Music by Richard Rodgers
Book and Lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein
4 Stars ****
Southwark Playhouse to 10 September
78-83 Newington Causeway, London SE1 6BO to 10 September 2017.
Mon – Sat 7.30 pm Mat Tues & Sat 3pm.
Runs 2hrs 30 mins One interval.
TICKETS: 020 7407 0234
Review: William Russell 18 August.
A first rate revival to enjoy against all the odds
Scintillating staging, and a very good cast do everything possible to prove this Rogers and Hammerstein show, their follow up to Carousel and Oklahoma, is an unfairly forgotten gem.
The show ran for 350 performances on Broadway in 1947, got very mixed reviews, and never came to London. The score turns out to be delightful, but Hammerstein’s book is both mawkish and dreary. Intended to be an innovative affair back then. – no sets, a Greek chorus commenting on the action played by the dancers, and one of those one man’s life from cradle to the grave plots about the souring of the American dream. It was a troubled production and things did not work out well, hence it not arriving in London until now.
Joe, son of a small town doctor destined from birth to follow father looking after everyone regardless of whether they can pay or not is persuaded by Jennie, his wife, daughter of a local bigwig, to go to Chicago and make money treating the rich while she embarks on the society life. It all goes wrong, he goes back home having found true love . . . .
Essentially a passive character Joe is not only uninteresting, but also one never cares what happens to him.
Thom Southerland, who has given the kiss of life to more than one moribund show, does just that once again aided by some terrific dance routines by choreographer Lee Proud. Rogers’ score has enough decent numbers to keep the whole thing afloat but, as it was in the beginning, it is Hammerstein’s book that is the problem.
Gary Tushaw is a personable Joe and Emily Bull is sweet but nasty as the ambitious Jennie and there are nice performances from Susan Travers and Leah West as his grandmother and mother. The luckiest person in the cast, however, is Katie Bernstein who gets the sole show stopper number, The Gentleman is a Dope, to deliver and duly takes her chance.
As for the other songs, some actually work better as stand alone songs, You Are Never Away being a case in point, others, like A Fellow Needs a Girl, Hammerstein in his lark is learning to pray mode, prove deeply embarrassing.
So why four stars? With the best will in the world this is not a four star show. The stars are for Southerland’s direction, Proud’s fizzing dance routines and the really good cast. Southerland, while giving the lie to the belief that some lost gem was just waiting to be rediscovered, provides those who love musicals with a chance to see it on stage. Unlike plays, which anyone can read, musical scores are hard to acquire, difficult to read and show recordings always omit the book.
Emily West: Katie Bernstein.
Jennie Brinker: Emily Bull.
Ned Brinker: David Delve.
Molly: Cassandra McCowan.
Harry Buckley: Matthew McDonald.
Marjorie Taylor: Julia J Nagle.
Hazel Skinner: Louise Olley.
Bertram Woolhaven: Benjamin Purkiss.
Miss Lipscombe: Jacqueline Tate.
Brook Lansdale: Samuel Thomas.
Grandma Taylor: Susan Travers.
Charlie Townsend: Dylan Turner.
Joseph Taylor Jr: Gary Tushaw.
Dr Joseph Taylor: Steve Watts.
Beulah/Mrs Lansdale: Leah West.
Bigby Denby: Matthew Woodyatt.
Director: Thom Southerland.
Orchestrator: Mark Cumberland.
Choreographer: Lee Proud.
Set Designer: Anthony Lamble.
Costume Designer: Jonathan Lipman.
Lighting Designer: Derek Anderson.
Sound Designer: Andrew Johnson.
Musical Director: Dean Austin.
Voice/Accent Coach: Simon Money.