As a jukebox musical, In Dreams has all the right elements—competently designed and strategically arranged—yet the whole gestalt is lacking the illusion of spontaneity that makes such campy material soar. Presented by Mirvish, this follow-up from the & Juliet team—director Luke Sheppard and writer David West Read—co-opts the hit songs of Roy Orbison to tell the story of a ragtag collection of easy to root for stock characters congregating in a roadside dive bar-cum-Mexican restaurant.
Kenna (Lena Hall) is our main character; she’s a country-rock singer with a recent cancer diagnosis. She happens upon the above-mentioned establishment where she meets the owners, a couple named Oscar (Manuel Pacific) and Nicole (Nasim Ramírez). To make some extra cash and honour their culture, they offer memorial services in the tradition of Mexico’s Dia de los Muertos. Lena commissions this adorable pair—wrestling with their own issues—to give her a celebration of life party.
After some prodding by Oscar’s quirky abuela, Ana Sofia (Alma Ceurvo), Lena is reunited with her former bandmates: the cocky old flame, Ramsey (Oliver Tompsett); and disillusioned suburban parents, Jane (Sian Reese-Williams) and Donovan (Noël Sullivan). It’s been fifteen years since the band’s break-up and, as they reconnect, Lena’s determined to keep her bad news a secret. Thrown into the works is a super fan of the former group, Tom (Leon Craig) and a recently widowed love interest for Ana Sofia, George (Richard Trinder). The ensemble is rounded out with standard supporting characters played by Hannah Ducharme, Mark Peachey and Fabiola Ocasio.
There are a handful genuinely funny and poignant bits; some lovely references to Mexican culture’s whimsical appreciation of death and the sustained, fully integrated devotion to lost family members as a way of life; but Read’s book is an assemblage of hokey set-ups and payoffs that effectively pull the songs into a functional yet uninspired storyline. The first act is particularly tedious because it features such clunky exposition. The very talented and enthusiastic cast manage to give these corny characters some dimension, but they’re never more endearing than the familiar songs we’re all anticipating.
The second act’s intended showstopper—a heartfelt rendition of “Wild Hearts Run Out of Time”—feels limp and sappy. Far from helping to intensify the emotion of the scene, the majestic sun-rise projected behind the actors only amplifies the vapid spectacle of it all.
Fabian Aloise’s choreography goes for that faux-casual—these are just regular folks all worked up in a shared space—sort of aesthetic. It’s cute, gets everyone involved and fills the stage nicely, but the execution is stiff and lacks the charged and impulsive quality that drives compelling dance numbers.
With its wood panelling and neon beer ads, Arnulfo Maldonado’s set serves authentic American dive-bar realness and is my favourite aspect of this production. George Reeve’s gorgeous video backdrop of the ever-changing open sky is also stunning, though I find the fanciful, psychedelic starscapes more silly than magical.
Catherine Jayes’s arrangement of these already iconic songs into narratively utilitarian musical numbers does give them a fresh appeal. And this production has got plenty of atmospheric, dazzling scenic flourishes that elicit some oohs and aahs. There’s a formula at work here pumping out serviceable musical theatre spectacle as per convention. It’s fine, but I found it all so banal.