Review – Lost Musicals presents Auntie Mame, RADA Studios, 14th July 2019

Auntie MameFirst of all, hurrah for the return of Lost Musicals! We haven’t seen hide nor hair of them since 2013, and I’ve missed them! Looking back, we saw one “lost musical” every year from 2006 to 2013, and it’s a unique form of theatrical entertainment. Taking a show that, for whatever reason, has largely been forgotten despite its merit and quality, a group of dinner-jacketed/posh-frocked actors sit on a row of chairs at the back of the stage, coming forward with their neatly bound, colourfully highlighted scripts to perform it with no scenery but with abundant energy and fantastic characterisations. Each performance is introduced by director Ian Marshall Fisher, with some sneaky and fascinating facts about the original production; and, because a musical isn’t a musical without music, we would be joined by an overworked pianist, gamely reproducing a complete orchestral accompaniment to the entire show.

Elizabeth CounsellThis year, Lost Musicals have dug up a Lost Play (therefore, no pianist). Auntie Mame, a highly successful production starring Rosalind Russell, appeared at the Broadhurst Theatre on Broadway in 1956 and ran for two years. It subsequently opened at the Adelphi in London in 1959 with Beatrice Lillie as the eponymous aunt. But, since then, not a peep. Nevertheless, as the basis of the very successful musical, Mame, which starred Angela Lansbury on Broadway and Ginger Rogers in London, this was a pretty good choice for their next production.

James VaughanWritten by Jerome Lawrence and Robert E Lee, it’s an adaptation of Patrick Dennis’ novel, also called Auntie Mame, about the escapades of a boy growing up with his glamorous and outrageous aunt after his own father had died. In the play, young Patrick is exposed to New York Society Parties, unconventional education practices, and suitable and unsuitable suitors, whilst Mame, who loses everything in the Wall Street Crash, is hopeless at ordinary jobs until she meets the wealthy Beauregard Burnside from a Georgia plantation, marries him and goes on a (very) extended honeymoon. When Beau falls to his death taking a snapshot, she returns to discover that Patrick is now a snob and engaged to a revoltingly shallow girl from an obnoxiously racist family. Fortunately, he sees the light and it all ends well.

Myra SandsIt shouldn’t come as a surprise, given how successful the original production was, that this is a hugely enjoyable play. Very funny, with great characters, a sprawling outlook, and tongue fairly firmly placed in cheek most of the way. Mame herself is a strongly, wittily written part; someone who knows precisely where her strengths lie and where they don’t, an intricate mix of selfless and selfish, but always with a kind heart and an unerring knack of knowing what’s right. In this semi-staged production, she was played by the marvellous Elizabeth Counsell, whom I first saw in Marc Camoletti’s Happy Birthday at the Apollo in 1979; Ms Counsell gives Mame just the right dash of cheekiness, exasperation, kindness and that knowing look.

Rebekah HindsAnother stalwart of the Lost Musicals productions, James Vaughan, plays a whole bunch of roles, including Mame’s winning suitor Beauregard (not many Beauregards born nowadays), the slimeball ghost writer Brian O’Bannion, and the short-tempered Stage Manager. Mr Vaughan always gives each character maximum presence, with an instantly recognisable voice, playing up the humour wherever possible, and always great fun to watch. Another postgraduate of the Lost Musicals Academy is Myra Sands, who plays the coarse and demanding Mother Burnside and the hideously uppity Doris Upson, again bringing all the ghastly humour from those roles.

Alfie LowlesThe production had a cast of (I think) eighteen, so I’d be here all day if I mention everyone, but they all gave us a lot of fun and did a great job. Special mentions, however, to Rebekah Hinds for her hilarious characterisation (that voice!) as the comedy gift Agnes Gooch, and to young Alfie Lowles for his very strong performance as Patrick as a boy – it’s a very substantial part that features heavily in the first Act, and he was superb.

Unfortunately, it appears there will be no more Lost Musicals and/or Plays this year, but hopefully they will be back in 2020 with loads more for us to enjoy!

