There is at least one thing going for this new show in the ever beguiling East End pleasure dome: it's the first ever British Chinese musical. And, although it's written by Americans – writer Robert Lee and composer Leon Ko are regular participants in the long-running musical theatre project at Stratford – it's local.
How local is another matter: I can't imagine there are many Chinese lads along Stratford High Street wanting to sing like Welsh warbler Tom Jones.
But that's the fantasy of Eddie Woo – played attractively by Stephen Hoo – shaking off the strictures of his widowed father in the Chinese takeaway and slipping into the pub talent competition with Dillon the delivery girl (Natasha Jayetilike).
Dillon is one of the many girlfriends Eddie strings along, the others represented by a singing trio of Gloria Onitiri, Shelley Williams and Gabby Wong. They're not exactly the Supremes but they do anchor the proceedings in a plausible musical theatre context.
It's quite a surprise, therefore, when Eddie switches off his Tom Jones womanising button and discovers his inner Barry Manilow, waxing soft and syrupy with his guitar-strumming pal Reese (Marcus Elland). They sing a duet in boxer shorts, which prepares us for the underwear bombardment at the final curtain; though, if memory serves, it was the women in the audience who threw those items at Tom Jones, not he at them. By that stage, everyone's wearing gold sparkly jackets and Tom Jones wigs, so my point's no doubt irrelevant.
There is a refreshing vitality about the show even if the narrative is incoherent and the songs routine. And there's a political subtext of exploitation, highlighted in the case of the Morecambe cockle pickers, used as an excuse for the girls to disguise themselves as the Eastern Asian Liberation Army and "rescue" Eddie from slavery.
Kerry Michael's production comes alive with yellow banners and a dancing dragon, a welcome change from Eddie's relationship with his dad (Ozzie Yue), who wants him to continue the family business.
Confused? You will be, but not half so much as Eddie, whose tale packages the crudely ironic message that there's no escape from your background. Even Tom Jones, I imagine, knows that.
To 9 July (020 8534 0310)Reuse content