Posts Tagged ‘Lost Musicals’

Review – Around the World – Lost Musicals at Sadler’s Wells (then to Mint Theater New York)

November 2, 2013

What? You say Orson Welles and Cole Porter wrote a musical together? How is it we have never heard of it! Well, per the folks that put on Lost Musicals, the original production was so expensive – with a cast of seventy, movies, and a nicely realized circus midway through – that it only made it for seventy-five performances. It never made it to London, its sets were burned, and it appears there was just not much left besides the script and the songs. And there it sat until the 90s! For me, it was like a GIANT PILE OF CASH that for some odd reason had been left sitting in the middle of the street for fifty years. WHY? Did Porter suck? Was the plot no longer conceivable in the, er, post-atomic world? (Not likely as it debuted in 1946.)

As reassembled by Ian Marshall Fisher, Around the World is a show with some really great songs, lively performances, and – it has to be said – a bit of a gap in the storyline. How does Phileas Fogg (David Firth) get from Hong Kong to California? How did his American manservant Passepartout (Lance Fuller) reunite with his Oirish girlfriend Molly (Rebekah Hinds)? The running time was still a substantial (near) three hours, but perhaps a little more exposition was called for. (Apparently in the Pacific gap, Wells had a Yokohaman circus …. somewhat beyond the budget of this performance but fun to imagine.)

The songs, though, are just really great, if occasionally shockingly racist. I had a pretty hard time stomaching “Missus Aouda” – a comic song about suttee. It was just black, black, black, but on the peformers carried! Truth be told, there were only nine songs in total, all witty in the Porter style, but my how sensibilities have changed. I enjoyed greatly the outrageous policemen (Michael Roberts and James Vauight, I believe), with their choreographed bouncing and twitching, but when we had Egyptians who were all dishonest and smelled, and a Chinese woman who was, of course, selling opium while waving her fan and acting completely “inscrutable” – was this really acceptable 70 years ago? I’ll say that the Americans and British were also mocked, but we (Americans) were only portrayed as ignorant, not subhuman. It just all left me flabbergasted.

That said, there was still lots to enjoy in this production, and I was pleased that they’d gone the extra mile and added more choreography than for the normal show. For a fan of Cole Porter, or someone who’s curious about those gaps in musical theater history, this show was a good investment of both time and money … the kind of thing that made you wonder, “What if?”

(This review is for a performance that took place on Sunday, Octover 20th, 2013. It continues at Sadler’s Wells Lilian Baylis studio on the 3, 9 and 10 of November, then moves to New York City’s Mint Theater from December 6-12th.)

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Review – Words and Music – Lost Musicals at Sadler’s Wells

July 28, 2013

Winter entirely passed without an announcement of this year’s Lost Musicals‘ season (normally starting in March!) and, I have to admit, I was getting a little bit worried. But then it finally showed up in May, three shows (Noel Coward’s Words and Music; Burrow’s and Merril’s Holly Golightly;” and Cole Porter’s Around the World, starting in July and going through November, all at Sadler’s Wells. As ever, there’s a discount if you buy all three shows; be encouraged by me and go for it.

This afternoon’s show was prefaced with a bit of an apology from Ian Marshall Fisher: although Lost Musicals is intended to highlight forgotten works of the golden age of American musicals – but Words and Music doesn’t really qualify. It was written by Noel Coward – a British composer – for a British audience. The plan had been to show Coward’s Set to Music, in which he recast many of the tunes from W&M for America, but Fisher had not been able to track down the music despite much searching. So we were presented with this show instead, but since it featured many now well known songs and had not been remounted professionally since 1932 (ditto Set to Music but since 1939), it did seem to meet the bar for the series.

That said, the format of an unrelated series of songs done as a revue is not one I really like – I’m a much bigger fan of plot and character than just tunes. And while performed with panache, gusto, and wit (standouts were the incredible ham Vivienne Martin and the sexy and sassy Issy van Randwyck), but I found my attention drifting. I’m glad to have heard “Mad About the Boy” and “Mad Dogs and Englishman” in their original settings, but, well ,to me this evening was really for the hard core types. I tend to think I am one, and I must be because I’m glad I went, but if this doesn’t get another professional production again I feel confident it will be for all of the right reasons.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Sunday July 14, 2013. It continues at Sadler”s Wells Lilian Baylis Theater on Sundays through August 4th.)

