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Posts Tagged ‘Dot by Dot’

In 2000 this Stiles & Drewe show surprised many by beating Mamma Mia, The Lion King & Spend Spend Spend to win the Olivier Best New Musical Award. I like underdogs so I was rather pleased. Two of the others (guess!) have gone on, and continue, to play to zillions all over the world, but another surprise to many would be that this has also been seen by 6 million people in 8000 productions in 20 languages. It returns to London almost twenty years later on a much smaller scale than the NT’s Olivier production, with a cast of seven and a three-piece band in a 50-something seat theatre under a railway line!

It’s based on the 175-year old Hans Christian Anderson tale of The Ugly Duckling, a source of ridicule for his dad, his siblings and just about everyone else he meets, but loved regardless by his mum. She searches high and low for him when he goes AWOL, during which he meets an array of characters including a predatory cat and an encouraging frog, eventually discovering he’s a swan and falling in love. In this interpretation we get a more modern spin on diversity and respect. George Stiles has written better scores since, but this one has its moments. Anthony Drewe’s pun-laden book and lyrics are a delight.

It works well on this scale, swept along on a wave of charm, energy and enthusiasm. Andy Room’s staging and Emily Bestow’s design are inventive, in a homespun way. The performers play an array of instruments, from cello to saxophone, to supplement the small band, but it’s not really a full-blown actor-musician show. It’s a very good ensemble. I’m a great advocate of un-amplified chamber musicals, though here some of Drewe’s witty lyrics are lost when singers compete with electric instrumentation, percussion and saxes.

It’s good to see it again, though somehow it now feels even more like a kids show, and I do wish the director’s programme note hadn’t talked about post-Brexit / Trump relevance!

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