Posts Tagged ‘James Horne’

I’ve waited almost thirty years to see this Lionel Bart show again. The last time it was in London it was staged by the National Youth Theatre in the West End with a sensational performance from Jessica Hynes (then Stephenson) in the leading role. It’s the third of only five British musicals Bart wrote, coming immediately after Oliver! which was still running in the West End at the time. It now seems at home in a 70-seat theatre under the railway arches near Waterloo.

When it was first produced in 1962, the Second World War was far enough, but near enough for the spirit of the blitz to provide a nostalgic setting for the story of two families, the Blitztein’s and the Locke’s, whose lives become intertwined. Mrs Blitztein and Mr Locke are both market traders in Petticoat Lane, but they can’t stand each other, Locke being somewhat anti-semitic. Despite this, Locke’s son George and Blitztein’s daughter Carol are in love, a love that survives George’s war injuries and Carol’s blindness by bombing. Their parents’ melt and marry and there’s even a frisson between the grandparents. Three generations, two cultures, love conquers all. I love the populism of Bart’s work, and this is as packed full of great tunes as his other shows are.

Phil Wilmott’s staging turns the small space to an advantage, given that most of the show is set in the underground shelters. The choruses are fantastic and there are a whole load of excellent performances, with Jessica Martin terrific as Mrs Blitztein, Michael Martin as Locke and Caitlin Anderson, Conner Carson and Robbie McArtney as Carol, George & Harry respectively are great, with a lovely cameo from James Horne as grandad Locke.

Lovely to see it again.

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It may be one of the most preposterous stories in musical theatre, but how can you resist a show with a leprechaun called Og who is fast becoming mortal, a mute character who communicates through dance steps, a corrupt racist US senator who gets magicked into poverty (and back again, reformed) and a song called How Are Things in Glocca Morra?! Oh, and a very good score that includes rousing gospel choruses led by Preacher Michael and his three singing ‘sisters’.

The Finian of the title brings the leprechaun’s crock of gold from Ireland to deep south USA, where the poor people of Rainbow Valley are struggling. The drought has put pay to the tobacco crop and the Senator and his corrupt Sheriff are trying to steal their land. Finian’s grand-daughter Sharon falls in love with local boy Woody and the soon to be mortal leprechaun with Woody’s mute sister Susan who is soon to be mute no more. The crock makes wishes come true and news of a gold find spreads to Chicago encouraging swanky retailer Shears & Robust to extend credit to the whole community to allow them to buy the things of their dreams.

Phil Wilmott’s production has it’s tongue firmly in its cheek and as long as you are prepared to suspend disbelief for a couple of hours, it’s a bit of a guilty pleasure. Twenty-three might break even the tiny Union’s cast record and there’s a three piece band too (plus the bassist’s friend sitting in silence!). There’s no designer credited but it looks good, and there’s some great choreography from Thomas Michael Voss. Above all it’s the music what makes it and it’s well sung, particularly by sweet voiced Christina Bennington as Sharon, and the choruses are rousing. James Horne and Raymond Walsh, playing Finian and Og respectively, have the appropriate gift of the gab and lots of charm and Michael Moulton makes a great larger-than-life baddie as the Senator.

Given it was written in 1947, Burton Lane & E.Y. Harburg’s show may have been a touch satirical then, with swipes at racism and corruption, but its the fun factor that makes it worth a visit today, the first opportunity to see it here for over 50 years.

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