Musical Comedy Awards 2023 | Review of the final at Bloomsbury Theatre © Elina Kansikas

Musical Comedy Awards 2023

Review of the final at Bloomsbury Theatre

Kazoos, recorders, violins masquerading as ventriloquists’ dummies… yep, the Musical Comedy Awards were on song for their latest cheery run around the  block.

And then, of course, there were the women: eight out of 12 of the finalists were female this year, the first time they have outnumbered men in the awards’ 15 years. 

The odds were good, then, for a female winner, and so it came in the form of Katie Norris, a seasoned pro by this night’s standards thanks to her years of performing with sketch partner Sinead Parker. If you’ve seen the duo before you’ll recognise the themes straddled across her allotted seven minutes - sex, transgressions, the tribulations of the early developer.

Her comic timing is as exquisite as her voice as she performed a lamentation of her doomed relationship with an emotionally distant French techno DJ from East London (aka, middle-class mummying of the highest order). Meanwhile, her premature horniness as a Somerset schoolgirl/‘farm fatale’ displayed the kind of tight lyrics that get you to critical Edinburgh Fringe acclaim (‘you try to study algebra but you’re turned on by Lynx Africa…’) 

Experience also won out for third-placed Annabel Marlow, a Lamda-trained singer who was first to play Catherine Howard in the smash hit musical Six, that feminist pop retelling of the lives of Henry VIII's wives. Sassy and slick, she displayed excellent storytelling nous at the keyboard as she detailed with delicious world-weariness the trickiness of dating two graphic designers during lockdown. 

If we could have given highly commended gongs, we’d have given them to Tasmin Sarkany and Nikola McMurtrie, who both offered highly skilful, tight-as-a-drum sets.

In the guise of Amelia Crotchet (‘but you can call me quaver for short’) Sarkany took us on a tour of classical music using her violin as both a ventriloquist sidekick and musical punchline. Want to know what ‘football’ pitch and ‘business’ pitch sound like? Her four strings delivered ingenious answers, and even a clever callback.

McMurtrie started well with a apology for artistic indulgence - and to all the friends she dragged to her contemporary dance shows ‘to watch me being a dickhead’ - and got even better with her disappointment that her ancestry DNA test lacked the requisite spice desired by a try-hard millennial. Line of the night? ‘I was whiter than Tilda Swinton reading The Sun covered in milk.'

Corn-rowed grime rapper Amelia Hamilton had the misfortune of going first but got into her stride with a relatable riff on the bizarre advice that’s the preserve of the over-protective mum; though she, like singer Su Mi, who leaned into Asian stereotypes a little too obviously, need to sharpen up the lyrics and banter. 

It was left to Selena Mersey and The Gorgeous Diva - aka character comic Jay Bennett - to ramp up the old-school glamour, which they did with quirky aplomb.

In a gold-sequinned dress and with burlesque brio, Mersey offered up an impassioned English lesson in pronouns, while big-haired, big-dreaming pub singer The Gorgeous Diva nailed the patter and the parodies (Christmas songs, cheesy show tunes) with a spike almost as sharp as keyboardist Barnie’s stilettos.

With Ed Sheeran-obsessed JoJo Maberley also showing her wares despite the fact she’d already been proclaimed the night’s best newcomer, the old adage was clearly true - girls really do want to have fun. 

And as for the fellas? Second-place Christian Jegard used his YouTubing nous to great effect by getting his backing singers, projected on to a screen (and played by himself, of course),  to fatally undermine the relationship he crooned happily about.

He’s another one having trouble adulting, as his second song conjured up the incongruity of living a life that contained too many parties and cummerbunds for a bedsit to reasonably hold. Watch more of his videos and the inspiration of The Mighty Boosh and Flight Of The Conchords become more obvious. He also strode home with the audience award, based on the reaction of the crowds at the Bloomsbury Theatre, and votes from those watching the NextUp livestream. A deserved fan favourite. 

Pete Bazely left me wanting more with his laconic, Bill Bailey-esque delivery, excellent audience interaction and streak of the devil. You’ll sympathise with his alcoholism and murderous inclinations - and he’ll have you singing along with his guitar in no time. 

Top marks for sheer silliness, meanwhile, go to Will BF, who managed to turn the curse of post-sleep dead arm into millionaire riches and sex with Meghan Fox.

Equally as upbeat was the big-voiced Eddy MacKenzie, the love-child of Brian Blessed and Jack Black, who wishes he had complex mental health issues or the tears of a clown. He may not, but hey, this was a night celebrating high spirits and joie de vivre.

The jury’s out on whether it uncovered the next Victoria Wood or Tim Minchin but musical comedy is in rude health, whatever the gender.

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Review date: 1 Apr 2023
Reviewed by: Sharon Lougher
Reviewed at: Bloomsbury Theatre

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