Review: Dear World, Charing Cross Theatre

“She’s not that innocent, she keeps rabbits”

This is actually the UK premiere of Jerry Herman’s 1969 musical Dear World and reading the programme notes about the tortured history of the show – the unhappiness of the writers at how the first production was taken out of their hands, the subsequent numerous rewrites, the competitive and changing musical theatre environment of the time – one could justifiably ask why the decision has been made to put it on now. Seasoned director/choreographer Gillian Lynne has been the one to take it on though, providing a refreshed take on both book and score, and in perhaps the biggest coup, attracting musical theatre legend Betty Buckley to the lead role of the Countess Aurelia.  

The story is based on a 1945 play by Giradoux called The Madwoman of Chaillot and is a rather whimsical, you could say bonkers, tale of ecologically-minded community action rising up against exploitative capitalism. A group of avaricious financiers have been led to believe that they can excavate oil from beneath the boulevards of Paris and are willing to do anything – including knocking down the Café Francis – to get at it. And plotting to stop them and save their café, city and the world they hold so dearly, are a ragtag band of odd individuals with the not-quite-as-eccentric-as-all-that Countess Aurelia.


The air of whimsy that prevails is a difficult one to get accustomed to and I am not sure that I ever really got there with this show. It feels dated and insubstantial and more than once, I was left feeling that perhaps this show should have been left on the shelf. Its message is a naively compelling one though and Herman can certainly compose a decent ditty or three and along with Lynne’s choreography, the show is rarely dull. Buckley commands the stage wonderfully and has an elegant presence which finally lets rip at the end of Act 1 when she unleashes that famous belt and demonstrates why she has such a reputation as she does.

But so much of the show is indubitably quirky, almost to distraction. The story doesn’t necessarily strain credibility but the garishly outlandish characters that populate this world are somewhat baffling. The show describes itself as a fable but doesn’t quite feel fantastical enough to really fly to such fairytale-ish imaginative heights in the way that say, Salad Days does. Instead the feel is more of a slightly warped version of our own reality, generally full of batshit crazy people and thus rather ridiculous. It may seem a little harsh but it is symptomatic of a show that doesn’t really know what it wants to be even after 40 years’ worth of tinkering. 

Dear World is not without charm though, especially in the efforts of much of its company. Despite the remove of the idea of the fable, moments of real emotion come shining through, most frequently with Buckley’s Countess and And I Was Beautiful, a heartfelt duet with Stuart Matthew Price’s kindly Julian, is a gorgeous moment. Katy Treharne’s Nina also impresses. And on the comedic side, there is neat work from Annabel Leventon and Rebecca Lock as a pair of batty friends of the Countess but the whimsy  reached overload for me with the overtly vaudeville stylings of Paul Nicholas’ Sewerman which felt largely uninspired.

The show does gather steam in the second half and though I was sceptical for large swathes of it, the finale, which brings together excerpts from so many of the songs that have preceded and a jaunty full cast dance routine which would challenge any of the Globe’s jigs, has a persuasively delightful quality that ensured I left the theatre smiling. It’s by no means a classic, but an intriguing curio that is worth hunting down a bargain for for its charm and cast. 

Running time: 2 hours 20 minutes (with interval)

Programme cost: £3
Booking until 30th March

Re-review: La Cage aux Folles, Playhouse

“Judas…Traitor…Het-er-o-sexual!”

When it was first announced that John Barrowman would be taking one of the lead roles in La Cage au Folles, many, including myself, instantly called this a crazy decision. Having seen this show twice already with different casts, and it remaining one of my favourite things I have seen on the stage this year, I had my doubts about this particular casting decision but when a family delegation (including 3 major Barrowman fangirls) expressed their interest in coming down to see the show, tickets were booked.

The obvious criticism is that John Barrowman is too young and good-looking to play Albin, especially given the actors who have played the role here previously, but by casting an equally younger-looking and handsome Simon Burke as his lover, this production has been cleverly reconceived. Instead of being a meditation on a drag queen at the end of his career, the focus here is more on Albin’s insecurities about his relationship with Georges, the comment about not being able to play Salome any longer becomes more of a bitchy aside than a sad statement of truth. There has been a considerable injection of raunchiness into this production, with some very suggestive croissant eating that was dangerously close to the bone (fnarr fnarr) for a family show. However this more overt sexuality played very convincingly with the younger coupling and led to some hilarious scenes. Continue reading “Re-review: La Cage aux Folles, Playhouse”

Review: Hello, Dolly!, Open Air Theatre

Ending this year’s run of shows at the Open Air Theatre in Regent’s Park is a revival of the Jerry Herman musical Hello, Dolly! It is a classic piece, and its presentation here is respectful of that and delivers a straight up rendition mercifully free of irony. Hello, Dolly! is not for people who claim that they don’t like musicals. It is old-school Broadway singing and dancing through and through and about as much fun on a stage as you could imagine: there is no place for cynicism here.

Admittedly, I did not see it in the heights of summer when one might expect a slightly better chance of sunshine, but one did start to question the methods of the Open Air Theatre on rainy days, as the stagehands were made to work extremely hard, wiping down the stage diligently four times in 45 minutes before the actual start of the show. One began to feel so sorry for them as it seemed every time they finished a new shower would begin. Fortunately, the sheer joy of the production meant that the conditions were soon forgotten.

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Re-review: La Cage aux Folles, Playhouse

Visit number two for me to La Cage aux Folles at the Playhouse Theatre for a number of reasons. My first trip earlier this year was an absolute hoot but perhaps a little more wine-soaked than was advisable, I wanted to surprise Aunty Jean with a fun night out (as opposed to the previously advertised Aunt Dan & Lemon) and finally I wanted to see Philip Quast and Roger Allam as I had heard great things about their performances. I saw Douglas Hodge and Denis Lawson in the main roles last time, and could not imagine them being bettered, such was the quality of their ‘turns’.

However I am pleased to say that Allam and Quast were equal to the task, and I think I might even actually have preferred these two. The key to this musical is that it is actually the sweetest love story between Albin and Georges and so the relationship between the two has to be spot on and I think this is where they edge it this time. There’s such a great sense of shared romance onstage and the two actors are so comfortable with each other, you can really believe that they have spent a lifetime together.

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Review: La Cage Aux Folles, Playhouse

I saw La Cage aux Folles last Friday, and so was lucky enough to see the penultimate performance with the original cast, and no disrespect to the incoming performers, I am extremely glad for that since it was good to see the production people have been recommending for ages now and this was probably the most fun I have had in the theatre in such a long time.

That may have had something to do with the insane amount of wine me and my friend Julia drank in lieu of eating dinner, but the show really was excellent (from what I remember). The big bouncing balls were good fun; les cagelles were beyond excellent, eye-wateringly so at times during the splits; Douglas Hodge was superb throughout, just the right side of camp buffoonery yet still real enough for Jean-Michele’s misguided decision to have real emotional impact; the cabaret tables were a genius idea, though I imagine a little frightening to sit at.

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