The Finellis Musical
Venue: Wonderville, London
Cast: Mike Sterling, Lisa Gorgin, Mark Janicello, Michael Cristopher, Colette Kelly, Anna María, Pippa Juliet, Chiara de Palo, Franz-Xaver Zeller, Jake Pollicino and Markie Thompson 

Based on the Award-Winning Comedy, The Finellis Musical tells the story of eternal optimist Tony Finelli, a New York Italian-American, whose journey goes from stardom to jail…and back again. At the height of his singing career, Tony and his manager Juergen take the fall for Mafia boss Mr. Big and spend 15 years in a Berlin prison to save their families. Upon their release, Tony returns home to find that his children hardly remember him, his wife Tina has divorced him, and his mansion is now a Bed & Breakfast. To stay close to his family and win them back, Tony becomes the janitor in Tina's BnB.

"The Finellis: Musical" at Wonderville promises an ambitious and intriguing storyline, featuring a whopping 40 song numbers and a tale of redemption for Tony Finelli, a formerly famous singer who spent 15 years in prison for a crime he didn’t commit. However, despite the potential, the production fails to deliver a coherent and engaging narrative.

The story revolves around Tony Finelli, portrayed by Mark Janicello, who returns to his family and the showbusiness world as a near-stranger, striving to regain the trust of his family, and to revive his career with the help of his manager, played by Mike Sterling. The plot culminates with Tony catching Mr. Big, the mafia boss responsible for his wrongful imprisonment, during his daughter's wedding performance.

Unfortunately, the straightforward plot is presented in a chaotic and inconsistent manner. The storyline lacks clarity, and characters often burst into song without context, rendering many of the musical numbers irrelevant. The background music arrangements are amateurish and poorly produced, with abrupt cut-offs that sometimes evoke the feel of a karaoke pub contest.

The singing, however, is the production’s strongest aspect. Janicello's powerful, operatic voice makes his numerous solo performances a highlight (despite the subpar backing tracks). Mike Sterling, in his role of Tony’s manager, also stands out as a talented singer with evident experience in musical theatre.

In stark contrast, the acting leaves much to be desired. Aside from Tony’s daughters, Lola and Lena, played by Anna Maria and Pippa Juliet, who deliver strong and believable performances, the rest of the cast struggle to convince with their acting skills. The choreography is equally disappointing, being both cliché and poorly executed.

The use of props and scenography is minimal, with a large screen at the back of the stage displaying animations and interior images that look like they were sourced from free stock image websites. These visuals distract from the otherwise commendable singing performances and fail to enhance the dramatic or nostalgic moments, instead detracting from them.

Despite claims on the official website that the musical addresses "hot topics" such as racism, age discrimination, sexism, and LGBTQIA+ rights, these themes are poorly integrated into the storyline. Markie Thompson's portrayal of a transgender character is a notable exception, yet this aspect feels tacked on and insufficiently explored, seemingly included only to tick a diversity checkbox.

The comedic elements fall flat as well. While there are a few genuinely funny jokes, they are too few and far between to sustain audience engagement over the 2 hour and 20-minute runtime. Potentially humorous moments often miss the mark due to fast-paced yet poor writing.

The cast’s passion and enthusiasm, especially evident in Janicello, who also wrote the book and lyrics and directed the show (having previously made a film of the same title starring himself), are palpable. However, this passion is not enough to salvage the production.

You can book tickets to The Finellis Musical at Wonderville, here.

Review by Maria

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