But in our defence it was simply too intriguing: what could the addition of songs contribute – apart from making it longer and even more draining? Can one really make a musical out of a farce? Wouldn’t those ditties slow down and undermine the whole door-slamming raison d’être of the genre?
And coming hot on the heels of the early demises of Hair and the lamented (by us, and almost us alone) loss of The Umbrellas of Cherbourg another failure could the Gielgud Theatre be seeking to snatch the Shaftesbury (Home of the Flops until Hairspray came along) Theatre’s crown?
But the Gods of Optimism had been working overtime, casting two Whinger’s favourite folk: Matthew Kelly and Joanna Riding (Ms Riding presumably was presumably not even required to move out of the dressing room she occupied when appearing in Umbrellas) and the trap sprang shut.
Would hilarity ensue when the world’s greatest tenor Tito Merelli (Michael Matus) came to 1934’s Cleveland to save the ailing Grand Opera Company by giving his Otello, suddenly becoming indisposed requiring the director’s geeky assistant Max (Damian Humbley) to step in? Or would it be about as much fun as the Go Compare ads?
Sadly it’s a close call. But just about as irritating and much, much longer.
Yes, this was a preview but the posters are already boasting “This summer’s musical comedy hit”. Rather cheeky if you think about it. What exactly constitutes a hit? Good reviews for its Plymouth run last year? Or because it’s selling out? If so, why did Time Out offer top price seats at “a tenner for a tenor” last week?
There is nothing much wrong with most of the cast, directed by Ian Talbot to fling themselves in and out of doors with abandon, some sweating heavily on the prettily gaudy purple and gold sets, which cleverly transform. Paul Farnsworth, who also designed some rather comely costumes, can hold his head high. Riding is the tenor’s wife and impresses greatly in her all-too-brief appearance in Act 1 (proving to Andrew that it is possible to wear pink and lime green successfully) before disappearing almost for good – popping up shortly at the end.
But the music (Brad Carroll) is rather samey and the book and lyrics (Peter Sham) seemed mostly pedestrian although to be fair when the chorus sang we barely heard a word, so perhaps their lines are hysterical enough to warrant the “musical comedy” tag.
The only time Phil laughed was when he saw the bell boys prancing around and caught this lyric:
Welcome to the 13th floor
Where the bellhops
Have a number of surprises in store
It seemed there would be few unexpected revelations from these boys.
Andrew could take no more. It may have been based around a performance of Otello, but he was finding nothing moorish on display here. Andrew’s ironing board suddenly seemed more alluring. An interval departure was inevitable.
Phil being more of a trouper (and less attracted to ironing) soldiered on gamely, proving optimism can be a dashed negative virtue. Andrew wasn’t the only one to jump ship and as Act 2 dragged on Phil wistfully surveyed the seats vacated by others at the entr’acte.
Did Andrew miss much? No, unless you count the sight of three men, including a criminally miscast Kelly, dressed as Otello, all tights, dangly cod pieces and black-face. Only one number (Sophie-Louise Dann‘s “May I have a Moment?”) really took off, but that’s because it was largely a medly of opera classics, which says all you need about the rest of the songs. And it did have a couple of decent sight gags including a rather unhygienic one with a toilet brush.
Phil was hoping for a big tap number, but tap was dispensed with rather perfunctorily in Act 1. Since much of Act 2 is confined to Merelli’s hotel suite, which is divided into two rooms, the groupings had to be kept to either side of a largely invisible wall which obviated the chance of a real show-stopper. The show’s finale saw the full cast reprising the rather bland title song.
We should have known better. Even though this was a preview the problem’s in the material and looks beyond saving.
It’s too late to bring in a show doctor unless they were trained at Dignitas. Or as Andrew, in keeping with the Otello theme, mused before deciding to end it all, “Lend me a pillow”.