Some theatre memories, you say? Why not! December 1986 to November 1987

With the return of live theatre looking further and further away let’s immerse ourselves in these memories. A couple of concerts here too, but, as I have the programmes, I might as well include them!

  1. Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat – Royalty Theatre, London, 23rd December 1986

We’re used to seeing Joseph come round every couple of years or so nowadays, but I think back in ’86 a London production was quite a rarity. The Tomorrow People’s Mike Holoway starred as Joseph in this brash and bright little production, which we remember enjoying but in comparison with all the big shows we’d seen throughout the year, it was perhaps slightly underwhelming. I’d like to be able to say more about this production, but I’d be making it up. The Royalty, if you’re wondering, is now the Peacock.

  1. Carmen – English National Opera at the London Coliseum, London, 3rd January 1987

Miss Duncansby’s first exposure to the world of opera. You can’t go wrong with Carmen – wasn’t it Stephen Sondheim who described it as the best ever musical? This was a heavily criticised production that the purists loathed, as it brought the famous cigarette girl kicking and screaming into the twentieth century, with a translation by Anthony Burgess. Carmen was sung by Sally Burgess, Don José was John Treleaven, Micaela was Rosamund Illing and Escamillo David Arnold. We really enjoyed it, and were patronised by the pompous asses around us for doing so.

  1. The Maintenance Man – Comedy Theatre, London, 14th February 1987

This was the most self-indulgent Valentine’s Day celebration ever, with Miss D and I going to the Equatorial Restaurant for lunch (a Singaporean place that was a favourite, sadly long gone) and the Paradiso e Inferno on the Strand for dinner (now replaced by a similar Italian restaurant) and fitting in The Maintenance Man (so to speak) for its first house in between. A comedy by Richard Harris, best known for his TV writing, it starred John Alderton, Gwen Taylor and Susan Penhaligon.

Divorced Bob can’t stay away from his ex-wife’s house, much to the annoyance of his new girlfriend. I remember it being very bittersweet (much more bitter than sweet) and without that many laughs. This performance was right at the end of the run. No wonder we remember the meals more that day.

  1. Dr Evadne Hinge and Dame Hilda Bracket in The Arkley Barnet Show – Comedy Theatre, London, 24th March 1987

Filling the gap left by The Maintenance Man, the “Dear Ladies” launched themselves on the Comedy for a short season with their Arkley Barnet Show, an excuse for some wonderful Hinge and Bracket shenanigans, which if you loved, you loved, and if you hated, you hated. I loved them. Their act managed to mix the historical and the modern in a really clever way. I remember at the time that fear of AIDS was everywhere, and many much-loved performers were sadly losing their lives to it. This prompted Dr Evadne to modernise the old song A little of what you fancy does you good into A little of what you fancy kills you off. Sharp intakes of breath all round, as you can imagine – but devilishly brilliant.

  1. When I Was a Girl I Used to Scream and Shout – Whitehall Theatre, London, 2nd April 1987

We saw this with our friends Mike, Lin and Barbara, and I remember we were very late leaving the restaurant beforehand so we had to run to make the curtain up, and thus sat there panting and sweaty for the first half hour, which is never a great start to a show. The play had won Sharman Macdonald the Evening Standard Award for Most Promising Playwright, and I remember it going down with the audience very well, but not much else.

It’s very much a young woman’s play, involving understanding relationships, disappointing parents and struggling to discover yourself. Maybe it didn’t speak much to me? Not sure. Mrs C can’t remember anything about it either. Fabulous cast though; Sheila Reid, Julie Walters, Geraldine James, John Gordon Sinclair.

  1. The Mystery of Edwin Drood – Savoy Theatre, London, 18th May 1987

Tipping a wink to a touring production of A Chorus Line that we saw in April for my birthday, at the Apollo Theatre Oxford, and starring Caroline O’Connor as Cassie (and with a young Ruthie Henshall as Maggie), our next London show was The Mystery of Edwin Drood, to which we also brought the Dowager Mrs C, and she really enjoyed it. A moderate success in New York but a flop over here, Rupert Holmes’ inventive and interactive musical, took Dickens’ unfinished novel and challenged the audience to solve the murder. Notable for the star billing given to comedy legend Ernie Wise as the Chairman, the production also boasted such talents as Lulu as Princess Puffer, Julia Hills as a cross-dressing Edwin Drood, David Burt as John Jasper and Martin Wimbush as my namesake, the Reverend Crisparkle. This should have been a hit, and I’m still not quite sure why it wasn’t, but it only lasted ten weeks.

