The Renaissance of the London Musical

By Green, Laurence | Contemporary Review, June 1993 | Go to article overview

The Renaissance of the London Musical


Green, Laurence, Contemporary Review


SOMETHING extraordinary has happened to London's theatrical scene -- the West End musical is alive and well and currently enjoying a renaissance. Yet only a few months ago six shows were forced to close, although admittedly some of the 'casualties' had enjoyed respectable runs. The omens, therefore, were not favourable when Gershwin's musical comedy Crazy for You opened recently at the Prince Edward Theatre. But the show has confounded many people's expectations and proved to be the hottest ticket in town. Director Mike Ockrent (responsible for Me and My Girl) and Ken Ludwig have taken the songs from the 1930 George and Ira Gershwin musical Girl Crazy, added a number of Gershwin standards and created their own story, a celebration of showbusiness in which our hero, a banker and would-be dancer, is despatched to Hicksville USA -- a run-down backwoods town suitably named Deadrock -- to foreclose on the debt-ridden post office which has seen better days as a once thriving theatre. There he meets and falls in love with the postmistress, re-opens the theatre and brings the community to life again.

It is often said that at a time of severe recession with unemployment reaching record levels and a feeling of gloom pervading the nation, people more than ever seek escapism rather than reality. It was true in the '30s and it is even more true today. And Crazy for You meets this need splendidly, for it is exuberant, exhilarating and vastly entertaining, although it lacks the depth and emotional charge of, say, Les Miserables. The rich boy meets poor girl story is enhanced by a glorious score with such familiar numbers as 'Shall We Dance?', 'Someone to Watch Over Me', 'I Got Rhythm', 'They Can't Take That Away From Me' and 'Nice Work If You Can Get It', imaginative choreography, dazzling sets, and two excellent performances from the American actor Kirby Ward as Bobby, the banker with his sights set on the stage -- his energetic, stylish dancing shows all the promise of a young Fred Astaire -- and Avril Angers, in fine form as his mother, a staunch matriarch who wants her son to stay in New York, gain his inheritance and pursue a 'safe' career. I personally found that Ruthie Henshall lacked an appealing, vulnerable quality as Polly, although vocally she is in top form.

The other major new musical hit of the season, City of Angels, at the Prince of Wales Theatre, is not as you might expect some kind of celestial musical but a clever parody of 'film noir' movies. Based on the book by Larry Gelbart and set in Los Angeles in the late '40s, the story centres on a serious crime writer trying to write a Hollywood private eye script. The writer, Stine, gets caught up in studio politics, while his gumshoe Stone, modelled on Philip Marlowe, gets involved with women, gangsters and a plutocrat's missing stepdaughter.

The real innovation of this |pounds~2 million Tony Award winning show is to have fact and fiction clash as Stine confronts his literary 'alter ego', Stone, with each character arguing 'You're nothing without me' and eventually writer and private eye unite against a tyrannical film director. …

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