Musical numbers:”Don’t Look Back,” “Maddie Dancing,” “Knick Knacks,” “Ghost,” “I’ll Find Time for You,” “Easy,” “I’ll Have My Way,” “The Time of My Life,” “Star,” “One More Day,” “I’ve Always Known,” “Suzi’s,” “From Now On,” “Afraid,” “Star Reprise,” “At the Gates,” “If Not for Me.”
The scenery isn’t the only thing that goes thud in “Maddie,” a new British musical that is going to take every bit of showbiz nationalism and goodwill to give the West End the homegrown musical hit that it has long craved. Inspired by the same Jack Finney novel (“Marion’s Wall”) that spawned the Glenn Close film “Maxie,” the show is at best competent, at worst brazenly imitative and charmless. Odd moments hint at the unfulfilled promise of a young creative team, giving off the air of a fake Broadway musical for people who’ve never seen the real thing. After “Enter the Guardsman,” “Maddie” is London’s second (and more severe) new musical misfire in as many weeks.
There might be a good show somewhere in the tale of Jan Cheyney, a California housewife in 1981 taken over by the ghost of a 1920s flapper named Maddie. But neither this musical nor the 1985 Hollywood film has figured out what story it wants to tell: Part feminist parable, part “Blithe Spirit” (not to mention “Sunset Boulevard”), the show seems to want to celebrate the same free spirit that it ends up dismissing.
As played by a wide-mouthed, huge-eyed American performer named Summer Rognlie who resembles a more calculated Liza Minnelli, Maddie is recklessness incarnate and she’s also, to be honest, a bit of a bore. She’s the kind of irrepressible heroine that has become the kind of cliche audiences are likely to find more resistible than the show does.
Before Jan even has time to say “exorcist,” she’s possessed by long-dead would-be film star Maddie (“She can’t keep moving in and out; I am not a Holiday Inn”). Husband Nick (Graham Bickley) is torn: Sure, Maddie’s wanton manner threatens his job and marriage, but when you’ve got a specter so good at sex, what’s a young man to do? Completing the story’s quartet are Al Turner (Kevin Colson), the Cheyneys’ landlord and Maddie’s onetime paramour, and Mrs. Van Arc (Lynda Baron), a rich and chesty widow who proves not immune to the thrill of possession. The implicit questions are, will Jan or Maddie win out, and which is the truly independent woman?
With a cleverer book, these issues might compel; instead, co-writers Shaun McKenna and Steven Dexter ladle on the winsomeness, alongside some unbelievably lame repartee. “Maddie” is the first all-British musical to arrive on the West End since “Sunset Boulevard,” but that’s slight justification for an embarrassing (if inadvertent) retread of that show’s second-act climax, with Maddie arriving at a movie studio for a screen test.
Stephen Keeling’s score desperately aspires to a Broadway brio and bounce, even if those qualities are far more evident in Caroline Humphris’ pleasingly old-style orchestrations. McKenna’s lyrics are as generic as Keeling’s sources are obvious.
The director, Martin Connor, staged a delightful West End surprise a decade ago with his revival of “Wonderful Town,” but he’s on far shakier ground this time around, and he’s not helped by a design (by Niki Turner) far more end-of-pier than state-of-the-art.
Colson and the hilarious Paddy Glynn aside, the cast virtually all oversell the material and themselves. Rognlie in particular comes across as loud, brash and in-your-face, but it’s not entirely her fault that, at “Maddie,” one mostly wants to look away.