Review – Flahooley – Lost Musicals at Sadler’s Wells

May 22, 2012

It’s now three years into the Lost Musicals series for me, and I have to say I was checking and rechecking both the Sadler’s Wells and the Lost Musicals webpages this spring hoping for details of this year’s shows. Disappointingly, there are only two shows this time around, but I booked dutifully and showed up at the Lilian Baylis studio last Sunday for Flahooley. Sadly, due to this last-minute scheduling, I wasn’t able to stay for all of it – but I’ve got a guest review to fill in the details of what I missed.

As ever, the show opened with Ian Marshall Fisher giving us background on the show, which I’ve semi-transcribed:

The book and lyrics are by E. Y. “Yip” Harvo, a “sprightly and annoying” poetic genius. His first job was at a light bulb company in the 20s (shades of Charles Dickens at the blacking factory!). When the factory went down the tubes during the Depression, Harvo’s school buddy Ira Gershwin invited him to be a lyricist. His first hit song was “Brother Can You Spare a Dime;” these days, he’s best known for “Over the Rainbow”. Both were songs with not just pretty words, but meaning, with words that made people smile while ingesting his philosophy … a philosophy that later cost him his career.

Yip’s big success was Finian’s Rainbow (about how whites treated blacks in the 40s – I did not know this as I’ve never seen it). But after World War II he was blacklisted as a commie. Being a socialist actually wasn’t that uncommon for a Jewish first generation American – but in the 50s the “communist threat” became an obsession for the country. The McCarthy hearings were broadcast daily, with celebrities and other prominent people in a chair, on national TV, being grilled with one main question: “Were you a communist?” Many had been, maybe 20 years earlier. Lots of people informed on their friends to save themselves. Jerry Robbins was one of those who named names, destroying the career of Zero Mostel. Once Yip was named a lefty, his jobs dried up and he went back to NYC. But once he was there, producer Cheryl Crawford producer (from the Group Theater in Chicago) invited him to do a show with her. This became “Flahooley,” a show that on the outside is fairy tale yet lampoons Western history and capitalism. But America wasn’t ready for it, what with the general feelings in the air and the Korean War. It was seen as Anti-American, a play that made fun of what had “made us successful.” It had only 40 performances before it closed.

The original show had one famous person: Peruvian Yma Sumac, who was a big star at the time with a five octave vocal range. (The part of Princess Najla is clearly written for her, based on what I heard sung during the show – nice work, Margaret Preece!) Other (later) famous faces were Jerome Portland and Barbara Cook.

Flahooley also requires a certain amount of familiarity with 1950s American slang to get the jokes. Remember that Ike is president, pediatrician Dr Spock and psychotherapy are popular, and loyalty tests are rampant. On TV was comedian Milton Beryl and kiddy TV shows Hopalong Cassidy and Kukla Fran and Ollie (a puppet show). References are also made to beanie hats, gossip columnist Hedda Hopper (known for her funny hats), S.N.A.F.U. (used to rhyme “snafuly,” very clever!), serotan (a laxative typically named by spelling the word “nature” backward), and drugstore Walgreens (still in business).

Be warned, though: despite the left leanings of the author, some of the dialogue may not pass the standards of the modern audience. Sample:
Saudi ambassador (to president of toy company, B.G. Bigelow): Salaam aleikum.
B.G. Bigelow: Shish kebab.

So: how was the show? Well, I enjoyed the constant railing against the silly aspects of capitalism wrapped around a gentle story about a romance in a toy factory. The dialogue was clever at a level modern shows can’t meet, though the songs weren’t as memorable as I would have liked (despite the two wonderful nonsense songs sung by Princess Najla). I left at the interval (1:50 later) … here’s a review by David G on the entire show.

“The musical Flahooley is an uneasy clash of themes. Part critique of witch-hunts by a writer who’d just been blacklisted from Hollywood at the height of McCarthyism, part satire of American capitalism by a socialist, part magical tale of an Arabian genie by the lyricist of Wizard on Oz, and part standard boy-meets-girl-and-finally-wins-her-by-buying-her-a-balloon love story, it never quite manages to knit the strands together into a coherent whole. On Broadway, it ran for just 40 performances before closing, and that was after having been refined and toned down during provincial previews.

