GAY’S THE WORD
book and music by Ivor Novello lyrics by Alan Melville book revised by Richard Stirling.
Finborough Theatre above The Finborough Wine Café 118 Finborough Road SW10 9ED To 20 February 2012.
Runs 2hr 30min One interval.
TICKETS: 0844 847 1652 (24hr no booking fee).
Review: Timothy Ramsden 5 February.
Brilliant revival from the dustbin of musical theatre history.
We know this show needs a lot of work, Gay Daventry tells her mid-century Manchester audience of a show-within-a-show in Ivor Novello’s final, 1951, musical. Novello’s piece went on to a successful West End run, unlike the outdated insert ‘Ruritania’.
While others of his era have long returned to favour, Novello has had to wait for revival at the enterprising Finborough. After last year’s Perchance to Dream, its hit song ‘We’ll Gather Lilacs’ stylistically typical Novello but entirely unrelated to the plot, Gay’s hit gold with its act one closer ‘Vitality’ – central to the show’s theme but atypical of its composer.
The onslaught against ‘Ruritania’-like musicals wasn’t led from the kitchen sink, still half-a-decade away, but the tide of Rodgers and Hammerstein. Novello shows self-awareness, if not self-mockery in the story of fading musical star Gay Daventry who sinks her fortune into an old-style flop then tries opening a drama school in her remote coastal home.
Ruritanian romance is reduced to a couple of comic-opera smugglers who attempt to use the premises for their own ends, while the love-plot’s resolution is brazenly ill-explained.
Unlike the composer’s earlier musicals this played at the Saville along Shaftesbury Avenue rather than in Drury Lane’s grandeur. In its comparatively intimate venue, the piece also breathes the spirit of its lyricist Alan Melville, habitué of the smaller-scale, topical and risqué intimate revue.
He throws in (and the composer follows) references to Novello’s greatest hits, ‘Lilacs’ and ‘Keep the Home Fires Burning’ to this musical of a new age. And his sardonic influence is apparent in such numbers as the quartet of teachers recounting their murderous hate of talentless pupils.
At its preview Stewart Nicholls’ production, unlike ‘Ruritania’, had no discernible need to improve. Detail’s like Myra Sands’ cameo as the shrewd Mancunian who’s given Gay her honest stage-door reviews for thirty years register clearly. And amid Nicholls’ fine choreography, that somehow has up to eighteen people dancing on a tiny stage, there’s a blazing central performance from Sophie-Louise Dann as the ever-resourceful, ironically knowing Gay – a comic peach and a signing, dancing delight.
Prince/Nespoulos: Jonny Purchase.
Linda Severn: Helena Blackman.
Gay Daventry: Sophie-Louise Dann.
Stage Doorkeeper/Tony: James Irving.
Lucy/Margaret Fallowfield: Myra Sands.
Madame Nicolini: Elizabeth Seal.
Birdie Wentworth/Mother: Eileen Page.
Monica Stevens: Doreen Hermitage.
Bunty: Sophie Simms.
Hilda: Anna Brook-Mitchell.
Mioss Cheadle: Valerie Cutko.
June: Lindsey Nicholls.
Peter Lynton: Josh Little.
Count Silvano: Paul Slack.
Gladys: Amy Hamlen.
John: Sebastian Smith.
Bob: James Bentham.
Denny: Daniel Cane.
Sir Claude Burton: Frank Barrie.
Director/Choreographer: Stewart Nicholls.
Lighting: Rob Mills.
Musical Director: Ben Stock.
Assistant musical director: James Church.