BAR MITZVAH BOY
music by Jule Styne, lyrics by Don Black, book by Jack Rosenthal revised by David Thompson.
Based on the play by Jack Rosenthal.
Upstairs at the Gatehouse, to 10 April
Highgate Village, London N6 4BD to 10 April 2016. Snd at the Radlett Centre 16 April
Tues-Sat 7.30pm, Sun 4om. Additional mats Sat 2 & 9 April 3pm.
Runs 2hr One interval.
The Radlett Centre, 1 Aldenham Avenue, Radlett, Herts WD7 8HL on 16 & 17 April 7.30pm and 3pm on 17 April.
TICKETS: 020 8340 3488.
Review: William Russell 11 March.
Still a Tiddler on the Hoof
Based on the 1976 Bafta award winning Play for Today of the same name by Jack Rosenthal this musical first surfaced on Broadway in 1978, the lyricist Don Black have seen its potential and put together an impressive team led by the composer Jule Styne. The time and place were changed from the 1970s Willesden to 1946 Brooklyn for obvious reasons and Rosenthal found the experience awful and hated the result, feelings he put into a subsequent play.
It flopped on Broadway and in spite of warm reviews did the same in the West End later in the year. Black never lost faith in it, David Thompson has worked on the book, some new lyrics and Styne songs have been added and here it is set again in Willesden for those who love musicals, but were not around in 1978, to savour.
It has been given a brisk, no nonsense production by Stewart Nicholls on a hideous beyond belief set by Grace Smart and the cast, fewer in number than in 1978 work with a will.
In Adam Bregman, as Eliot Green, the boy on the verge of manhood who absconds from his Bar Mitzvah, that Jewish rite of passage all thirteen year olds face, causing his family all sorts of anguish until everything ends happily, it has a charming performer. He sings nicely, has a good stage presence and could not be bettered. But the whole thing has been coarsened beyond belief. Rosenthal was writing about real people. Here we get Jewish stereotypes from the hysterical calamity mother Rita, the uncomprehending what’s all the fuss about father, Victor, the sensible sister Lesley and her gormless boyfriend Harold.
Maybe time has not been kind to the play, but one suspects not. It can still be viewed and the difference is glaringly obvious. Sue Kelvin and Robert Maskell do what is required of them as the parents in splendid style, getting lots of laughs, but they are grotesques, not flesh and blood people. The same goes for the gormless Harold, nicely done by Nicholas Corre. No blame rests on the cast, but one suspects Rosenthal would be no more thrilled by this version of his play than its predecessors. As for Styne’s score, when he wrote it his glory days were long past and while it is tuneful enough and full of Jewish folk song inspired themes it is not particularly distinguished. Bar Mitzvah Boy remains worth catching. Jewish families will recognise the plight of Mama and Eliot, and lovers of lost musicals will have a field day. But it remains as the Sunday Telegraph said in 1978 – tiddler on the hoof
Elliot Green: Adam Bregman.
Rita Green: Sue Kelvin.
Victor Green: Robert Maskell.
Lesley Green: Lara Stubbs.
Rabbi Sherman: Jeremy Rose.
Denise: Hannah Rose-Thompson.
Harold: Nicholas Corre.
Granddad: Hayward B Morse.
Director: Stewart Nicholls.
Musical Director: Edward Court.
Set & Costume Designer: Grace Smart.
Lighting Designer: James Smith.
Orchestrator and Additional Musical Arrangements; Richard Healey.