book by Terrence McNally lyrics by Lynn Aghrens music by Stephen Flattery; based on the novel E L Doctorow.
Landor Theatre 70 Landor Road, SW9 9PH To 8 October 2011.
Tue, Thu, Sat, Sun 7.30pm Fri 7pm Mat Sat & Sun 3pm.
Runs 2hr 30min One interval.
Review: William Russell 4 September.
TICKETS: 020 7737 7276.
A good time can be had by all.
E.L Doctorow’s picaresque novel is a very good book, but writer Terrence McNally has retained so much of it that the resulting show lacks dramatic focus. Things are further complicated by the fact some characters are real people, vital to the novel, distracting in the show.
Stephen Flaherty’s score has several lovely songs, but ragtime as a musical form is repetitive and ultimately exhausting to listen to. Too often also a character is given one of those stand-centre-stage-and-hit-the-back-wall-of-the-Gods-Ethel Merman numbers. The result: one thinks a climax has been reached, but the plot keeps on going, which has a deflating effect dramatically.
The portrait of early twentieth century New York Doctorow created undoubtedly rang more bells with Broadway audiences (seven Tony awards) than it did here, which might explain the relative failure of the 2003 West End production starring Maria Friedman – who won an Olivier for her performance as the Mother.
The main plot lines follow the fortunes of the Mother of a wealthy family, who gives a home to a foundling baby, the illegitimate child of Sarah and Coalhouse, a ragtime musician, and of Tateh, a Jewish immigrant who ends up as a movie mogul. Coalhouse’s prized automobile is destroyed by racists and Sarah is killed which sets Coalhouse off on a killing spree as he seeks justice.
Yet the production, directed superbly by Robert McWhir, is about as good as it gets. In spite of the considerable limitations imposed by the Landor’s tricky acting space, McWhir and his 21-strong cast have done wonders with their material and this time round it could be a hit.
I attended a preview matinee, but the production was already in splendid shape and as the run progresses should get even better. As Mother, Louisa Lydell sings beautifully, tracing her transition from submissive wife to independent woman most effectively, with Rosalind James and Kurt Kansley (Sarah and Coalhouse), John Barr (Tateh) and Judith Paris (the Communist activist Emma Goldman) are equally good. Above all this is a company show, although a little restraint from some of the supporting cast might not go amiss.
Mother: Louisa Lydell.
Sarah: Rosalind James.
Coalhouse: Kurt Kamsley.
Tateh: John Barr.
Emma Goldman: Judith Paris.
Little Boy: George Smith/Harry Polden.
Father: Alexander Evans.
Younger Brother: David McMullan.
Grandfather: Graham Hoadly.
Booker T Washington: Raymond Coker.
Houdini: Craig Rhys-Barlow.
Houdini’s Mother: Patsy Blower.
J P Morgan: Mitchell Mullen.
Henry Ford: Leo Miles.
Evelyn Nesbit: Hollie O’Donoghue.
Matthew Henson: Daniel Jacob.
The Little Girl: Ashley Clish/Lily Burgering.
Kathleen: Emma Beckford.
Brigit: Ashleigh Jones.
Newsboy: James Birkett.
Harlem Woman: Lauren Alexandra.
Harlem Man: Aston New.
Director: Robert McWhir.
Designer: Martin Thomas.
Musical Director: George Dyer.
Choreographer: Matthew Gould.