“Flawed though it is, it works very well as a Lost Musical, where it’s performed in a concert setting with minimal choreography. Flahooley is set in a toy factory, and the original performance made extensive use of puppets in some scenes; these are, admittedly, hard to realize in the Lost Musicals format and are at times confusing. But there is still much to love in the lyrics and the music, including the exquisite juxtaposition of the townspeople singing about their belief in Santa Claus with the appearance of a genie who ruins their economy by … creating and giving out free toys.

“So, yes, at times Flahooley has a confusing plot and uneven tone, but there is more than enough of interest to make it well worth a revival by the Lost Musicals team.”

You know, I may just try to go back and see the rest of it …

LATER: Wow, this play was even more subversive than I thought! Per Wikipedia: “Following the original book, the doll exclaimed “Dirty Red!” instead of laughing, went to sleep when you fed it phenobarbital, woke up when you fed it benzedrine (a drug also referenced in Finian’s) and had the stated purpose of teaching children how to be good Americans.”

(This review is for a performance that took place on Sunday, May20th, 2012. Flahooley continues through June 3rd.)

Review – Mexican Hayride – Lost Musicals at Sadler’s Wells 2011 series

July 19, 2011

This is my second year of going to the Lost Musicals series at Sadler’s Wells. It’s been a pretty successful batch of shows for me, with musicality, lyrics, and plotlines that leave most of the West End’s output in the dust. However, just as in new shows, it’s not too surpising that the occasional flop (by modern standards) will come in amongst the gold nuggets, and for the 2011 series, Mexican Hayride is the red haired stepchild of the year.

So about Mexican Hayride. First of all, this show has almost nothing to do with the movie (if you were wondering), and, to be honest, it doesn’t have all that much to do with Mexico, either. An American (Joe Bascom, played by Michael Roberts) joins the expat crowd at a bullring and inadvertently catches the ear that Madame Matador “Montana” (Louise Gold) throws into the audience, thereby earning a week of being “The American Friend” (or something like that) and being feted by the local populace. However, Bascom is trying to keep a low profile, as he’s left the states after running a numbers racket and has got a wife (Montana’s sister Lillian, Lana Green) hot on his heels. That doesn’t keep him from trying to get back into the business when he sees an opportunity. Most of the show, then, revolves around Bascom being chased, either by the girls he wants (a great excuse for the song “Girls”) or the law, which he wishes to avoid. Scenes are set on a boat on the lake (with mariachis), at a bullring, at a hotel, and at a gas station … and while there’s a lot of motion there just isn’t a lot of plot.

I’m actually unfamiliar with most of the musicals that appeared during the 20s, 30s, and 40s because so very many of them were made and history has rather nicely weeded out a lot of the chaff. We’ve moved away from the screwball comedy powered by known stars toward shows driven by plot with songs that illuminate character as well as action. I had a peep at the old way of doing things when I saw Drowsy Chaperone, a loving spoof of this style and a show which I enjoyed tremendously. So when I read the description of Mexican Hayride, I thought “Oh! Here we have crooks on the lam disguised as tortilla vendors, an American female matador, and an angry wife looking for her shyster husband! Maybe they can even fit in a monkey! And Cole Porter wrote the songs, awesome!”

Awesome it was not, but rather directionless and thin on the ground, so much so that in the latter half of the first act I could no longer keep my focus and found myself incapable of keeping my eyes open. The woman next to me was already dozing hard enough to jab her elbow into my leg, and later I found two others in my group of four had fought a losing battle with the Sandman. I know I saw all of the act, but I don’t remember much of scenes four and five anymore – oh, for a stalls-side tea delivery!

What’s a shame about this show is that there were a pile of really good performances attempting to claw their way through the nonexistent plot. Louise Gold was as wonderful and warm as Montana she had been in Darling of the Day, and in the central role of Joe Bascom, Michael Roberts cranked up the silly and did all sorts of eyebrow-waggling and mugging that were needed to accompany his many bad jokes (frequently about boobs).
Wendy Ferguson as Lolita Cantine had a lovely turn performing “Sing to Me Guitar,” showing off a nice set of classically trained pipes, and had comedic timing that shone throughout the show.

