Stephen Sondheim once said of A Chorus Line that once two characters had their solos, you began to count how many you had to go. The Chorus Line problem might well be rechristened the SIX problems in the modern age, and indeed the success of both shows might suggest that it is not a problem. Yet Fury and Elysium suggest that there is something that doesn’t quite work about the episodic structure. We meet six characters, all struggling with different facets of their identity in Weimar/Nazi Berlin, all of them interesting, but each one slips away just as we get a handle on them. Although we get a wide picture of Weimar Berlin, we never really dig as deeply into individual stories as we want to, which is a shame when individually they could be so emotive.

Credit: Lexi Clare Photography

With that said, this is a musical with huge potential. The score, by Calista Kazuko Georget, is captivating, and really drives the piece. Stephanie Martin’s script has some really powerful dialogue, though it struggles in its more soapbox-y moments. The score echoes the rhythms and harmonics of 1930s Germany whilst remaining true to its musical theatre form, and they give us one of the strongest act-one finishes I have seen in a new musical. I would like to see some more of the debauchery referenced in the lyrics onstage, however. Rafaella Marcus and Karoline Gable’s direction feels too tame for the deliciously sordid world being described. The restricted space of the Other Palace Studio no doubt contributes to this, but there is a disconnect between visuals and lyrics in the movement which is a shame. Likewise, the studio space doesn’t really allow for a set, but George Thompson’s embroidered, metatheatrical costume design stands out and gives the show a strong aesthetic. The ensemble cast is strong throughout, but particular plaudits must go to Charlotte Clitherow, an on-book swing who gave a strong performance as the main cast and saved press night for the show.

Credit: Lexi Clare Photography

The biggest problem facing Fury and Elysium, however, is that one of the world’s most famous musicals – and arguably the most successful musical currently running in the West End – takes as its theme the various lives of queer people, Jewish people and sex workers in ‘debauched’ Berlin as it moves from Weimar to Nazi. Even if Fury and Elysium tried to escape from the shadow of Cabaret, I’m not sure they could, but the problem here is that it doesn’t. Its final number, in which the cast sings Bye to Berlin, echoes not only Goodbye to Berlin, the novel Cabaret was based on, but has a fantastic conceit taken straight from Cabaret’s final number. It makes a show which wants to push boundaries feel like it lacks innovation, and it is also setting itself up to fail; no new musical wants to be pushing comparisons to one of the most beloved shows of all time. Yet it seems a shame to write off a show with real potential; perhaps a focus on one or two characters would help the show to feel like their personal story, rather than a portrait of Cabaret-era Berlin. As is, the show isn’t quite ready, but I look forward to seeing it developed in the future.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Fury and Elysium is on until the 18th of June – tickets here!

{🎟 AD – PR invite – Tickets were gifted in exchange for an honest review}

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