The Union Theater’s production of Darling of the Day was my first chance to see a fully realized production of a show I’d only ever seen done before in concert form (in the Lost Musicals series). In this case, the show (as a show) was also a UK debut, for despite its fine pedigree (Jule Styne! Yip Harburg!), Darling of the Day had been an utter failure in America, no doubt due to being unfortunately placed as an old-fashioned, story-and-songs musical at the same time Hair came out. Rock and roll and naked hippies, or, um, sorry, what was that again? Something about about lower class/Cockney English people a la Mary Poppins? You can see where it failed to find its audience.
It’s a show that for several reasons, I think, rates a place in the silver era of American musical. The songs are really solid, and held up well even under the limitations of opening night, when the second female lead was too unwell to sing at all and the first lead (Alice Chalice, played by Katy Secombe) was singing, if softly, through her own bronchitis recovery period. But the unique story, about an artist switching places with his butler so he can live a life of happy obscurity, is a great set-up for a show; we get on one hand the silly, shallow art world (depicted as being pretty much exactly the same as today) and on the other hand the fun yet poor world of the working class folk of Putney (obviously long departed and a comic element of its own in 2013 London). It’s all brightly realized with some pretty costly costumery and non-trivial dance numbers, both of which I think exceeded the normal budget allotted to the Union Shows. The comedy, though, came along with the script, and in a spring that shows not even a peep of hope of arriving, Darling of the Day is a lovely little charmer well worth the ticket cost for its power in warding off gloom and chill.
(This review is for a performance that took place on March 22nd, 2013. It continues through April 20th. If the Union’s website is crashing for you like it was for me, tickets can be bought directly at Ticketsource or by calling the box office.)