Too Close To The Sun will give you a truly memorable night out at the theatre. Sadly, this isn't for quite the reasons the composer intended (by the way, he is the man who brought you Behind The Iron Mask, which should really tell you all you need to know). If you're still not getting it, perhaps this will give you an idea of the quality of this particular show. Yes, this is absolutely, without a shadow of a doubt, the worst piece of theatre to have sat in any part of London in the last decade, and possibly ever.
Starring James Graeme as a rather overly vigorous Ernest Hemingway, Helen Dallimore as long-suffering wife Mary, Jay Benedict as the pervy and rather disturbing Rex de Havilland and Tammy Joelle as naughty secretary Luella, the piece gives a fictional rendering of what 'might' have happened during Ernest Hemingway's last days. According to John Robinson and Roberto Trippini, who between them wrote the music and libretto, he spent his time drinking heavily, aggressively hitting on young women and arguing with de Havilland. Thankfully, despite the majority of the audience (including Theatrical Leanings) knowing not very much about Hemingway at all, the musical is so ridiculous that you soon come to realise this fictional account is very fictional indeed.
With songs written in freeverse and scored all over the scale, plus a series of hackneyed and unfortunate lines ('enough of this bullshit' provoked one audience member to laugh so loudly it sent the rest of the - by that point mostly empty - theatre into paroxysms), this show is a disaster not even waiting to happen. The poor performers struggled along with the tone-deaf score and terrible lyrics, gamely ploughing through, though despite their professional status, they often seemed unable to stay in tune. The songs came out of nowhere and often had no relevance to the plot (see 'Havana' and 'Alabama, The Queen Of Them All') - while others were simply so, so bad as to be laughable ('Just Relax - Think Good Thoughts' and 'Make Yourself One With The Gun'). Poor Joelle was forced to sing a tune with the title 'Poor Little Silly Young Me', showing exactly how little thought had been put into her character.
This was an unintentional comedy, with the audience sniggering their way through both acts. The majority of the audience left at the interval, unable to take any more, and those who did remain had to self-medicate to make it through the remaining 12(!) songs, including yours truly. Whether it was the aggressive, somewhat harassing flirtation between Ernest and Luella, Rex running around like a lunatic stage left singing about how he'd make a film while Ernest earnestly caterwauled about committing suicide stage right, the endless revolve or Mary and Luella discussing (at length) bleu cheese and hot sauce before the immortal line: 'I don't trust that pirate girl' was uttered by Dallimore as Joelle exited the stage, TCTTS provided the remaining audience with an evening out unlike any other (apart from those who saw Behind The Iron Mask, that is).
When it comes down to it, whoever thought it was a good idea to make a musical about Ernest Hemingway committing suicide should themselves be shot. While it could possibly have worked as a straight play, with a lot of rewriting, as a musical it was utterly abysmal. The performers knew it too - at curtain call the smiles were slipping and the weary horror showed on their faces. 'Can't Think Of It Without Wanting To Cry'. With laughter, that is.
Go and see this horrific gem of a show. You'll want to say you did in years to come, trust me. But make sure you load up on booze before you even start, or you won't make it as far as the interval.