But … but … my funny bone just isn’t tickled by hammy acting or crude humor. But after the interval, things took a real turn southward as 60 years of social progress vanished in a flip of a serape. Forget mere sexual innuendo: we now had “lazy Mexicans” (yes they all sleep during the siesta, at work, on the floor, and they won’t do anything because they are sleeping), “red Indians” (they make tomahawk moves wth their arms and dance in a circle), and a “squaw and papoose” selling tortillas (which I think Herbert or Dorothy Fields got confused with tacos). My companions and I turned and stared at each other with our mouths open: was this for real? Was this really what they used to do back in the 40s? While in the context of a historically accurate remount of a show it kind of made sense, we three were shocked by this painful racism played for comedy. Wow. We are all just children of a very different era.

While I could forgive this (only in context, not as a full-blown remount), it doesn’t detract from the fact that the songs also seem generally second rate, some stuff Porter glued together from pieces of his back catalogue (I swear “Abracadabra” was a completely different song from another musical with just a different word in the chorus). Supposedly he cut several other songs from this musical between its debut in Boston and its Broadway opening (January 1944), and while I’m sorry to have lost “Tequila,” I’m more sorry that a bit more plot wasn’t added in, Given the fact this show was never produced in London, I think it may just be a relic of its times, less of a misplaced golden oldie and more of a rightfully out-to-pasture oldster. If you’ve got tickets for the series, do make sure you have an espresso before you go in and then put your 1940s blinders on during the interval; otherwise, I’m afraid there just isn’t enough charm in this show to carry the evening.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Sunday, July 17th, 2011. It continues on Sundays through August 7th.)

Review – Coco – Lost Musicals at Sadler’s Wells

June 9, 2011

Apologies for the delay in publishing this review: at some time after the show my program for Coco disappeared. This meant I couldn’t credit any of the cast, as Sadler’s Well’s website and the Lost Musicals websites say absolutely nothing about the brilliant cast of this (and all) shows. Dammit all, I will have to remember that when I write here, it’s not just for me, it’s for posterity, as there needs to be a record of who was working on it somewhere! But … HURRAY I found it, so nearly a week later my review is ready at last.

A musical never performed in London, written by the great Alan J Lerner, with music by Andre Previn? This kind of solid gold pedigree is exactly what I’ve come to expect from Lost Musicals, and their choice of the neglected Coco was a good one, a treat for it to finally be performed in Europe and a delight for those of us who like our songs singable and our characters unforgettable. While the concept of Coco Chanel as the center of a musical seems highly promising on its own (ooh, the clothes! ooh, the glamor!), I was fascinated that this play was actually about a woman who was old and powerful – and not the spiteful head of a family, but a businesswoman. It’s a character type I haven’t really seen a show about before.Then you put yourself in the mind of it being Katherine Hepburn, and, wow, it all just really worked, despite having a lead role that’s not really one for a singer – it was written for a woman with a forceful stage presence. And Sara Kestelman did a good job of being vibrant, passionate, bitchy, thoughtful, everything Coco needed to be – it was hard to take your eyes off of her.

I’m not one much for summarizing plots for shows in my reviews, but I’ll make an exception here due to the obscurity of the show. It’s the early 50s. Dior’s new look, all pinched waists and complex undergarments, is in. Chanel is, however you cut it, out – but she wants back in, against the advice of her lawyer Louis (Edward Petherbridge, who did a great job of being both supportive and long suffering) and assistant Pignolle (a fine comic turn by Myra Sands),- and, well, everyone else ( in the number “The World Belongs to the Young”). She throws open her salon to some models and finds a sort of “junior Coco” in Noelle (Robine Lundi), an orphan who’s been slumming in Paris as a live-in girlfriend for Georges (David Habbin). Noelle gets the modelling job, Georges says she must quit “or else;” Coco lectures Noelle about the joy of making your own money and being independent (in the song “The money rings out like freedom” … “Clink clink a-jingle! …. Oh debt where is thy sting?” and with such aphorisms as “One needs independence and not equality. Equality is a step down.”), convincing Noelle to keep the job and be her own woman. Over the course of the play, we see flashbacks to how Coco got her life to the point it is now … where she’s basically a contented woman despite being single … and watch as an interfering “assistant” Simon (Simon Butteriss, a total show stealer with his schadenfreude-driven second act song “Fiasco”) attempts to mutilate her style by adding bits and bobs and dealie-boppers to the clothes (I believe this was meant to be the designer Lanvin). She cuts Simon out, presents her collection as she wants it, then faces financial ruin as Paris decides she’s just not very fashionable. But then she’s saved by a deal with a bunch of American department stores (in the witty number “Orbachs Bloomingdale Best and Saks”) to sell her clothes in a sort of cut down, mass-market way – rather comically living up to what she says at the beginning that it’s the age when the thing to do is to follow the masses, not lead them. Noelle and Georges also get back together – he with a new-found respect for her – and the play ends on a happy note for all.

