“Now is the time when the people of Chile come together”
I’m going to put it out there, I have no idea why new musical The Postman and the Poet hasn’t received a major production yet. This concept album was recorded in 2011 and has to rank as one of my favourite things I’ve listened to over the last few weeks of all these cast recordings, if not the whole year. It’s even based on source material that has Oscar-winning connections to endear it to risk-averse audiences – if From Here To Eternity can make it to a West End theatre, I’m sure The Postman and the Poet could make a decent stab at it too.
The show is based on Antonio Skármeta’s novel Ardiente Paciencia, on which the 1994 Oscar-winning film Il Postino was based, but Trevor Bentham and Eden Phillips’ book keeps the story of the musical in Isla Negra, a small fishing village on the Chilean coast and in the early 1970s, when political turmoil threatened to overwhelm this South American country. And Michael Jeffrey, a composer new to me, has pulled together a hugely exciting and accomplished score that blends its Latin influences seamlessly into a grand musical theatre style.
The story centres on young couple Mario and Beatriz, the wildly impulsive former winning over the latter through the literary and poetic skills he is picking up from his employer, the poet Pablo Neruda, for whom he is the postman. But society (well, her mother) disapproves and with the village torn apart by political campaigning as Salvador Allende’s Marxist regime is challenged by General Pinochet’s growing influence, their situation grows increasingly complicated as the personal, the politic and the poetic intertwine inextricably.
It’s an old-school story and in many ways, an old-school musical but in the best way. Romantic leads Simon Thomas and Joanna Ampil are beautifully matched and deliver their lovelorn songs with real passion – his ‘Stolen Words’, her gorgeous ‘You’re a Man’, their stirring ‘Lost in Love’. And there’s genuine gusto in the company numbers – the opening sequence of ‘Morning on the Quay’, ‘Please Go On Dancing’ and ‘Taca-Taca’ set the scene perfectly amidst the haze of love, politics, sensuality and simmering tension – the combination is really quite beguiling.