Live To Tell: (A Proposal For) The Madonna Musical

"This play is a roller coaster of genres, styles and emotions"

Currently in Clapham there is a play about one man’s life living with HIV, there is also a play about a man putting together a proposal for a Madonna Musical. These plays sound wildly different in style and purpose but they have been intertwined by writer and performer Brian Mullin.

We first meet Brian playing himself, as he is recording ‘Proposal One’ a self-tape style video he plans to send to Madonna in the hopes of getting her go ahead on a musical containing her songs. After all if Abba can have one, why shouldn’t she? Over the course of the evening we see all 3 proposals, each as cliché as the last from ‘Catholic Girl moves to the big city’ to ‘Best Friends move to the big city’ – Brian despairs at the jukebox musical tropes yet it’s all that he can seem to come up with.

We’re introduced to a variety of characters over the 80 minutes, Brian always playing himself with the others in the story brought to life by Dan de la Motte. Dan gives us some wonderful characterisation from Doctor to Agent to Lover, sometimes changing multiple times in a minute Dan is standout in this play and certainly earns his applause.

This play is a roller coaster of genres, styles and emotions. Much like the graph Brian is shown, to explain his ‘viral load’ and the fact that over time his HIV status has become U=Undetectable U=Untransmittable, it is full of big ups and big downs. There are some moments of true emotion that give you an important insight into life with this disease, reminding you that even after all these years there is still a stigma attached to HIV.

There are other moments that feel very jarring and like they do not fit into the show, in particular the scene where Brian takes his Doctor through a new idea and they begin singing together, the audience are then invited to join in with a sing along of Madonna’s hit ‘Cherish’ with the words projected on stage like a karaoke club just feels awkward and un-funny.

The projection and sound design from Josh Anio Grigg and lighting from Alex Thomas add hugely to the performance, perfectly enhancing the action on stage and bringing the bare space to life with simple effects.

Madonna has been a huge icon in the LGBTQ+ Community for most of her career, so I can see the logic in choosing her to propose a musical containing her songs, though actually I don’t feel this adds much to the play. With a bit of tidying up and some work around the flow of the piece this could be something very special.

This production was reviewed on the 9th February 2023 at the Omnibus Theatre, London where it runs until the 18th February 2023. Tickets available here: Live To Tell (A Proposal For) The Madonna Jukebox Musical (omnibus-clapham.org)

Review written by Rosie Browne

Photo credit: Harry Elletson

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