  1. Kiss Me Kate – Royal Shakespeare Company at the Old Vic, London, June 1987

Another of the Dowager Mrs C’s favourite shows, we took her to see this RSC production, which I think was played heavily for laughs with a relatively straightforward production by Adrian Noble. By far the best thing about it was Nichola McAuliffe’s fantastically tempestuous Lilli, almost matched by Paul Jones’ smarmy Fred. Interesting to note that Tim Flavin and Cyril Nri appear in the cast, in relatively minor roles. Thoroughly enjoyable, but there again it would have to be a bad production of Kiss Me Kate that wasn’t thoroughly enjoyable.

  1. Three Men on a Horse – National Theatre Company at the Vaudeville Theatre, London, 3rd October 1987

This highly successful production, directed by Jonathan Lynn, had transferred from the Cottesloe earlier in the year. John Cecil Holm and George Abbott’s comedy premiered in 1935 and concerns a mild-mannered chap who discovers he has a supernatural gift of picking the winning horse, provided he doesn’t watch the race. A fantastic cast was headed by Geoffrey Hutchings, and also included Toyah Willcox, Ken Stott, Desmond Barritt, Cyril Shaps, Alison Fiske and Nicholas le Prevost. Extremely funny and it deserved its success.

  1. The Spinners – Civic Centre, Aylesbury, 6th November 1987

Miss D (as she still was) was very keen to see the Spinners as they had been part of her childhood, being a Liverpudlian who grew up in Australia – the connection couldn’t be stronger. I knew nothing about them, apart from the fact they tended to have late night shows on BBC TV when there wasn’t anything much else to watch. I think you had to be a real fan to enjoy this show – and there were plenty of those in the audience.

  1. Incantation – Civic Centre, Aylesbury, 10th November 1987

We were both huge fans of Incantation, the group that arose from the band that played the music for Ballet Rambert’s Ghost Dances, and who had a number of hits with their Pan Pipes of the Andes style. Incantation took their music very seriously and did much research on the streets of Cuzco to achieve truly authentic performance quality, as their line-up consisted of three Brits and three Chileans at the time. Timeless music, brilliantly performed.

Happy New Year!

Happy New YearFirst, gentle reader, let me be among the last (probably) to wish you a happy new year – and, my word, we don’t half need one. I hope you’re doing as well as can be expected under these trying circumstances, Covid-dodging on a daily basis, crossing every digit available for your turn for the vaccine to come as soon as possible.

 

StageIt’s thin pickings for a theatre blogger at the moment; not only because the theatres are all closed, but also because, try as I might, I find it hard to get enthusiastic about live streaming theatre. I know, I know, my bad. I thought I would take to it like a duck to water; instead, I’ve taken to it like Boris Johnson to the truth. It tends to remind me more of what we’re all missing, rather than having something that’s worth it in itself. And I know it’s worth it, and I definitely implore you to keep downloading and streaming, because the industry needs it. Please forgive me if I simply can’t bring myself to do it too.

 

Agatha ChristieOne difference (for me) from Lockdown 1.0 to Lockdown 3.0 – I feel more fired up about reading. Last March and April I couldn’t have cared less for the written word. Today I feel it ought to play more of a part in my daily rituals. So I shall definitely be continuing with my Agatha Christie and Paul Berna Challenges, and, on a less regular basis, the James Bond Challenge (they’re a lot of work and take a long time to write!) I’ll also try to keep up with my nostalgic theatre memories and my lockdown travel reminiscences. As for going back to the theatre, I feel as though it will be unlikely for me until I’ve had both doses of my vaccine and given them the statutory three weeks to bed in. With current progress, I hope that means I’ll be in time for next Christmas’s pantos!

 

Paul BernaI knew there was something else I wanted to tell you. There’ll be no Chrisparkle Awards this January. There doesn’t seem a lot of point hiring the costumes and the television cameras etc to celebrate 10 weeks’ worth of live entertainment (not that it isn’t worth celebrating, but I’m sure you get my drift). With any luck the Awards will return this time next year. Or this time in two years’ time. Who knows.

 

James BondStay safe everyone. Look after your minds as well as your bodies. We can all feel somewhat fragile at the moment – there’s no shame in that. My appreciation for the emergency services and the NHS is off the scale; may all the people who work there safely and successfully keep us all well whilst remaining fit and healthy themselves. We’ll get through it all, I’m sure.

