Posts Tagged ‘Jack Rosenthal’

This 1978 musical is based on Jack Rosenthal’s 1976 TV play of the same name. It seems to me to be an unlikely collaboration – book by Rosenthal himself, the master of gritty realism, a score by conservative Broadway composer Jules Styne (Gypsy and Funny Girl, 20 and 15 years earlier respectively) and Lloyd-Webber’s regular lyricist Don Black! 

The fact it’s taken 37 years to be revived is partly due to Rosenthal’s refusal when he was alive, haunted by his relationship with Styne and his dislike of the Broadway-style production of Martin Charmin (the basis for his play Smash, revived recently at the Menier – https://garethjames.wordpress.com/2011/04/15/smash!). This version is revised by David Thompson, original lyricist Don Black and director Stewart Nicholls, going back to source material and scaling it down, losing a number of extraneous characters.

Elliott Green is 13 and its time for his Bar Mitzva, the Jewish boy-to-man ritual. The first act sees the preparations and panic from mum Rita and back seat resignation by taxi driver dad Victor. Though Elliott is refusing to get his hair cut, everything else is on plan – until Elliott does a runner from the synagogue. In the second act, his whereabouts are leaked by school friend Denise and big sis Lesley persuades him to return home to face the music.

I felt the story might be pared back a bit too much; the second half in particular isn’t meaty enough. Styne’s score is very un-Broadway and very much in keeping with the material and Black’s lyrics are witty. The layout of the theatre results in a wide playing area which had both good and bad points, but I liked the authentic 70’s sensibility of Grace Smart’s design.

It’s great to see Sue Kelvin again and she makes a brilliant archetypal Jewish mom, well matched by Robert Maskell’s Victor. Lara Stubbs as Lesley and Nicholas Corre as her boyfriend Harold share the vocal honours. 13-year-old Adam Bregman steals the show though as Elliott, an assured and confident performance of great charm.

It works well as a chamber piece for eight actors and a 4-piece band, though it’s not as successful a musical adaptation as Rosenthal’s Spend Spend Spend some 20 years later. Despite protestations to the contrary by its creators at the time, I think the show still resonates more with a Jewish audience. 

A gold star to Aria Entertainment for giving us the chance to see it after such a long time.

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Was this the first show title to be followed by an exclamation mark? Did it start it all? If only it was worthy of an exclamation mark.

Jack Rosenthal wrote some terrific TV plays, including The Knowledge and The Evacuees. One of them, Spend Spend Spend, was turned into a successful musical. Another, Bar Mitzvah Boy, a less successful musical, the experience of which provides the inspiration and source material for this play, which seems to be about as successful as the musical.

I’m not quite sure why it’s so flat. It’s occasionally very funny, the design by Paul Farnsworth is good and the performances are OK. Maybe 30 years on, it just isn’t particularly original. Somehow the story of endless re-writes and backstage disagreements now seems ever so conventional and the characters now stereotypes. There’s the naive first time book writer, novice lyricist, the veteran Broadway composer, the know-all American director and the Jewish (?) producer who tries to please everyone to keep it all together. It’s two hours of endless re-writes as the show progresses from office to rehearsal room to Manchester try-out and finally to the West End. With Rosenthal’s wife Maureen Lipman originating the idea of reviving it and his daughter Amy in charge of ‘additional material’ maybe it’s just too respectful to the original?

I’ve never been fond of Tom Conti – the John Wayne of theatre, who has raised glibness to an art form – and despite the heavy accent, he again plays Tom Conti – this time in big suit and moustache…… with an accent. The West Wing’s Richard Schiff is well cast as the veteran composer, though he seemed to be going through the motions last night. Josh Cohen’s lyricist is the most likeable character and he plays him, well, likeable. Carrie Quinlan made such an impression in a tiny cameo as a waitress that she got a round of applause as she left the stage – in my experience, an honour normally reserved for ‘stars’.

A bit of a ‘so what?’ show, I’m afraid. It’s now over a year since I had a great night at the Menier Chocolate Factory – something to be concerned about given it’s at the heart of Off-West End.

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