Review – Band Wagon – Lost Musicals at Sadler’s Wells

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One of last year’s major discoveries for me was the Lost Musicals series, usually at Sadler’s Wells and always on Sundays. I like my songs singable and that’s what Lost Musicals delivers, music from the Golden Age of the Great White Way. Based on my good experience last year (after randomly going to the first one of the year I eventually went to all three showsParis, The Day Before Spring and Darling of the Day), I went ahead and booked for all shows in this year’s series, thereby taking advantage of a small discount and guaranteeing several wonderful Sundays full of gorgeous music and the kind of plots that seem to have fallen out of fashion (outside of Salad Days revivals).

This year’s first show is is The Band Wagon, which, let’s be clear, is NOT the MGM musical, with which it only has a few songs in common. This, the original version, is actually a musical revue, with a pile of good songs (“I Love Louisa,” “Miserable with You,” “High and Low”) interspersed with a few comedy sketches. There is also a few dance numbers thrown in to liven it up.

However, this is not really my cup of tea, as I like my musicals to be held together with what I’ll call “plot.” I want songs that help develop character and move a story along, not just entertain and show off people’s voices. Now, I imagine this would have been a truly spectacular event when it was done with Adele and Fred Astaire, but Barnaby Thompson and Clare Rickard, while certainly able to tap dance (and I do love tap dancing) … well, is a comparison in the least bit fair? I also found the various comedy sketches (by George Kaufman and Howard Dietz) amusing but … I mean, why WOULDN’T they be dated? Oddly, at least, these weren’t dated by racism or sexism, it’s just that … well, a sketch in which people are too shy to say the word toilet doesn’t really bowl me over. However, just fresh from Eight Women, I did get a laugh out of “The Great Warburton Mystery.” Similarly, the opening song, “It Better Be Good,” was fairly timeless – what theater goer doesn’t mutter the same thing to herself while waiting for the curtain to rise?

While this was just the first performance of a nearly month-long run, I’m afraid this show didn’t hold as much charm for me as the other ones I’ve seen, in part because the songs, while enjoyable, were all new to me (thus no pleasure from hearing them in their original setting); and then again because I do really prefer to hear my songs with stories connecting them rather than standing all on their own. There are probably many people who will enjoy this production for their own reasons, but this wasn’t for me. On the other hand, Cole Porter’s Mexican Hayride, never revived since its first performance in 1944 … I can’t wait!

(This review is for a performance that took place on Sunday, March 27th, 2011. It continues on Sundays through April 17th.)

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