Let’s have some more theatre memories! June to December 1986

As Tier 3 grows into Tier 4, and the new Covid variant spreads like wildfire and the UK is shut into quarantine, let’s remember some better times!

  1. Chess – Prince Edward Theatre, London, 24th June 1986

Miss Duncansby and I were both looking forward to seeing Chess so much, because we were already in awe of the album – and the show was a total triumph. Designed by Robin Wagner to a truly grand effect, everything about it was marvellous. Elaine Paige was riveting as Florence, Murray Head a fantastically irritating Trumper, and Tommy Korberg an immensely dignified Anatoly. We bought the souvenir brochure, we bought the T-shirts, we bought the VHS of the hit singles; we bought the concept. A real ten-out-of-tenner. Those front stalls seats were £18.50 each, the most I’d ever spent on a theatre ticket at the time. I sure knew how to show a girl a good time.

  1. Time – Dominion Theatre, London, 28th June 1986

And from the sublime to the ridiculous. Miss D was always a big fan of Cliff Richard, as was one of my colleagues at the time and her brother, so the four of us went to see this overblown monstrosity by Dave Clark – he of the “Five”. A science fiction musical; and – for obvious reasons – it didn’t spawn a succession of future musicals following that genre. There’s no doubt that Cliff was very good; as was the hologram of Sir Laurence Olivier, hovering, God-like, over the top of the stage. But everything else about it was absolutely dire. Looking through the cast list I see great names such as Jeff Shankley and Dawn Hope. Our friends loved it. We hated it. For ages the joke went “I see Cliff Richard is doing Time in the West End – for crimes against musical theatre”.

  1. Les Miserables – Palace Theatre, London, 10th July 1986

Moving past taking Miss D to see Noises Off at the Savoy, which I had already seen but insisted that she saw too (we both loved it, but it was a hot night and I was wearing a really nice tie which I took off and then left behind, never to be seen again), our next show was another big one – Boublil and Schönberg’s immense Les Miserables, which has never really gone away since it opened. We had some problems with this production – we sat in the front row of the Dress Circle which, although it was top price, always has been a desperately uncomfortable place to be, with infinitesimally tiny leg room. Plus, I had really painful gout that night which made the whole thing rather trying. Nevertheless, I enjoyed the show, but Miss D didn’t. On reflection I think we were both too young to appreciate it fully, and it was quite a few decades before we saw it again! The strong cast included Roger Allam as Javert, Alun Armstrong as Thenardier, David Burt as Enjolras, Peter Polycarpou as Prouvaire, Frances Ruffelle as Eponine, Dave Willetts as Brujon and the original Jean Valjean himself, Colm Wilkinson.

  1. Lend Me a Tenor – Globe Theatre, London, 12th July 1986

Ken Ludwig’s brilliantly clever and innovative farce was given a smashing production by David Gilmore, with a cast led by Denis Lawson, and also starring Jan Francis, John Barron and American opera star Ronald Holgate. A comedy of mistaken identity with a twist, an overdramatic opera star is incapacitated and is replaced by the producer’s assistant in the hope that no one will notice – but they do. I remember that we both laughed our socks off at this show; and it also had a very clever curtain call routine where they basically replayed the action of the entire show in less than a minute. It brought the house down.

  1. A Chorus of Disapproval – Lyric Theatre, London, 30th August 1986

Our next show was (for me) a return visit and for Miss D her first exposure to the joys of Side by Side by Sondheim which David Kernan had brought back to the Donmar Warehouse for a tenth anniversary season – and we both loved it. Our next “new” show was Alan Ayckbourn’s A Chorus of Disapproval, the National Theatre production that had transferred to the Lyric. The story of a blundering widower who makes himself indispensable in an amateur production of John Gay’s Beggar’s Opera, this enormously successful play didn’t quite hit the mark with either of us – maybe you needed to be more au fait with Gay’s original. I remember Colin Blakely totally dominating the stage; I don’t have many other memories of it after that.

  1. Cats – New London Theatre, London, 9th October 1986

The longer you wait, the longer you’ll wait went the advertising strapline, and I had already waited about five years before finally booking to see a show that I was curious about but never really wanted to see. But it was our year of seeing The Big Shows, so we paid out the money and finally got it under our belts. My view of Cats has never really changed; as an audio/visual spectacle it’s immense, its choreography is startling, and it basically has a life of its own. It’s an exercise in excellence in many respects. However, it is also sadly quite boring. I really wish it wasn’t, but it is. Our cast featured Anita Harris as Grizabella, with Christopher Molloy as Victor and Richard Lloyd-King as Rum Tum Tugger. Way down the cast list in a teensy tiny role as a member of the Cats Chorus – one Stephen Mear, now famously the choreographer of Mary Poppins, Sunset Boulevard, Gypsy and many others.

