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Posts Tagged ‘Hal David’

Though it was revived on Broadway in 2010, this Neil Simon / Bacharach & David musical hasn’t been seen here since its 1969 London premiere. It’s based on Billy Wilder’s classic 1960 five Oscar winning film The Apartment featuring Jack Lemon and Shirley MacLaine. It may be the only musical to feature a Personnel Director!

In case you’ve never seen the film, the story concerns Chuck, a young insurance company employee who helps his career by loaning his apartment to senior executives’ for their affairs. When the Personnel Director Sheldrake becomes his fifth ‘customer’, he gets his promotion, but Sheldrake insists on exclusivity, so the other four turn on him. Then he realises Sheldrake’s mistress is Fran, the object of his own affections. With men lusting after girls young enough to be their daughters, what may have been just amusing c. 50 years ago seems more lecherous and distasteful today. It changes tone in the second half when these behaviours suddenly become unacceptable, seedy men are put in their place and true love wins.

Given the pedigree of the song-writing pair, the score is a bit of a disappointment. The best known song in the original production was I’ll Never Fall In Love Again, a hit for Dionne Warwick, but the Broadway revival added two other Bacharach & David hits – Say A Little Prayer and A House Is Not A Home – to their one and only musical score. Neil Simon’s book is pretty good though, but at just under three hours it’s desperately in need of some cuts, particularly in the longer first half. They could start with dumping the incongruous numbers Turkey Lurkey Time in the office Christmas party scene and A Young Pretty Girl Like You, when Chuck and the doctor are trying to cheer up their ‘patient’ Fran.

Simon Wells’ design and costumes capture the sixties faithfully (but he needs to do something about the dodgy door!). It’s a good ensemble, with Gabriel Vick and Daisy Maywood a fine pair of leads. There’s excellent support from John Guerrasio as the doctor and a terrific cameo from Alex Young as Marge. Paul Robinson makes a good baddie (and a believable Personnel Director, and I should know!).

It has dated more than its contemporaries, its overlong, the two contrasting halves seem like they might be from different shows and it doesn’t live up to the standards of its writers / composers, but I’m a fan of all three and I’m very glad I had the chance to catch it.

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I think the first Burt Bacharach song I heard was Anyone Who Had A Heart, in the version by Cilla Black (My first crush and I wasn’t even a teenager. Just). More than 30 years later I was still listening to his songs, this time in a superb collaboration with new musical hero Elvis Costello. More than 15 years on again this glorious homage opens with that first song, just days after we lost Cilla, so it was a bittersweet but beautiful opening to a faultless show, with the penultimate song Alfie, from which the show’s title is taken, also forever linked with Cilla. I absolutely adored it.

Over the course of ninety minutes we get around 30 songs – complete ones, medleys, mash-ups, individual song lines and melodies weaving in and out, and there isn’t a dud amongst them. They’ve been arranged in a variety of different styles including rock, regaee & blues, as solos, ensemble pieces and various combinations of the seven performers. It’s captivating. A veritable musical feast.

The Menier stage seems huge. It’s covered in a patchwork of carpet, littered with standard lamps and table lamps. There’s sofa and easy chair seating at several levels at the sides and sofas elevated at the back, with musical instruments hanging between. There are even two revolves! I smiled when I first saw Christine Jones & Brett J Banakis design and it brought a great intimacy and cosiness to the evening.

Steven Hoggett’s staging and movement is inspired. It makes the evening flow as one. Every movement is carefully choreographed, yet it seems completely natural, as if the lyrics propel the movement. There is a moment where the change of a guitar becomes an embrace which continues as a dance as the song is sung. It’s hard to describe such an intuitive and organic show except to say it’s as beautiful to watch as it is to hear.

Four of the US cast have been joined by three British / Irish newbies and they’re all brilliant. Not only has he conceived the show and arranged the music, Kyle Riabko is MD, multi-instrumentalist and lead singer. He must have performed this more than a hundred times but it felt like he was doing it for the first time. A towering performance of his own inspired arrangements.

This was one of the most perfect evenings I have ever spent in the theatre and when we got outside we were greeted by the cast busking a ukulele version of Raindrops Keep Falling On Your Head; a lovely way to send us home. Don’t even think about missing this.

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