For a whole generation, the phrase “This is 29 Acacia Road”, and the voice of Bill Oddie, will bring memories of the popular cartoon series flooding back. Bananaman appeared in print, drawn by John Geering, a few years before the animated series began, but it was the television cartoons which cemented Bananaman as a childhood favourite.
Some 30 years since the cartoon aired, and with the proposed film version seemingly abandoned, it falls to Bananaman The Musical to bring the character to a whole new generation. On the face of it, the comic strip feels like perfect fodder for a comedy musical, but does it actually work? And, can I write this review without using any banana related puns?
When studious Eric Wimp is knocked unconscious by the shard of a comet falling to earth, he discovers, with the help of a talking bird, that eating a banana transforms him from dorky teenager to muscled superhero. But, as his body mass increases, his IQ and common sense is vastly diminished, leading to a series of comical misadventures as the hero, along with Crow, Fiona and Chief O’Reilly, attempt to defeat the villains of the piece, Dr Gloom, General Blight and Mad Magician.
This may be a production borne from a comic, but don’t be fooled in to thinking this is a mere caricature, for all its silliness and absurdity this is a fully formed musical, with all the right ingredients for a hit. The score is particularly strong, while not explicitly characterized as the eighties, it certainly is reminiscent of the television series, and crucially musicals of the era. It is only let down by a couple of the ensemble numbers, which ended up sounding too cluttered.
Writer Leon Parris has remained faithful to much of what has come before, but added some new tidbits as well, the origin story is different for example, but Chief O’Reilly’s blue flashing light hat remains. The second act starts off a little weaker than the first, but soon gets back on track with “Simply Eric Wimp”, a rousing, and clearer sounding, ensemble number.