Tag Archives: Jerry Herman

“The Grand Tour” at the Finborough Theatre

Those hoping to find a formula for the success of a musical may be confused by the The Grand Tour’s poor reception on Broadway. The 1979 show by the legendary Jerry Herman is only now receiving its London premiere at the tiny Finborough Theatre, and I can’t for the life of me work out why. The book by Michael Stewart and Mark Bramble is more than serviceable, while the music and lyrics by Herman are superb. The show’s themes certainly live up to its ambitious title.

OK, so The Grand Tour is old fashioned. Maybe it’s not that original either. And the escapades of Jewish intellectual Jacobowsky and Polish Colonel Stjerbinksy as they flee from the Nazis are sometimes a little silly: there’s a circus, a wedding and even some nuns. But these flights of fancy fill a desperate journey with colour – even a scene on a crowded train is vivacious – and Herman’s score looks past dark events to embrace affirmation.

The Grand Tour 5 Natasha Karp, Nic Kyle, Vincent Pirillo, Michael Cotton, Samuel J Weir, Laurel Dooling Dougall, Alastair Brookshaw and Lizzie Wofford photo Annabel Vere
Natasha Karp, Vincent Pirillo, Michael Cotton, Samuel J Weir, Laurel Dooling Dougall and Lizzie Wofford make up a powerful ensemble

Alastair Brookshaw succeeds in making the unbelievably optimistic Jacobowsky heroic, while Nic Kyle gives Stjerbinsky more dimensionality than he’s written with. The finest moments come with a gentle love triangle around Marianne, the Colonel’s fiancée, played by the charming Zoë Doano. The excellent Thom Sutherland directs a powerful ensemble and Phil Lindley’s set is cleverly cartographic. Sutherland works flawlessly in small venues and The Grand Tour deserves big success.

Until 21 February 2015

www.finboroughtheatre.co.uk

Photos by Annabel Vere

“Mack and Mabel” at the Southwark Playhouse

Mack and Mabel has a reputation as a difficult musical to stage successfully. But you’d never guess that from the fine production now showing at the Southwark Playhouse. In the expert hands of director Thom Southerland the piece becomes what aficionados have long suggested – one of Jerry Herman’s finest works.

The love story, set in the early days of the movie business, is slight. But, like the films its protagonist Mack Sennett makes, it has all you need to capture an audience: “love, light, laughter”. Perhaps inspired by Mack’s love of speed, Southerland takes the piece at such a pace that you won’t have time to worry about plot. This is a glorious mix of melodrama, bathing beauties and Keystone Cops. The only disappointment is that the often-promised gorilla doesn’t turn up.

One thing everyone agrees on is how fantastic the songs are. There isn’t a bad number in Mack and Mabel and in this production they all get the delivery they deserve. Norman Bowman and Laura Pitt-Pulford are both impressive in the title roles. The latter deserves special mention for her fantastic delivery of the Barbara Cook standard ‘Time Heals Everything’. There are fine performances from Jessica Martin, as studio stalwart Lottie Ames, and Stuart Matthew Price shows he’s thoroughly on the ball, dealing with a minor wardrobe malfunction while sounding fantastic.

Lee Proud’s choreography is outstandingly ambitious and, impressively executed by the ensemble, it adds a great deal of humour. There are fine comic performances, especially from Steven Serlin as the studio’s producer – his crew may be making comedy shorts but Mack and Mabel is a grown-up affair with a famously downbeat ending. Some find this unsatisfying, but Southerland emphasises the work’s melancholy and nostalgia to create a moving, weighty experience that is not to be missed.

Until 25 August 2012

www.southwarkplayhouse.co.uk

Photo by Annabel Vere

Written 12 July 2012 for The London Magazine