I’ve seen at least three new musicals in the last six months and the wit of this show blew them all out of the water. Previn’s songs were often short (I’m guessing due to being written for a weak voiced lead) but they were still full of hooks with great Lerner lyrics – in fact it’s a week later and I’m sitting here singing “Fiasco” to myself. And the dialogue itself had me and my friend David giggling and guffawing in a way I had not experienced in ages. “Today they think ‘chic’ is someone riding on a camel” … “Mademoiselle will never go back to work! She is too old … I mean too rich and too wise” … “Forgive me for not writing, I had nothing to do and couldn’t get around to it.” What a treat! To top it off, the show was introduced by Liz Roberts, the widow of Alan J Lerner and a piece of living history. It was just such a rich experience … oh man! What a wonderful Sunday afternoon. Anyway, once again “Lost Musicals” has delivered a wonderful entertainment: I can’t wait until Mexican Hayride!

(This review is for a performance that took place on Sunday, June 5th, 2011. The final performance will take place on Sunday, June 12th, 2011. These shows consistently sell out so I advise booking early.)

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

March 28, 2011

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.)

Review – Darling of the Day – Lost Musicals at the Ondaatje Wing Theatre, National Portrait Gallery

September 13, 2010

Discovery of the year for me has to be the Lost Musicals series at Sadler’s Wells. I was thrilled to see the genius of Cole Porter back on stage in a production I hadn’t only never seen but not even heard of before (Paris); I raced back two months later for the next offering (The Day Before Spring). Both were perfect Drowsy Chaperone-style plays with brilliant lyrics and completely comic plots, a far cry from the flabby shows of today.

This brings us to the year’s final production, The Darling of the Day. Darling is a far more modern show, from the 60s, and yet (to my joy) it was completely unpolluted by the forces of change sweeping across America at the time.The plot was as ridiculous as the others: an artist (Priam Farll, played by Nicholas Jones) returns to England, becomes promptly nauseated by the artificiality of the art scene, then takes the opportunity to switch identities with a valet (Henry Leek, one of many characters played by Paul Stewart). He also inadvertently takes over his arranged marriage to a working-class widow (Alice Chalice, Louise Gold). Much of the comedy is in Farll failing to fit into his new surroundings, amongst Alice’s lowbrow Putney pals; but there is also a great deal of charm in his very genuine affection for his utterly unpretentious wife. In fact, one of the highlights is the song “Let’s see What Happens,” which brilliantly solves the question of how two so different people could care for each other.

While both Jones and Gold seemed to be struggling with their vocal duties, I thought the duo of composer Jule Styne and lyricist E. Y. Harburg did a great job making music I wanted to hear; and I found the increasingly outrageous plot (which hit Gilbert and Sullivan-esque heights of absurdity before the end) a great ride. However, I could easily see where a more unforgiving audience might have found this all too much. It only ran for 32 performances on Broadway, and it’s only getting a total of five shows here, but I think it’s a fine show and I’m glad I was able to see it performed live.

(This is for a review that took place on September 12th, 2010. There will be one more performance on September 19th.)

Review – The Day Before Spring – Lost Musicals at Sadler’s Wells

June 22, 2010

Of the many treats of 2010, the one that I think will stand toward the top for me is my very late discovery of the Lost Musicals series at Sadler’s Wells. I nearly succumbed to their tag line last year (“neglected works by America’s finest theater writers and composers of the Broadway musicals”) but was put off by the thought of somehow making it from the southernmost depths of Zone 3 to Sadler’s Wells on a Sunday. How would I do my grocery shopping? How would the garden get by? What about the rain? And wasn’t it a danger to make it a habit to see theater on a Sunday, thereby eliminating MY only day of rest?

