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

Live To Tell follows the quest of Brian, a Madonna superfan living with HIV, as he pitches himself to Madonna to create a jukebox musical.

The press release for Live To Tell: (A Proposal For) The Madonna Musical reads “Staying strong and surviving is her superpower, and that seems really appealing to a mere mortal like me! So in the show I pitch myself to Madonna to help her create a jukebox musical based on her songs. It doesn’t all go according to plan, and I have to face up to what it means in my own life to survive with HIV.”

As tales go, The Recs had naively thought that a play billed as being a ‘proposal’ for a Madonna Jukebox Musical, would have had more than a passing reference or two to Madonna herself, or perhaps any reference at all to musicals. Seeing as the writer, Brian Mullin, admits to not having been a fan of the megastar herself before writing this piece, perhaps it isn’t a surprise that the one thing truly lacking throughout is ‘Madonna’, with no real cohesion as to why she is any part of this piece at all. Imagine painting your walls pink and then throwing a white party. Why?!

All images by Harry Elletson

The main storyline has little to do with Madonna, but focuses on a gay man’s struggle with drug addiction and the side effects from his HIV medication. Writing a piece about such a deeply personal experience is admirable, but in 2023, do we still need ‘gay plays’ that don’t break the mould? 

Thankfully, we now live in a world now where representation of those with HIV and AIDS and the story of those who have gone before their time, has produced some masterpieces of theatre. But Live To Tell: (A Proposal For) The Madonna Musical brings little new or original to these stories. Sad to say that if you keep beating the exact same drum for too long, you’ll just become background noise and few will listen, however important the story may be.

This piece is frustratingly predictable in its portrayal of a gay man living with HIV. It struggles to garner support or sympathy for its characters by either properly setting the scene or allowing some crucial development within their lives, before reaching out to us for applause. To feel true engagement with those struggling with addiction and subsequently losing opportunities they may have received, you need to dig below the surface and give the audience an insight into the way they are, and the set of circumstances that have brought them to this point in their lives. Sadly, we aren’t given this opportunity.

This isn’t a proposal or a nod to a jukebox musicals and that is maybe for the best if the spoke-sung rendition of Cherish, complete with audience sing-a-long (and man with stick and ribbon ‘dancing’ around the stage, no honestly) was anything to go by. Despite what you may think, it was a highlight. 

The piece becomes more baffling and unguided as it continues to pass through every station of the emotion train, without stopping. 

The one shining light of this piece comes from the writer himself, though not in the form of the script. Brian Mullin gives a commendable and honest acting performance throughout, as the lead character of Brian. It is perhaps that his personal familiarity with the material that resulted in subsequent lack of character development. We don’t know anything about him unless he tells us. Imagine sex without foreplay?! Dan de la Motte, in his supporting role playing ‘Everyone Else’, switches from one character to the next with ease. He supports Mullin’s performance well and gives the piece some well needed highs and lows.  

Sorry, we’re not Crazy for You – ★★ two stars, but at least you Live To Tell another tale. 

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

Live To Tell: (A Proposal For) The Madonna Musical runs at Omnibus Theatre until 18 February then at Camden People’s Theatre between 4 - 15 April

Tickets are priced £16 (£13 concession)

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