Posts Tagged ‘Phil Lindley’

This 1979 Jerry Herman show was the third of three flops sandwiched between Hello Dolly & Mame and La Cage aux Folles. The second of the three, Mack & Mabel, was rehabilitated and is now often revived, but this one disappeared until this enterprising European premiere 35 years later. Gold stars to the Finborough Theatre and producer Danielle Tarento for enabling us to see it at last.

It’s based on S N Berman’s 1944 stage play, itself adapted from Franz Werfel, who wrote it after he’d fled to the US, via France, in the 30’s. There seems to be an autobiographical influence on the story. The National Theatre staged the play in 1986 and my recollection is that it was a comedy. This certainly isn’t.

Eternal optimist Jacobowsky is a Polish Jew who has moved around Europe and now finds himself in a France under German occupation. He befriends a Polish colonel, Stjerbinsky, and they begin a journey through France by car, train and boat. Stjerbinsky is trying to get important papers about undercover agents in Poland to the Polish government in exile in England. En route they visit a cafe where they meet Marianne, who joins them. They pair up with a circus, get split up and reunited at a Jewish wedding Jacobowsky is performing, and take refuge in a convent before getting to the port and the boat that will take them to England.

If you know Herman’s other shows, you’ll know this is hardly typical Herman fare and that’s the crux of it – the story doesn’t really work as musical theatre. That said, Director Thom Sutherland and his team have made a good fist of it. Set Designer Phil Lindley’s pop-up book set is ingenious; a giant map of Europe from which other sets fold out. Sophia Simensky has added fine period costumes and Max Pappenheim some great sound effects. Though no doubt driven by the duel needs of economy and space, the twin pianos are perfect for this music. I thought some of the performances were a little tentative, but Alastair Brookshaw and Nic Kyle were very assured as Jacobowsky and Stjerbinsky.

A flawed show, but a good production, and above all a great opportunity to catch such a rarity by a titan of musical theatre.


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When I heard they were going to stage a rock musical at the Finborough (a space just twice the size of my living room) I feared hearing damage. So the first of many congratulations goes to Tom Hishman, whose brilliant sound ensures you hear every word and every note and don’t go home deaf!

This is the European premiere of a semi-autobiographical show by Scottish-American husband & wife team Paul Scott Goodman and Miriam Gordon about a songwriting / performing partnership in the late 70’s / early 80’s punk / new wave period (the last period of popular musical greatness!).

Ian and Monica meet when Ian’s brother, Monica’s university friend, suggests they co-write her Bat Mitzvah song commission. Monica’s a feisty red-head and Ian’s a recluse, Jewish and Catholic respectively, yet they hit it off and the professional partnership evolves into a personal one too. They win a pub talent show and head to London where they become part of the punk boom and get a Number One. Next stop New York City, where they discover they don’t both want fame and Ian returns to his Glasgow bedroom leaving behind more than just Marion.

It packs a lot of story into 80 unbroken minutes and you really do get to know these characters well. What I liked about the music was how it served the story, not just lyrically but also in its changes of style to reflect the events it portrays. With the audience on two sides and the four-piece band and both performers on four platforms and a floor covered in wooden planks, it’s as intimate as the Finborough has ever been. Designer Philip Lindley has cleverly surrounded the space with walls of similar wooden planks with windows, lights and signs within them illuminating changing locations. There’s fine lighting too from Neill Brinkworth.

Cassidy Janson and Alexis Gerred perform with great commitment and passion, as if their lives depended on it. Their energy and enthusiasm are infectious and they make you believe in the story and the relationship. I’ve seen and enjoyed Cassidy before but this may be the best she’s done so far – a star if ever I saw one. Alexis is new to me and impressed greatly. There’s a terrific four-piece band led by Barney Ashworth who are tight enough to hold their own at a rock gig any day of the week. Director Andrew Keates has delivered a production as close to perfect as you’d probably ever get.

Yet another triumph for the Finborough. Only 14 performances left. Be at one of them.

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