Well, it’s now my second show, and the endless trek to Angel has become much worse thanks to a series of weekend closures (thanks, TFL!), but these days you’ll find me making my way north on roller skates if that’s what it takes. I think in some ways my “road to Islington” conversion kind of marks crossing a line from musicals fan into full-on musicals nerd. I’m no longer content to see what’s new: I want to see what’s great, and by God back in the 20s, 30s, 40s and 50s they were cranking one hit out after another in an environment where the audience was thick and the talent was thicker. I guess it shouldn’t be a surprise that in this era, even great creatives (per the judgment of history) might have had shows that fell by the wayside; and thus we have not just Cole Porter’s “Paris” (the late-winter production) but Lerner and Loewe’s “The Day Before Spring,” which, as it turns out, I went to see the day before summer.

Normally I’m not one to plump out my blog with plot summaries, extensive song lists, show history and such, but I feel like I should make an exception for the shows in this series. If you go to see them, you have the advantage of Ian Marshall Fisher’s really nice introduction, full of detail not just about how a show came to be, but what kind of reception it got, who was in it, and how it fell into his hands. However, there’s not much available online, so I’ll do my best to fill in the gaps in the record with my recollection of the mini-lecture. Day Before Spring was found by someone doing research in the Long Beach State University library. The script itself was a very early production of Lerner & Loewe (their second?) that had a six month run on Broadway in 1945 and was never done again when it closed in 1946. It’s mostly set at a reunion for “Harrison College,” a thinly veiled version of Harvard (where Lerner went to school), where Katherine Townsend (Madeleine Worral) and her husband Peter (Henry Luxemburg) are going with their own agendas – Peter to hobnob with some bigwigs, Katherine to rekindle her college romance with now-famous author Alex Maitland (David Habbin). Well, actually, she doesn’t want to rekindle her romance, but once she sees him – and knowing that his soppy novel is based on the life he imagined they would have together – she just can’t resist.

The show is not just full of clever lyrics and witty dialogue (as expected) but is suprisingly liberal for the era and quite inventive. We have a husband-hunting woman (Christopher Randolph, played by Kaisa Hammerlund) who is rude to everyone who’s not her intended and does a great song called “My Love is a Married Man;” this is nicely matched with the ludicrous “statue” trio (really a quartet) in which Plato, Voltaire, and Freud try to convince Kathy of what she should or should do with her love life. (Plato: “Keep your life forever symphonic; go back to your husband and keep it Platonic!” Freud: “The symptoms you exhibit show emotions you inhibit!”) But the cake was taken by the song “Friends to the end,” in which the various male alums tell each other that infidelity, homosexuality, and even having a child by another man are all completely fine – as long as people are sticking with sleeping with people from Harrison. I have to say, given when this play was written, my jaw was dropping during this song – though it was all just too funny. Still, though, conventions of a sort must be honored, and no comedy can really end with a wife leaving her husband. I doubt Kathy really ends the play any happier; perhaps she’ll realize later a juicy affair will take care of that need for a little extra spark – as long as she keeps it within Harrison.

As ever, the show is done with a minimum of extra fuss; the performers are all in evening wear, they sing from a notebook, and chairs provide all of the set. Still, there’s enough staging to really engage the imagination. My favorite was during a scene when Kathy and Alex are singing about their happy new life together, when the singers all came forward and stood in a line for the couple to run in front of, behind, and between, as if they were in a forest. It was really nicely done and I have to tip my hat to Ian Marshall Fisher for knowing how to do just enough to bring the show alive with absolutely zero money spent on anything extra.

The singing was as good as it was last time (thankfully unamplified), and it was easy to focus on the lyrics. I especially enjoyed Worral’s voice, and I thought she captured the role well: still a romantic, but old enough to have had some of her youthful enthusiasm drained away. Luxemburg tended to speak his words rather than sing them, which was certainly a way of showing his character, but I found myself wondering if there was actually any music at all to his role after hearing him shuffle through “Where’s My Wife.” Underneath it all you could hear the bursts of genius to come; the first act ended with a chord transition that clearly hinted at “I Could Have Danced All Night.” But with lovely new songs to enjoy like “You Haven’t Changed At All” (the earworm of the production), enjoying this show wasn’t just about anticipating what was to come; “The Day Before Spring” shows talent that is clearly already in bloom. There are a few more performances left, and I have to say that any musical fan would be well advised to attempt to catch this show, which isn’t available as a movie or even as a score. As for me, I’ll be booking my tickets to the final show of the season soon; then waiting eagerly for next year and whatever crop of obscurities we’ve been lucky enough to have Fisher find for us.

