Book by Neil Simon, Music by Burt Bacharach, Lyrics by Hal David.
Based on the screenplay for The Apartment by Billy Wilder & I.A.L. Diamond.
Two stars **
Southwark Playhouse, The Large, 77-85 Newington Causeway, London SE1 6 BD to 18 February.
Mon-Sat 7.30pm Mat Tues & Sat 3pm.
Runs 2hr 50 mins One interval.
Review: William Russell 18 January.
Promises unfulfilled in overlong dated musical
There seems no good reason for reviving this dreary and dated show with its horrendous attitudes to women in the work place. Based on The Apartment, Billy Wilder’s 1960 film, a bleak comedy about a young man, C. C. (Chuck) Baxter, climbing the corporate ladder of an insurance company by giving the key to his apartment to his lecherous superiors. He discovers that the girl he is falling in love with is being taken there by Sheldrake, his married, unscrupulous boss.
It worked at the time as a film, partly because it was superbly cast, but also because Wilder did not conceal the reality beneath applied glitz. The musical which followed, a Broadway hit in 1968, and later in London too, worked largely because attitudes to women in the work place were still pretty much the same. It was also because Simon and Bacharach were at the top of their game. They could do no wrong.
This version at Southwark is based on a more recent Broadway revival to which songs were added to give the leading lady playing Fran, the sweet and naïve heroine, more to do. One adds at one’s peril and the show becomes endless.
It is narrated by Chuck – played winningly enough given the guy is basically a creep by Gabriel Vick – but the Simon touch, some crisp one liners, grates. This is the world of Mad Men without the glamour as the various department heads queue up to get Chuck’s keys so that they can take the willing broads from the typing pool for a quick fling after work before going home to the wife.
The score, the splendid I’ll Never Fall in Love Again, is dreary, and the band plays fairly frightful orchestrations far too loudly. The lack of sensibility is beautifully encapsulated by the scene where Fran, dumped by Sheldrake, takes an overdose in Chuck’s apartment. Chuck finds her, summons the friendly neighbourhood doctor – a nice stereotype Jewish comic turn by John Guerrasio – and having administered whatever they embark on a comedy routine singing A Young Pretty Girl Like You to the patient with Chuck prancing round waving bits of equipment from the doctor’s bag.
The uplift gloss applied by Simon and Bacharach to an essentially sad and sordid tale does not conceal what it is all about – the various women are there to sing in the background as decoration to the antics of awful fat men, none of whom would have been cast in Mad Men – and the direction by Bronagh Lagan is a routine by numbers affair. The best moment comes when Chuck is picked up in a bar y a drunk broad called Marge, done with great style by Alex Young, and they get a song during the course of which it is clear he is about to be eaten alive.
As Fran Daisy Maywood, made up to look like Maclaine, is very pleasant, but for some reason she and Chuck, who have been singing nicely up to then, duly murder their big duet at the end, I’ll Never Fall in Love Again.
Everyone works very hard, but the result is a tasteless and pointless revival.
Eichelberger: Craig Armstrong.
Vanderhof: Ralph Bogard.
Kirkeby/Karl: Martin Dickinson.
Sylvia/Patsy/Mrs Sheldrake/Turkey Lurkey Girl: Clare Doyle.
Dr Dreyfus/Watchman: John Guerrasio.
Fran: Daisy Maywood.
Miss Olson/Vivien/Sharon/Turkey Lurkey Girl: Natalie Moore Williams.
Dobitch: Lee Ormsby.
Sheldrake: Paul Robinson.
Ginger/Kathy/Hostess/Turkey Lurkey Girl: Emily Squibb.
Chuck Baxter: Gabriel Vick.
Marge/Nurse/Barbara: Alex Young.
Director: Bronagh Lagan.
Musical Director: Joe Louis Robinson.
Choreographer: Cressida Carre.
Set & Costume Designer: Simon Wells.
Lighting Designer: Derek Anderson.
Sound Designer: Owemn Lewis