Review – Carousel without Lesley Garrett, Savoy Theatre

Wednesday 14 January 2009

carousel at the Savoy TheatreThe Whingers love collective nouns.

A peep of chickens. A pitying of doves. A musty of beavers. A flagellation of ferrets. A scolding of seamstresses. A sneer of butlers. An inebriation of whingers. A shrivel of critics. Particularly the last one.

The Whingers have coined one or two of their own: it cans only a matter of time before “a Fram of theatrical disasters” passes into everyday usage.

But what is the collective noun for understudies? (Put your thinking cap on Ian Shuttleworth) An indisposition of understudies? A disappointment of understudies? A groan of understudies? A Tennant of understudies? A McCutcheon of understudies?*

Anyway, such a collective noun was in desperate need of coining by Monday evening when the Whingers turned up at the Savoy Theatre to see of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Carousel.

By a bizarre quirk of fate, as they hovered outside beforehand Phil turned to Andrew and mused, “You know, I wouldn’t be at all bothered if Lesley Garrett wasn’t appearing. In fact I’d be quite pleased.”

Be careful what you wish for. For as they descended the many flights of stairs down into the bowels of the Savoy Theatre there in front of them was the (usually) dreaded sign which announced that not only was La Garrett “indisposed” ** but so too were a flurry of other names.

More understudies than you could shake a stick at

The Whingers weren’t exactly doing a Kate Winslet over Ms Garrett’s no-show. Indeed, it was with an added skip in their steps that the Whingers descended the final hundred or so flights into what must surely be the only auditorium in the West End to be directly heated by the earth’s core.

To be quite honest, Andrew was at Carousel under sufferance. While appreciating some of the songs, he has always found the show to be unnecessarily drawn out. Phil has a particular soft spot for the show as it usually leaves him more dewy eyed than discovering a National Theatre running time.

He also claims some affinity with it as he taught at the New England (Carousel is set in Maine) summer camp, Camp Wigwam which was also attended by a youthful Richard Rodgers who (according to Camp Wigwam lore) wrote his first song there.

While the opening fairground scene to the strains of the classic Carousel Waltz may not quite have matched the National Theatre production’s version, it did boast some very effective projected designs by William Dudley and lots of general fairground busyness which proved promising enough (even if there appeared to be no customers on the digital Big Wheel). Heck, there was even a juggling stilt walker played by the wonderfully named Zeph (A netherthriving of jugglers since you didn’t ask).

But then the audience of listeners (Oliver! audiences should please take note that their collective noun is thicket of idiots ) is thrust into an awfully long scene establishing the love story between carousel barker and general ne’er-do-well Billy Bigelow (Jeremiah James) and mill worker Julie Jordan (Alexandra Silber) in parallel with that between her friend Carrie Pipperidge (Lauren Hood) and solid, will-do-well, Enoch Snow (Alan Vicary – excellent).

There’s an awful lot of chat and songs to get through and forty minutes into the show there is still no sign of Nettie Fowler (the character normally played by Garrett) so if you’re intending to see Carousel on the strength of her above-the-title name, be197013 warned: you don’t get much Garrett for your money. Phil timed it as about 10 minutes in the first (and extremely long 90 minute first act).

Anyhoo, our Nettie (Kathryn Akin right), finally appeared to deliver the wonderful “June is Bustin’ Out All Over” and a very fine job she did too.

But with lyrics like:

June is bustin’ out all over
The feelin’ is gettin’ so intense,
That the young Virginia creepers
Hev been huggin’ the bejeepers
Outa all the mornin’ glories on the fence!

how could she go wrong?

Well, the lyrics are news to Andrew who couldn’t quite make out the words to most of the songs but this may have been a problem caused by sitting in the front row of the stalls on top of the orchestra rather than the sound design.

By the time they emerged some 3 hours later (“2 hours 40 plus interval” according to the programme – the start of a worrying trend?) it felt as if June might indeed be bustin’ out all over outside.

But despite this the Whingers still managed to squeeze in a swift glass of wine after the show and discuss the many understudies.

Incidentally the collective noun for barmen is a promise of barmen. Well, promises are good, but they don’t pay bills or pour drinks.


* Several sites humorously suggest a shortage of dwarfs (though probably not, now that the panto season has finished), and this site suggests that the collective noun for understudies should be a contingent of understudies. Appropriate enough, but not terribly exciting. The Whingers are sure you can do better.

** Despite having been (according to the staff at the theatre) taken “ridiculously ill on Saturday night”, the Whingers are relieved to report that Lesley Garrett made a speedy recovery and appeared lively – if a little nasal – on the following afternoon’s live The Alan Titchmarsh Show, perkily plugging the show and her new album. Speaking of her cold, she promised she would be back on tonight having missed “only two performances” and about the wonderful “opportunity to explore the dramatic extremes”.

They don’t make them like never-miss-a-show Ethel Merman any more.

