music and lyrics by Jerry Herman book by Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee
based on The Mad Woman of Chaillot by Jean Giraudoux as adapted by Maurice Valency. New version by David Thompson.
Charing Cross Theatre The Arches off Villiers Street WC2H 6NL To 30 March 2013.
Mon–Sat 7.30pm Mat Wed & Sat 2.30pm.
Post-show Discussion 11, 12, 18, 19, 25, 26 March.
Runs 2hr 40min One interval.
TICKETS: 0844 493 0650.
Review: William Russell 13 February.
Insane on the Seine.
This is the UK premiere of Jerry Herman’s 1969 Broadway musical, which flopped, despite winning a Tony for its star Angela Lansbury. The reasons given: it was tinkered with by the producers to death, put in the wrong theatre, and not what audiences expected from the man who had given them Mame and Hello Dolly!.
Herman’s chamber musical, overwhelmed by lavish production values, three directors and an unhappy leading lady was transformed into something it was never meant to be. But that is not the whole story, as this revival shows. His lyrics are witty, his score charming, though lacking the great show tunes he can produce, but the book is a mess.
Director Gillian Lynne has tried working the magic Trevor Nunn did with his Menier chamber version of Sondheim’s A Little Night Music. Sadly she has not managed it, largely because, in spite of David Thompson’s play-doctoring, the book remains Gallic whimsy.
A before-its-time green fable, it tells how an allegedly wise madwoman, the Countess Aurelia, defeats, with the help of a Sewerman who knows what goes on underneath Paris (Paul Nicholas, looking very cadaverous), the attempt of wicked capitalists to turn it into one great big oil field, there being oil down there. At times matters get relentlessly twee, all triste Paris and ooh la la la!
However there is a plus side. Betty Buckley, the Countess, did not become a Broadway diva without good reason and, although her voice is not perhaps what it was, she delivers a glowing powerhouse performance, abetted splendidly by Rebecca Lock and Annabel Leventon as her equally dotty friends.
The second act, when the trio deliver various reflections on men, life and imaginary dogs, takes hilarious wing. As the capitalist crooks Peter Land, Robert Meadmore and Jack Rebaldi are in fine voice, and as an extremely irritating mute Ayman Safiah dances up a storm.
Despite some faux French orchestration the show is well worth catching, not just to fill in the gap in one’s experience of Herman’s musicals. But it is not, as Ms Lynne suggests, an extraordinary piece of theatre.
Mute: Ayman Safiah.
Nina: Katy Treharne.
Soux Chef: Joanna Loxton.
Waiter: Brett Brown.
Customer: Craig Nicholls.
Sergeant: Michael Chance.
Prospector: Anthony Barclay.
Countess Aurelia: Betty Buckley.
Julian: Stuart Matthew Price.
President 1: Peter Land.
President 2: Jack Rebaldi.
President 3: Robert Meadmore.
Sewerman: Paul Nicholas.
Gabrielle: Rebecca Lock.
Constance: Annabel Leventon.
Director/Choreographer: Gillian Lynne.
Designer: Matt Kinley.
Lighting: Mike Robertson.
Sound: Mike Walker.
Orchestration: Sarah Travis.
Musical Director: Ian Townsend.
Costume: Ann Hould-Ward.