Review – Flahooley, Lost Musicals, Lilian Baylis Studio, Sadlers Wells, 13th May 2012

FlahooleyIt’s Lost Musicals time again! We always like to go once a year, because no matter what show you see, it’s always a delight. In case you don’t know, every year Ian Marshall Fisher resurrects two or three old musicals that haven’t seen the light of day for donkeys’ years, and gets a bunch of talented actors and musicians to sit in a semi-circle, resplendent in evening dress, scripts in hand, Mark Warman on the piano, no scenery or props, and they enact the forgotten masterpiece. Sometimes they really are masterpieces. Other times you realise precisely why they have been forgotten. But even if they are lost because they’re not that great, the actual choice of which musicals to resurrect will always be of significant historical interest for some reason or other.

Flahooley, which opened this year’s season last Sunday, enjoyed a mere 40 or so performances on Broadway in 1951; but it was written by (inter alia) E Y Harburg, who had enjoyed great success with Finian’s Rainbow, and in his earlier days, had also written the lyrics for the songs in the film The Wizard of Oz. Being (shock horror) a socialist, Harburg had felt the rough side of the McCarthy witch hunts, and this show was a pretty thinly veiled attack on those dark days. It’s an allegorical tale of a young dreamer who creates an amazing new doll for his toy manufacturer employer, but when the market becomes flooded with them because a magic genie misinterprets his wish about how many dolls would be made (don’t ask), the dolls become valueless and are hunted down and destroyed. Are you catching some of the McCarthy allusions? There are other rather bizarre plot elements involving American-Arabian political relations, as well as the love story between Sylvester, the inventor, and Sandy.

Personally I felt the story was a little too over-the-top to take that seriously, even with the prior knowledge of Harburg’s perfectly reasonable vendetta against McCarthy. Musically, I found many of the tunes to be rather delightful, but also many of the lyrics to be syrupy beyond endurance. Still, no matter – the occasion’s the thing, and when the performers march out onto the stage and take their seats, you know you’re in for a treat.

James VaughanI was delighted to see that many of my favourite Lost Musicals regular performers were in the cast. James Vaughan has plenty of opportunities to let rip his stentorian tones in his dual roles as the March of Time voice and the Arab. Stewart PermuttHe has a face and a voice that is just perfect for both being pompous and then allowing the pomposity to be ridiculed. Stewart Permutt plays Abou Ben Atom, the genie, in his usual larger than life way, suitably camp as a row of Arabian NightMatt Zimmermann Caravanserai tents; the kindly and generous aspects of the character are well suited to his highly expressive voice; and of course his jolly mannerisms mean the show always perks up whenever he’s on. Matt Zimmermann Myra Sands(whose performances I have always enjoyed over the last 35 years – gasp!) plays Bigelow the toy manufacturer with subtle gusto. Myra Sands turns in a comic bravura performance as the witch hunting, vigilante organising Elsa Bundschlager.

Emily O’KeeffeOther very enjoyable performances came from Emily O’Keeffe’s sweet looking and sweet singing Sandy and Margaret Preece’s Princess Najla who basically has to sing a load of gibberish all the way through. That’s a take-off of the Princess Zubediyah from Kismet I thought; then I researched and found out that the musical version of Kismet came two years later. And talk about when two worlds collide – Margaret Preeceregular readers will know I’m a Eurovision aficionado; Constantine Andronikou, who is in fine voice with the role of Tonelli, has twice entered the Cyprus National Finals for the Eurovision Song Contest – in 2006 and 2008 – and indeed was one of Annet Artani’s backing singers in Athens for “Why Angels Cry”.

Constantine AndronikouIf I’m honest the show probably looked a little under-rehearsed in comparison with some of the Lost Musicals we have seen, and indeed Mrs Chrisparkle thought the musical director looked thoroughly relieved at the end of the show that they all got through it unscathed. But it is, as ever, an excellent mix of the delightful and the curious, and I congratulate Ian Marshall Fisher and his super cast for recreating this old show so vibrantly.