The Ripper's 5
nytheatre.com review by Jose Zayas
August 14, 2007
I wanted to love The Ripper's 5. Though much has been written about Jack the Ripper, I'd never heard of someone turning his bloody rampage into a musical. And the idea of telling the story from the perspective of his victims is certainly a novel one. It's a challenge to make this subject matter sing and it's even more of a challenge to do it honestly and without camp. I think that the creators of The Ripper's 5, Karlton Parris and Luisa Jay, wanted to craft a bittersweet exploration of lives that have been cut short by tragic violence and of the effects it has on both the living and the dead while telling us a haunting and menacing tale of the supernatural. But ultimately I had trouble figuring out what I was watching and found myself confused by mystifying shifts in tone and by a way too long and overly repetitive book.
Five years after the last Ripper mutilation a group of five men conduct a séance in hopes of contacting the five victims. They are led by the charismatic Edgar, who has a spellbinding and appalling obsession with the murders. Edgar's motivations are fuzzy at best but this doesn't stop these privileged and confident men from embarking on their dark mission. At five minutes past midnight the Ripper's 5 materialize and begin to tell their tales.
The show begins ominously with music that is appropriately chilling and simple and suggests the otherworldly. Unfortunately, what functions as mood setting doesn't work for two and half hours. A mixture of Webber, Wildhorn, Gilbert and Sullivan, Enya, and easy listening ballads, Jay's score does very little to conjure an air of scorching sexual tension or menace. Instead of creating a portrait of five resilient women cut down in their prime, as Edgar so eloquently puts it, the music leads us down a path of melodrama and turgidity. What begins as a supernatural romp quickly turns into a statically staged song cycle with very little interest in plot advancement or in making much sense.
Parris's book hints at its lofty themes but rarely coheres or catches fire. Revelations are awkwardly handled and perplex more than clarify. The revelation that two of the men are hoping to lose their virginity to the "experienced" apparitions is one of the few attempts at comedy and is remarkably tasteless, given how hard the creators have worked to give these women dignity in death, and raises more questions than it answers: Why would these men need to make out with dead prostitutes? And how do they expect these apparitions to become corporeal? (Which they do, by the way.) And Edgar's confession of his intentions is, to me, maddeningly unclear and undermined by Ben Dalton's histrionic performance.
The score is prerecorded but, by fringe standards, sounds great. The actors, especially the women, have clear voices and the ensemble work is consistently strong. As Mary Kelly, Langley Brandon balances sweetness with street-smarts and forthright sensuality, creating a conflicted and surprising ingénue. And Wendy Laurence-James shines as the most pragmatic and tortured of the women, Lizzie Stride.
The Ripper's 5 is a potentially fascinating and original musical. With some more development and clarification of intentions, I think that Parris and Jay could have a devastating chamber piece on their hands.