The production was as breathtaking as the guest-list. It was never going to win an Olivier for Services to Finesse - how could it with that many leg-warmers, patchwork floppy hats and back-to-front baseball caps on show? But the energy expended - especially on a hot night - was astonishing. It was exhausting just to watch; by the end we felt as if we had just gone 12 rounds with Eubank - and we were merely the audience.
In "Dancin' on the Sidewalk", a dance student called Tyrone leapt from a first-floor balcony and performed the sort of back-flips rarely seen outside the gymnastic floor-exercises section at the Olympic Games. At the end of the number, he crouched on the floor panting for a good 30 seconds. Tyrone, by the way, is played by Scott Sherrin, a bandana-wearing dude whose torso ripples under a string vest. He is not believed to be related to Ned.
The blur of energy on stage, however, could not conceal the lack of plot. Luvvies playing luvvies often makes for uncomfortable viewing, as anyone who has seen the "struggling actress" in BBC1's Castles will testify. Early on, an aspiring thespian sang: "I Wanna Do The Lion in Winter / Brecht and Harold Pinter." Pur-lease.
In Jose Fernandez's story, various young hopefuls arrive at the New York High School for Performing Arts to be told - twice over in case they don't get the message the first time - what damn hard work it's all going to be. After a few all-singing, all-dancing routines and some under-developed story lines about drugs and sexuality, they graduate and go off to be waiters - sorry, performers.
In the end, though, it was a case of "Never mind the plot, feel the show- stoppers." There was an excess of actors singing Steve Margoshes's mournful ballads on their knees in a spotlight, and some touches were hard to fathom. Why, for instance, was a song about being like Meryl Streep accompanied by four dancers in black martial-arts kit doing tai chi? But otherwise, director Runar Borge captured the grandstanding enthusiasm of eager young performers. Mabel (Sonia Swaby) had the audience whooping with delight during a gospel number about losing weight. Saving the best till last, the encore of the title song was delivered by the sassy Loraine Velez from the roof of a New York yellow cab, which drove on stage through a cloud of dry ice. Eat your heart out, Miss Saigon.
By that stage, even Dennis Hopper's icy veneer had melted and he was on his feet shouting "Bravo" with the best of them.
n Continues at the Cambridge Theatre, London WC2 (0171-494 5080)Reuse content