  1. Double Double – Fortune Theatre, London, 10th October 1986

Rick Elice and Roger Rees’ comedy thriller was a little nugget of total entertainment, that started life at the Palace Theatre Watford and then moved to the Fortune for a deservedly successful stay. A two-hander starring Rula Lenska and Keith Drinkel, it kept us guessing all the way through, and just as you thought you knew precisely what was going on, a brilliant coup de theatre leaves you gobsmacked at the end. I’ve just bought the script online because I really want to understand how they put this play together! Some of the photos are of the original cast – Roger Rees and Jane Lapotaire.

  1. Phantom of the Opera – Her Majesty’s Theatre, London, 17th October 1986

Continuing the theme of 1986 being the year of The Big Shows, they don’t come much bigger than this. I leapt at the chance to get great seats as soon as the production was announced, and so it was that we had seats in the middle of Row B of the stalls for its third night. A very starry affair, with Irish comedian Dave Allen sitting behind us and Australian Premier Malcolm Fraser a few seats along our row.

You don’t need me to tell you what an extraordinary night at the theatre this was. Michael Crawford as the Phantom, Sarah Brightman as Christine, Steve Barton as Raoul, John Savident and David Firth as the two Messieurs who own the theatre. I was perhaps a little surprised at how blancmangy the falling chandelier appeared directly from below as it gently descended above our heads – but that would be my only quibble.

  1. Janet Smith and Dancers – Civic Centre, Aylesbury, 7th November 1986

Perhaps a much less glamorous night out, but still thoroughly entertaining, we saw the excellent Janet Smith and Dancers troupe at the Civic Centre for the princely sum of £3.50 for great seats. I’m surprised that Janet Smith and her husband Robert North didn’t make a longer lasting impact on the world of contemporary dance, but they created some fantastic dance pieces, some of which were on the bill that night. The programme was: Still No Word from Anton, One Fine Day at Court, Near and From Far and finally Fool’s Day.

  1. Woman in Mind – Vaudeville Theatre, London, 10th December 1986

Alan Ayckbourn’s latest play was a staggeringly brilliant examination of a woman’s descent into madness, played exquisitely by Julia McKenzie and with a superb supporting cast including Martin Jarvis and Josephine Tewson. This play impacted us very strongly (as I believe it did many people) and it’s without question one of Ayckbourn’s finest moments. We loved it; but it’s also incredibly upsetting.

You want some more theatre memories? OK! November 1985 to June 1986

  1. The Gondoliers – The London Savoyards at the Barbican Hall, London, 8th November 1985

I’ve never liked Gilbert and Sullivan; go on, shoot me. I probably booked this in an attempt to see what I was missing, because I knew (and still do) so many people who think that G & S are a class act, and they can’t all be wrong. I have absolutely no memory of this show, so perhaps they are all wrong.

 

  1. Wife Begins at Forty – Ambassadors Theatre, London, 5th December 1985

A jolly comedy, produced by the (at the time) ubiquitous Theatre of Comedy Company, written by Arne Sultan and Earl Barret (who? Mr Barret was a TV writer of shows such as Bewitched and My Three Sons, and Mr Sultan was his TV producer) directed by Ray Cooney, so you know precisely the kind of thing to expect, and starring Dinsdale Landen and Liza Goddard. It was very enjoyable and memorable for one main reason; it was the first time that I took a young Australian lady, Miss Duncansby, to the theatre, whilst she was on holiday in the UK. Little did I know that 28 months later she would become Mrs Chrisparkle.

  1. Mutiny! – Piccadilly Theatre, London, 16th January 1986

Well this show had a fairly mighty pedigree, so long as you like David Essex – he wrote the music and starred as Fletcher Christian. I do like David Essex – on records – but not on stage, where I feel he is wooden and expressionless, sadly. But there was more to this show than Mr Essex. Frank Finlay was Captain Bligh, whilst Sinitta Renet (yes, the Sinitta of So Macho fame, who had been going out with Simon Cowell, had a longish fling with David Essex during the run of this show, and then went back to Cowell) played Maimiti. Directed by Michael Bogdanov, and choreographed by Christopher Bruce, this should have been a stunner of a show, but the critics panned it and I can’t remember much about it. This was the last show I was to see on my own for 16 years!

