My opinion of Crab House: A Bloody Caberet could be summed up in one simple sentence: too much cabaret, not enough blood. A show which styles itself in the vein of Sweeney Todd and Little Shop of Horrors should be heavy on the murder.
Crab House is instead heavy on the music, which is entertaining with occasionally flashes of excellence, though laid on a bit thick – the first fifteen minutes or so are one song after another with scarcely a breather. This is, perhaps, a blessing as the dialogue is sometimes awkward.
A couple move from Illinois to New York with a get-rich-quick scheme: they’re going to buy a struggling restaurant and turn it around by any means necessary. They buy a dockside crab house, but business proves even harder than expected, and the wife of the couple, Ruth, resorts to increasingly desperate measures, starting with breaking prohibition-era law and serving alcohol and ending with cold-blooded murder.
Musically it’s very enjoyable. Stylistically it’s slick, with well-choreographed musical numbers and nicely integrated newsreel clips to add a larger context and some New York skyscraper scenery that would not otherwise fit in an cellar bar in Edinburgh. Unfortunately, however, the pacing is shaky.
It takes a full thirty-five minutes before the crabs get their first taste of human flesh (I checked my watch) and considerably longer before any murders occur on-stage. Most of the run time is instead padded out with musically numbers about how stressful it is to run a struggling restaurant and and about the show’s illicit love affair, all of which were pleasant enough to listen to, but when you go to see a musical that promises man-eating crabs, you expect to see people getting eaten by crabs. By the end of the play I was so tired of the star-crossed lovers that I fervently wished to see them both go to their doom in that crab tank.
Storytelling hiccups aside, this is seriously fun show and much slicker than most free theatre. The performance as Ruth, the murderous restaurant owner, keeps it afloat when it gets dull: the moment when she finally snaps is positively delicious.