Health line defines a placebo as “a substance, pill, or other treatment that appears to be a medical intervention, but isn’t one.” This is common in clinical trials where a group are given the effective medication and the other are given fake ones without either group knowing which is which. This is a physiological term that explains why some people believe they are healing from an illness/disease despite taking medicine that is not making any difference at all. As a child, whenever I was ill my mum would go and buy me magic medicine which was just Lidl smartie chocolate bars and the next day I was “magically healed” despite it just being a budget chocolate bar, a delicious one but a cheap one nevertheless! I recently discovered the cast recording of a musical titled “placebo” on Spotify and could not wait to see the themes the show would explore. The word itself seems whimsical enough to be used in a fun, over-the-top, child-friendly musical but the definition of “placebo” is much more clinical and serious so I was curious to see what the overall atmosphere of the show would be and it was a nice combination of them both!
This show comes from the genius pairing of Danny Abosch and Joshua Borths with the former in charge of music/lyrics and the latter created the book of the show. The show follows the lives of two brothers Robert Wilson and Blake who are forced to take over their father medical business. The dad Dr Wilson is a renowned scientist who has invented a miracle pill that claims to cure all known diseases and promises a better life to all who take it however this is all a scam, a placebo marketed as a fix-all pill. The brothers take over the company and convince their local community to purchase this magical medication but after a while, everything starts to spiral as people start to realise the truth!
The show opens with a three-minute musical overture which was somewhat strange to have in a recording. In a love performance the music helps to focus (and hush) the audience by slowly introducing them to the music they will hear later in the show and so I imagine live this would be incredible I was just unsure if it made sense in this cast recording. This song flawlessly blends into the official opening number of the performance which is “the man who made our dreams come true.” If there is one thing this show gets perfectly is the inclusion of the chorus within many of their musical numbers. As this show is set in a small town the chorus play the role of the residents who initially idealise the late Dr Wilson and experience the turnover of management. This first number is an instant injection of theatrical energy when the chorus singing about the admiration for Dr Wilson and the difference he has made for the local area. My favourite number from this recording would have to be “all in how you look at the truth” which is a comedic and upbeat number that discusses the behind the scenes politics of business. The brothers are encouraged by an incredibly powerful person (find out who by giving this song a listen) to continue to sell the miracle pills despite those involved knowing they are not medical in any sense of the word. The show also explores how having friends in high places can benefit you which is particularly important right now considering everything that is being investigated regarding Boris Johnson and work on his flat etc. The song “isn’t it miraculous” was a jazz-inspired number that played with the ideas of classical musical theatre/Broadway performances. This was a flirty duet crammed full of romantic tension with the two voices working flawlessly together. The reprise of this song however was different with more of a focus on incredible vocals and the emotions behind the song. Towards the end of the cast recording, we find the song “disturbing the peace” which instantly added excitement and tension to the show as it is a song in which one of the characters riles up a crowd of protesters as they learn of the scam they have fallen victim to!
Overall, this is a cast recording that will take you on a journey from euphoria to anger in a space of a couple of songs. It explores a realistic and accessible story that reflects modern affairs and the Sid did business that is often not discussed with the public. I would rate this cast recording 4.5 stars out of 5!