  1. Glengarry Glen Ross – Mermaid Theatre, London, 11th April 1986

With Miss D back in the UK, and us “going out” full time, our next show together was the new play by David Mamet, whose work I had admired for many years. Glengarry Glen Ross has come back recently, and felt like a much better play than our memory of this production, which is a difficult play to stage because of its uneven structure. Nevertheless I enjoyed it, whilst Miss D hated it. A strong cast included Derek Newark, Karl Johnson, James Grant, Kevin McNally and Tony Haygarth.

  1. Torch Song Trilogy – Albery Theatre, London, 19th April 1986

1986 turned out to be a year of big shows with big reputations, and first of the big-hitters that year was undoubtedly this landmark play and production, which, fortuitously, had a change of cast just before we saw it, so that the lead role of Arnold Beckoff was played by the writer and All Round Significant Person, Harvey Fierstein himself. It will come as no surprise that he was sensational – the perfect combination of funny and sad with huge dollops of emotion throughout. Rupert Frazer, Belinda Sinclair and Rupert Graves all gave brilliant supporting performances, and the memorable role of Arnold’s mum was played to perfection by Miriam Karlin.

  1. Starlight Express – Apollo Victoria Theatre, London, 14th May 1986

Starlight Express, answer me yes, are you real, yes or no? Definitely real to me, I absolutely loved this vast but intimate, brash but emotional show about little Rusty, the little steam engine who dreams big, and attempts to win the race to be fastest, so that he can steal the heart of Pearl, the first-class carriage. But Electra and Greaseball aren’t going to take that lying down. All on roller skates, of course, with aprons jutting out into the auditorium to bring the action even closer. A lovely score, with a few real highlights – Starlight Express, Light at the End of the Tunnel, and my favourite, He Whistled at Me. Yes, I know it’s for kids really, but you’d have to be really hard-hearted not to love it. The show had already been running for a couple of years, and our cast featured Kofi Missah as Rusty, Maria Hyde as Pearl, Lon Satton as Poppa, Drue Williams as Greaseball, and Maynard Williams as Electra. Only 11 days before we saw the show Maynard Williams (son of Bill Maynard) had appeared as the UK’s representative in the Eurovision Song Contest as lead singer of Ryder, with the song Runner in the Night. You won’t remember it.

  1. The Merry Wives of Windsor – Royal Shakespeare Company at the Barbican Theatre, London, 21st May 1986

Shakespeare’s knockabout comedy was given a 1950s treatment in a brilliant production by Bill Alexander, and with stunning set design by William Dudley. My main memory of it is watching Mistress Page and Mistress Ford getting their hair done under one of those big old 50s/60s hairdo machines. With a cast that included Nicky Henson, Lindsay Duncan, Ian Talbot, Peter Jeffrey (as Falstaff) and Sheila Steafel as Mistress Quickly, you can guess that laughter was the top priority. A relatively big group of us went to see this – not only Miss D, but also my friends Mike and Lin and her mum Barbara. A good night enjoyed by everyone!

 

  1. When We Are Married – Whitehall Theatre, London, 24th May 1986

J B Priestley’s vintage comedy was brought to life in an effervescent production by Ronald Eyre for the Theatre of Comedy Company, with this immense cast: Bill Fraser, James Grout, Patricia Hayes, Brian Murphy, Patricia Routledge, Patsy Rowlands, Elizabeth Spriggs, and the real life couple of Prunella Scales and Timothy West. Fascinatingly, Patricia Hayes had appeared in the original 1938 production – although in a much more minor role. Three couples discover that they are not legally married and endure Victorian levels of embarrassment as a result. Dated but still fun.

  1. La Cage aux Folles – London Palladium, 12th June 1986

Never one to miss an opportunity to go to the London Palladium, this was the original London production of Jerry Herman and Harvey Fierstein’s enduring musical, adapted from the old French comedy film of the same name. George Hearn and Denis Quilley took the lead roles, but it was Brian Glover’s fantastic comic performance as the dreadful M. Dindon that stole the show. I know everyone loves the song I Am what I Am, and it is indeed a great number, but it’s not a patch on the wonderful The Best of Times which always gives me goosebumps. Totally and officially fabulous in every respect.

