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Two Strangers (Carry A Cake Across New York)

Two Strangers (Carry A Cake Across New York) is agreeable enough – it’s rather sweet actually.

Set in New York, this festive caper is far from a work of art, but it’s a superior musical comedy, well written by Jim Barne and Kit Buchan and directed tactfully, by Tim Jackson.

First produced in 2018 in Northampton as The Season, reimagined last year at London’s Kiln Theatre, this upbeat show is now running at the Criterion Theatre, London until 31 August.

What holds this musical together is the warmth supplied by the two performers. Brit Dougal (Sam Tutty) has flown to the Big Apple for a 36-hour trip to attend dad’s wedding (whom he has never met). New York barista Robin (Dujonna Gift) is sister of the bride, his new step aunt. She has a great voice and an excellent counter to Tutty’s excitement. 

It is all good fun. Played with even more conviction it could be great fun.

Imagine a Richard Curtis movie combined with A Christmas Carol, and you get the general picture. Yet there is a sense here the creators are doing something more interesting than just adapting a popular movie for nostalgia. 

Jackson’s production and suitcase set and costumes by Soutra Gilmour ushers us into the syrupy world and skilfully allows the songs to seem part of an extended conversation. Honestly, I didn’t like the set at all. But that’s that. 

It seems churlish to grumble when so much of this show, with its entertaining book, hits the mark.

Tutty’s motor runs a little fast. As an actor, he has a singular smartness that takes the form of speed; he’s always a little ahead of everybody, and this quicker responsiveness makes him more exciting to watch. His grin could melt stone, and he and Gift are a magical pair. 

There are charming numbers about online dating, and a drunken night of ice-skating when the couple go rogue with the groom’s platinum credit card, “hitchin’ a ride on the American Express”. Most memorable is Tutty’s tender, tear-jerking song-warning to eager Dougal that, like the father’s in classic Christmas films, fathers “always seem bigger and better from farther away”. Poignant. 

Anyway, our emotions rise to meet the force coming down from the stage, and they go on rising throughout. The end is subdued. It would have been better with the last quarter lopped off. 

As I sat in the Criterion Theatre watching middle-aged men and women alike wiping away a tear, it was evident that, for all its flaws, the musical had indeed delivered.
The tears are the tokens of gratitude for the spell the production has put on the audience.

In short, a feel-good show that captures magic of New York City without exploding the concept, I suspect Barne and Buchan’s likeable musical will have a long life.

Two Strangers (Carry A Cake Across New York) runs until 31 August 2024