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If ever a title was likely to put you off a show, this one was…..but not me……

US composer John Adams is better known for his operas and this is his first (and only) attempt at ‘musical theatre’…..but it’s not really a musical…..or theatre…..or opera…..It’s a dramatised song cycle set at the time of the Northridge earthquake in 1994 Los Angeles. There are 22 songs sung by seven singers accompanied by eight musicians. Taken as a whole, they are a fascinating cocktail of pop, jazz & modern classical; much more accessible than Adams usual fare. Though there are connections between the characters and there is the earthquake itself in Act II, the lack of cohesive narrative means it doesn’t really amount to a ‘show’ though. 

There’s some lovely music here and I’m keen to hear it again. The seven performers are outstanding, delivering sometimes difficult music really well, and the band are terrific too. The staging did add value in a way, and it certainly didn’t detract, but it’s more illustration than story-telling and I think the songs would work almost as well without it. If the first half was a little shorter and as good as the second it would be a lot lot better.

A very worthy joint venture for the ever innovative Barbican & Stratford East though and deserving of a bigger audience – partly no doubt because only a handful of critics have headed east to review it and therefore publicise it – shame on you Evening Standard, The Independent, Daily Telegraph, The Stage & whatsonstage.com!

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