggest that the authors' entire understanding of human life has been derived from musical comedy. The resulting atmosphere is stifling to a degree. "A Chorus Line - what a crock of shit" exclaims one of the 15 wannabes who, in "No One in the World", converge on New York in the hope of revolutionizing city politics. Oh, okay, just kidding: they converge on New York "with one end: to make it on Broadway". But the irony of singing "There's no one in the world like me!" when every day, at auditions, you meet hundreds who are indistinguishable from you, can't have the requisite bite in a show whose own deviations from the tired norm are so gutless. One of the numbers "Only 16 Bars" is supposed to be a jokey look at the rude abrupt reality of auditions, but it takes only sixteen bars of any of the numbers here to realize that the Miller/Hammonds idea of exploding the conventions of the Broadway song is to curl up inside them with a knowing pout.

The team has notched up 280 ditties. As the man in front of me remarked, it's quite a feat, in the circumstances, not to have heard of a single one. Veterans of Build Me A Bridge will find several sticking in their minds, though, if perhaps not for the right reasons. Take "Christmas in New York", a relentlessly rosy-cheeked company number (from Mr Christmas) about how the business mentality is suspended in favour of magic and charity and how "As the big day comes/They toss more crumbs".

But while it might be fair to say that one had never heard of the Miller/Hammonds catalogue, the songs are so generic (with egregious rip-offs such as the Sondheim marital-misery-aria-for-feisty-diva "It's The Greatest Show On Earth") that it would be a mistake, in a sense, to say that one had never previously heard it.

To January 4 Box office 020 7936 3456

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