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Tim Rice is destined to be forever linked to Andrew Lloyd Webber, but only five of his sixteen shows were with him, and of these two didn’t get major productions and one (The Wizard of Oz) was just additional lyrics for additional songs. He wrote with seven other composers, including three each with Disney’s Alan Menken and Elton John, but this 1983 show, with the late Stephen Oliver, was the first post-ALW. It had a decent run in two theatres in the West End, but never made Broadway and has only been revived once, eleven years ago at the Pleasance. It’s a comic romp that I’ve always had a bit of a soft spot for, and this revival confirms that.

Blondel is an unsuccessful troubadour, with a feminist socialist girlfriend Fiona. This is the late 12th century, with Richard I on the throne, his disloyal brother John in the wings and the third crusade about to begin. Blondel manages to get his new song, I’m A Monarchist, heard by the king before he departs on the crusade. The king insists on taking Fiona as a skivvy, but Blondel stays behind. While Richard is away, John plots against him, intent on becoming king himself. The crusade ends in a draw (!), but the king is abducted by Duke Leopold of Austria on the way home. Blondel tours Europe’s castles singing his song until it is heard in Austria and results in Richard’s release, Blondel’s appointment as court musician and marriage to Fiona.

In an inspired move, there’s a quartet of monks as a chorus / narrators who sing (mostly) a Capella – their introduction is one of the best openings of any musical. Mathew Pritchard has added six songs, and changed two others, to Oliver’s original score, packed full of catchy tunes. Rice’s lyrics are superbly witty, as you might expect from a premiere league lyricist. I was surprised by how many tunes and words I remembered and I’ve been humming them continually since I left the theatre. It’s all a bit daft, but it’s great fun, with European and Middle East references taking on new meaning today.

Sasha Regan’s revival is very well cast, with the quartet of monks – David Fearn, Ryan Hall, Oliver Marshall and Calum Melville – simply superb, and Neil Moors shining as Richard the Lionheart, with particularly fine vocals. Connor Arnold oozes naïve charm as Blondel and Jessie May is delightfully feisty as Fiona, and there’s an excellent comic turn, again with good vocals, from Michael Burgen as the assassin who John hires. Simon Holt’s band was restrained enough to ensure the unamplified lyrics could be heard except for some in the quieter solos by less robust singers. I liked the map of Europe which formed the backdrop in Ryan Dawson Light’s design and Sasha Regan’s excellent staging has some chirpy choreography by Chris Whittaker.

Great to see such a good revival of a much neglected show.

 

 

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