It is not without reason that I have some fear of shows which have not been produced (or revived) over a considerable period of time since their debut: even more so shows which have never been done in London. There’s a good reason Ibsen’s Emperor and Gallilean never made a West-end debut; thus my suspicions about Rogers and Hammerstein’s Pipe Dream, making its London debut 60 years after the fact. But then, you know, it was STILL Rogers and Hammerstein. How bad could it be?
I’m pleased to report that, on the balance, the “Rogers and Hammerstein” outweighed the “but it never made it to
London” side of the equation. When modern musicals struggle to generate even a single decent song, old hands like R & H just pop out one good one after another. It’s the topic, then, and I think the structure that hamper this show. I’m a fan of Steinbeck and of his novels set in Cannery Row, Monterey; I’m also a big marine life enthusiast, so for me, a song about the reproductive habits of octopi and starfish was a dream come true. I am probably not in the majority in this view, however.
The material also struggles with the natural up-beat nature of Rogers and Hammerstein. They’re really not about struggling with poverty or the harsh realities that send women to work as prostitutes; they’re more about boy-meets-girl love stories. Steinbeck focuses on the innate human dignity of his characters; as transformed into the musicals format, I’m afraid they’ve had to become “cute.”
Director Sasha Regan and choreographer Lizzy Gee engage unironically with the material, giving us a great “On the Bus” dance number that unites the wastrel men and the ladies of the night, as well as a nicely executed “me and my reflection” silhouetted tap routine. But the characters stayed superficial, which was, well, not really reflecting its literary origins. Ah well, As a fine musical entertainment performed up close and personal in the Union style, Pipe Dream was still a good night out that repaid the effort it took to pry myself away from the long summer evenings of 2013 to take a trip back to an America that’s long vanished.
(This review is for a performance that took place on Saturday, August 17th, 2013. It continues through August 31st.)