Blitz – Lyrics & Music by Lionel Bart, Book by Bart & Joan Maitland. The Union Theatre, 229 Union Street, London SE 1 to 7 March 2020. 3***. William Russell.

Music and Lyrics by Lionel Bart Book by Lionel Bart & Joan Maitland.
The Union Theatre, 229 Union Street, London SE1 0LR to 7 March 2020.
Tues – Sat 7.30pm. Mat Sat & Sun 2.30pm.
Runs 2hr 20 mins One interval.

TICKETS: 020 7261 9876
Review: William Russell 8 February.

Led by the splendid Jessica Martin as the East End Jewish matriarch Mrs Blitztein, Phil Willmott’s revival of this 1962 Lionel Bart musical may not be as lavish as the original – it was the most expensive musical to be stage in the West End at the time – but it has been handsomely stage, has a good supporting cast and some good Bart tunes, including his spot on Vera Lynn pastiche ballad, which she actually sang on record in the show, The Day After Tomorrow. It enjoyed a respectable run of some568 performances but never made it to Broadway as, apart from expense – the Blitz recreated by designer Sean Kenny pretty well happened on stage – the chances of American audiences falling for Bart’s hymn to East End resilience were considered remote. The plot is pretty basic – Mrs Blitztein has a stall in Petticoat Lane. She sells Jewish pickles. She does not get on Mr Locke who sells fruit and veg and does not approve of Jews. Wisely Willmott has made no attempt to soften things to suit modern sensibilities. It was how it was and we just have to face up to. No way does either of them wish their offspring to wed – it is a Romeo and Juliet situation. He has shortened it a little – Noel Coward, a Bart admirer, left saying it was “twice as loud and twice as long as the real thing.” It is also possible that he said he had come out “humming the sets,” and although that one is harder to establish it has the ring of truth given what was disgorged on to the Adelphi stage. As to lasting a long time, even in this pruned version it still goes on and on somewhat and has some difficulty in coming to an end.
If the book, which is no surprise as it is invariably the case, is no great shakes, and the portrait of warm hearted, salt of the earth East Enders seems to draw on every cliché there is, Bart did come up with some terrific tunes apart from that Vera Lynn number. His Who’s that geezer Hitler would have been a massive hit during the war and hits just the right note of the songs like it that were, there is a rollicking Down the Lane number, a distinctly un Me2 number called Leave it to the Ladies which soars. All human life is there, randy East End girls, air raid wardens, Mrs Blitztein’s son is a deserter turned spiv flogging stolen lead from bomb sites, Grandfather Locke is a First World War veteran who confuses the two and shops him at the end, and kids get sent as evacuees to the country dispatched with a jolly Bart tune.
The thing to do is sit back, let it happen, enjoy the tunes, which are better than most one hears today in new musicals, played by a rather good band under Rosa Lennox, and enjoy the performances. Martin is terrific, a battleship rising above the storm, and she is matched by Michael Martin’s prejudiced but not really bad of heart Mr Locke. Caitlin Anderson sings sweetly as Carol Blitztein, who is a victim of the Blitz, and Connor Carson, as George, the Locke son breaking ranks by falling for her, is a fitting Romeo, not to bright when it comes to the crunch. The show is part of an Essential Classics Season which allegedly marks VE Day 75 years on – Willmott likes titles for his annual seasons – which is as it may be, but is as good a reason as any for rescuing Blitz from oblivion. The chances of a great big West End revival are unlikely and the opportunity to enjoy a Bart show with Martin on form putting across her numbers with style should be taken. The show has not been professionally performed for 20 years and the great and the good who review were none too enthusiastic about it then, although time, while it doesn’t necessarily heal everything, means that another look at it reveals it may be a rather better piece than they said then.
The Blitztein Family
Mrs Blitztein: Jessica Martin.
Carol: Caitlin Anderson.
Harry: Robbie Mcartney.
Cissie: Anna Robertson.
Esther: Corinna Marlowe.
Sid: Lorne Taylor.
Rachel: Daniella Schindler.
Mr Finkelstein: James Georgiou.
Miss Joseph: Vicki Mason.
The Locke Family
Mr Locke: Michael Martin.
George Locke: Connor Carson.
Ernie Lock: James Horne.
Women’s Auxiliary Ambulance Service
Elsie: Beaux Harris.
Joyce: Eleanor Sandars.
Peg: Charlotte Bradley
Army Sergeant: Stephen Hayward.
Policeman: Jack Slater.

Director: Phil Willmott.
Musical Director: Rosa Lennox.
Choreographer: Daniel Maguire.
Set Designer: Reuben Speed.
Costume Designer: Penn O’Gara.
Lighting Designer: Harvey Nowak-Green.
Sound Designer: Ralph Warman.
Production Photographer: Mark Senior.

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