  1. Ballet Rambert – Sadler’s Wells Theatre, London, 16th and 23rd June 1986

Rambert had a two week season at Sadler’s Wells, with four programmes on offer in all, and over the course of two Saturdays we caught Programmes 1 and 3. Programme 1 featured Dipping Wings (Continual Departing) by Mary Evelyn, Soirée Musicale by Antony Tudor, Mercure by Ian Spink and Zansa by Richard Alston. Programme 3 was Glen Tetley’s Pierrot Lunaire, Christopher Bruce’s Ceremonies and Richard Alston’s Java, danced to the music of the Ink Spots. Hard to remember, but I think Programme 3 was the more entertaining. Rambert at the time had such brilliant dancers as Mark Baldwin, Lucy Bethune, Christopher Carney, Catherine Becque, Christopher Powney, and Frances Carty. Fantastic performances, and we continued to wear our Ballet Rambert t-shirts that we bought at the theatre for many years!

Review – Anyone Can Whistle – Jay Records 2020 CD First Complete Recording

Anyone Can WhistleIn these theatre-starved times, every so often a little spark of light appears to remind us of what we’ve been missing since March. December 4th sees the official release of the first complete recording of Stephen Sondheim’s 1964 flop Anyone Can Whistle, timed to celebrate the great man’s 90th birthday. Recorded in 1997, this surreal, fantasy musical explores what can happen when a once-great American local community decides to mire itself in fake news, pretend miracles and corrupt leadership. Incidentally, in 1964, Donald Trump was a pukey youth of 18, medically deferred for military duty, and in 1997, he was a wrestling promoter married to Marla Maples. Can’t think why I’ve mentioned that.

 

Anyone Can Whistle 1964Before getting hold of this (fantastic) 2 CD set and doing a spot of reading around, my knowledge of the show was pretty limited. I knew the three songs that appear in the delightful cabaret show Side by Side by Sondheim, the fact that it was Sondheim’s second attempt to write both music and lyrics to a show, and that it ran for a stupendous twelve previews and nine performances. Was it simply an awful show? A terrible production, perhaps? With a cast led by Lee Remick and Angela Lansbury, you wouldn’t have thought so, although there were tales of unhappiness within the cast, poor reviews in the try-outs, plus the fact that none of the three leads had been in a musical before. Alternatively, you might be tempted to think of it as one of those way ahead of its time shows; however, the presence of two extended ballet scenes – straight outta Oklahoma – together with its very traditional three Act structure, suggests otherwise. The main problem is that there was nothing in the show for the 1964 audience to latch on to and recognise; no one with whom you would choose to identify. Today, in the almost post-Trump era, you can appreciate the satire of a grotesque leader who spins lies, and a populace desperate to believe in miracles. So, the show is both behind the times and ahead of the times – but strangely not of the times themselves. 1964 also gave us Funny Girl (Barbra Streisand was originally a possibility for the role of Cora but chose Fanny Brice instead); it gave us Hello Dolly and Fiddler on the Roof, massive crowd-pleasers one and all, with big showtunes or haunting melodies. Anyone Can Whistle – maybe because of the challenging nature of its themes and musical content – just faded away. Until now!

 

Anyone Can Whistle Lee RemickLike 99.99% (recurring) of the world’s population, I’ve never seen a production of this show, but the release of this new 2 CD set gives you all the excitement and vibe of being about to witness an incredibly significant First Night – and all from the comfort of your headphones. Maria Friedman, Julia McKenzie and John Barrowman lead the cast in this sensational audio experience, with the late Arthur Laurents, who wrote the book, featuring as The Narrator. Along with the National Symphony Orchestra under the baton of John Owen Edwards, a glimpse down the cast list is like tripping back in time 25 years. As well as the leads, the names of musical theatre stalwarts like Matt Zimmerman, Stuart Pendred, Danielle Carson, Lori Haley Fox and Shezwae Powell pepper the cast, and the result is an incredibly rewarding, musically rich experience, full of surprises.

 

Maria FriedmanIf, like me, you come to the show fresh, from a position of ignorance, you’ll be completely stunned by what confronts you. You think you might know how a Sondheim musical can capture your heart, or your imagination, or your inner fears and concerns; but not this time. Mayoress Cora promotes a faked miracle so that her miserable, bankrupt town can become a tourist Mecca – how that plays out forms one of the two dramatic threads. The other is the rather insensitive notion of the Cookie Jar, the name given to a sanatorium for nonconformists (basically, an asylum); how the inmates (the cookies) are released into the community, with the result that no one can tell who is nonconformist and who isn’t. Whilst on the surface, the nonconformists are treated as though they are mentally ill, you could extend their significance to include any other section of the community who doesn’t abide by society’s norms. This is not comfortable subject material!