*** Delightful too that the director of this production should be Lindsay Posner to whom the Whingers owe a very particular debt. For it was Mr Posner’s production of Fool For Love at the Apollo Theatre which tipped them over the edge and prompted them to begin blogging. How proud he must be.


20 Responses to “Review – Carousel without Lesley Garrett, Savoy Theatre”

  1. While we’re at it, and I’m sure I’ve asked this before, but what’s the collective noun for bloggers?

  2. Sir Andrew Lloyds Credit Crunch Says:

    A frustration of understudies?

  3. Phil Says:

    A tedium of bloggers?

  4. Ian Shuttleworth Says:

    Obviously if unexcitingly, a wing of understudies.

  5. JohnnyFox Says:

    A crapping of understudies.

    Since that’s what most of them do when faced with their ultimate purpose?

    And it’s probably been said before, but I’d go with a google of bloggers …

  6. Hannah Says:

    Has anyone ever seen the video of Lesley Uggams freestyling the words to ‘June is busting out all over”? It is frequently removed from youtube but it’s an absolute classic.

  7. Chris Says:

    We booked to see this in Milton Keynes on the strength of Ms Garrett who we saw in Sound of Music and thought rather wonderful. Four days before we went, we got a letter from the Milton Keynes theatre saying Ms Garrett would not be performing that night due to a previous engagement.

    A previous engagement? Not merely being sick? Her MK audience were clearly not good enough for her. Rather went off her from that moment on.

    We also saw Kathryn Akin as Nettie, and while she busted out all over quite magnificently, she kind of walked alone too later on.

    If it wasn’t for the nice songs we would have been desperately desperately bored. Actually we were desperately bored, but with nice songs.

  8. Sir Andrew Lloyds Credit Crunch Says:

    Larry Hagman flailing at the Royal Variety is still the benchmark for me…

  9. JustNathan Says:

    We’re just back from seeing ‘Carousel’. The illustrious Ms Garrett was presumably otherwise engaged and two other parts were understudied too.

    Whilst the carousel projection in the first act was quite effective, I found the effects way overused after the interval in a way that made the (always tricky) heaven scene risible.

    I don’t know about being heated by the Earth’s core – the theatre was so chilly I wore my coat throughout the performance.

  10. JohnnyFox Says:

    Why does Lesley Garrotte (aka the Doncaster Nightjar) sing ‘When you walk through a storm keep your chin up high’ when Rodgers and Hammersmith wrote ‘hold your head up high’ which is much more lyrical and less, er, Yorkshire.

    Incidentally, did you know another name for a Nightjar is a ‘Goatsucker’.

  11. Julia Says:

    JohnnyFox- on the Original Broadway Cast Recording, Christine Johnson as Nettie actually does sing ‘keep your chin up high’- I’m sure when they changed it to ‘hold your head up high.’ I prefer the latter though, it just sounds more distinguished and it’s more alliterative.

  12. Julia Says:

    *sorry, that should be I’m NOT sure when they changed it!

  13. […] “Carrie Pipperidge” was being played by Tasha Sheridan, which means this show’s effective utilization of understudies was continuing full […]

  14. JohnnyFox Says:

    She’s moved on up from 1st Heavenly Friend understudy, then.

    @ Julia – thanks for the OBC reference, modern lyrics sites/sheet music seem divided between chin/head, and I wonder what was on the original score.

    Agree with you that head’s more distinguished … but, then, that wouldn’t be Garrotte’s strongest suit, would it?

  15. Me Says:

    Tasha Sheridan has always been first cover for Carrie (and also covers Julie)- Heavenly Friend was added when the show was up and running. I have seen her play Carrie earlier in the run and thought she was delighful, she also has a fabulous voice, which was first heard when playing Sophie in Mamma Mia!

    The plethora of understudies was due to a nasty bug going through the cast I was told. At least Carousel has a very gifted ensemble which means all parts have first class understudies. Of course if there are a lot of understudies on, the ensemble sound will be compromised I’m sure.

    Personally I am never bothered if the understudies are on. In my experience they are usually pretty good. Obviously I accept it is annoying if there is someone in particular you wanted to see or had never seen before.

    Tell me – do any of you go the theatre without whingeing – I’d love to know!

  16. JohnnyFox Says:

    @ Me

    Remind me. Whose agent are you?

  17. Sir Andrew Lloyds Credit Crunch Says:

    @ JohnnyFox – Well spotted.

    @ Me – Surely the whole point of theatre-going is to whinge. Why else are there intervals? This growing habit of 80 minute/60 minute/10 minute (take a bow, Caryl) interval-less theatre is a doomed attempt to censor the dedicated Whinger. It must fail.

  18. JohnnyFox Says:

    Not sure if I fared better than the Whingers, but I’ve now seen HALF of Carousel WITH Lesley Garrett.

    Verdict here:

  19. JohnnyFox Says:

    2.4.09 – La Garrett has ascended to the level of stardom of Jane Macdonald to become a ‘regular’ on ITV’s early afternoon show ‘Loose Women’.

    That’ll be another Thursday matinee she’s missing then ?

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