Phil got very excited about when They’re Playing Our Song at the Menier Chocolate Factory was announced but got extremely frustrated when no-one else was quite so enthused about the revival of a musical whose main claim to fame is that it has the most annoying title song in the history of musicals (“They’re playing our song oh yes they’re playing our song and when they’re playing our song…” etc).
Anyway, it turned out the reason that no-one else was quite as excited as Phil was that he had read that Carrie Fisher was going to be in it whereas everyone else had read (correctly) that Connie Fisher was going to be in it.
It was not quite as funny as theatre blogger Russell’s admission that he ” impressed everyone at work with my culture and erudition saying that we were off to see yet another play by Brecht – and then of course realised that I had got “The Chalk Garden” mixed up with “The Caucasian Chalk Circle”, so there was a bit of backtracking to do the next day at the water cooler.”
But funny nonetheless.
Anyway, They’re Playing Our Song is a 1979 musical with book by Neil Simon, lyrics by Carole Bayer Sager, and music by Marvin Hamlisch. It is supposedly based on the relationship between Hamlisch and Bayer Sager.
The cramped Saturday matinee was only the second preview of this revival so perhaps that partly excuses the lacklustre of the performance.
Alistair McGowan plays “wisecracking” Jewish New York composer Vernon Gersch in an hilarious 70s wig. Fisher plays kookie Jewish New York lyricist Sonia Walsk in an hilarious 70s wig. They are supported by three alter ego backing singers apiece – all wearing hilarious 70s wigs. You can imagine how hilarious this is for five seconds.
Just in case the audience was wondering whether the wisecracking dialogue was hilarious or not, both of them announce each gag for their benefit with a lot of New York Jewish waving of arms.
Unfortunately, this approach merely serves to highlight how hilarious Neil Simon’s wisecracking dialogue isn’t. For example:
She: “Did that come out wrong?”
He: “Only if you happened to hear it.”
She: “It’s just a suggestion.”
He: “Pearl Harbour was a suggestion!”
All the comedy 70s wigs in the world can’t compensate for the fact that this production is hopelessly miscast but at least the leads have the decency to look deeply uncomfortable.
And the excitement of the completely pointless set revolve only served to put the Whingers in mind of a wind-up gramophone which despite being frantically wound runs down just a few minutes later.
Phil saw the original London production with Tom Conti and Gemma Craven one and a half times. The safety curtain got stuck at the interval the first time and he must have been enjoying it as he went back to see the whole show a week later. He remembered it as being funny, mainly due to the skill of the performers (Craven won an Olivier award). But the highlight was spotting comedy legend Dickie Henderson (left) in the audience and Telly Savalas‘ (right) bald head catching the conductor’s spotlight as he took his seat during the overture.
Unfortunately there is no curtain to get stuck at the Menier. Having made the huge mistake of returning after the interval (the second half doesn’t get any better), Phil was hoping the revolve would jam and the Whingers might be released from their torture.
The choreography would shame Second Generation TV dancing, the chemistry between the two leads is almost non existent. Phil stared along the line of grim faced punters, few of whom were laughing, as each gag fell flatter than the last. The Whingers’ seats were of course rubbish, (the Menier is still sticking to their absurd unreserved seating policy) having refused to join the queue for the auditorium which had formed over half an hour before the show in the furnace they call the bar.
So, stuck near the front on one of the far sides of the auditorium the band sounded muffled but afforded them a splendid view into the wings. If Andrew leant forward (which he is prone to doing as he struggles to keep awake) Phil couldn’t see much of the stage which proved the only relief.