(The Day Before Spring continues at Sadler’s Wells through July 11th – on Sundays only, of course. The final show for the season is Darling of the Day, which opens August 22nd.)

Review – Cole Porter’s “Paris” – Lost Musicals, Sadlers Wells

March 29, 2010

Lost Musicals is a series that celebrates forgotten members of the Golden Age American Musicals. Back in the day, new musicals opened a lot more frequently than they do now, rather in the way these days we have a never-ending series of movies rotating in and out of the local cinema. So any given composer would be very likely to have created a stash of shows that met with differing levels of success; only a very few have carried their popularity forward.

This slow fade into obscurity seems especially sapping for the 20s; aside from Anything Goes and Thoroughly Modern Millie, they seem to have all vanished. Fortunately, one student poking around the archives of a California college managed to dig up the score and book for “Paris” (or so I recall from the pre-show discussion) and thus we are graced with an opportunity to hear fresh work by America’s wittiest composer, Cole Porter, as well as see “Let’s Do It” and “Let’s Misbehave” in their original setting*.

Now, the plot is just a bit of fluff, exactly of the sort mocked in “The Drowsy Chaperone;” American mother goes to Paris to convince roue’ son to abandon his utterly unsuitable actress fiancee; fiancee’s leading man gives said teetotaller mother her first sip of brandy; comedy ensues. It only needed a monkey to round it out. I laughed at its ridiculousness (it just kept piling it on), but another audience member couldn’t stand it. Oh well, horses for courses; I could only assume he wanted Sondheim, or, God forbid, Webber.

Perhaps he didn’t like the setting. My friend expected a movie; perhaps this man expected a fully staged show. I thought we were just going to get singing. In fact, Lost Musicals has the entire show performed, with the actors, in concert performance clothes, reading out of scripts. It’s kind of similar to how Brown Derby does their restaging of old movies in Seattle (but without the heavy sense of irony). I was actually surprised by how much acting was going on: Mom (Anne Reid) was definitely staggering around the stage when drunk, the butler (Stewart Permutt) was going to a lot of trouble to mime moving statues around actress Vivienne’s flat, and son Andrew (Richard Dempsey) looked in love when appropriate and then put out later. Poor Vivienne (Sian Reeves) even had to do a dance number. She, however, was decked out in 20s glam, with gold lame, a head-dress, and flapper-cut skirt – really outstanding given that everyone else was in their blacks, but, of course, perfect for the role.

The singing was uniformly very good. Mom Sabbot sounded matronly, son Andrew Sabbot looked (and sounded) like the callow youth he was (and transformed nicely over the course of the show); Guy Pennel (James Vaughn) may have been a bit old for the role but was enchanting as a French actor slash gigolo. Brenda Kaley (Clare Foster), who seemed to have been brought along by mom from Massachusetts just for the ride, had a great moment where she cut loose that reminded me a lot of Hairspray.

I bought the plot, I enjoyed the performance, I was unbothered by the lack of set, I loved the witty dialogue, I was thrilled to hear this music performed live. In fact, I liked it so much that at the interval I sat down and planned when I was going to see the next two shows in this year’s series. Forget trying to watch silent movies in a cinema; seeing live productions of musicals that have fallen out of favor is much, much more difficult. I will absolutely be going for the rest of the season, and, musical theater geek that I am, I think I’ve just been converted for life.

*I think, anyway. Don’t quote me on this; I wasn’t taking notes when the show was being introduced, but since it’s supposed to be a “faithful presentation of the original work,” I think this means this is the play in which these songs first appeared. Here’s the complete list of songs, which differs from what’s on Wikipedia:
Act 1: Vivienne, The Land of Going to Be. Act 2: Let’s Do it, The Heaven Hop (which reminded me of the song “Toledo Surprise” from Drowsy Chaperone), Don’t Look At Me That Way, Let’s Misbehave. Act 3: Two Little Babes in the Wood, The Land of Going to Be, Finalture.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Sunday, March 28th, at 2 PM. It continues on Sundays through April 25th at Sadler’s Wells; be advised Easter Sunday is sold out but there were probably 10 returns the day I went so it is probably not too difficult to pick some up on the day if you’re motivated. Running time is about 2 1/2 hours. Note that tea and snacks are very cheap in the Peacock, just 2.50 for tea and a muffin, so I advise you place your interval order in advance so you can take advantage of these great prices and have a nice natter.)