The Theatreguide.London Review
Charing Cross Theatre Spring 2013
Jerry Herman's 1969 musical was a failure on Broadway, partially because of an overblown production wrong for the fragile story, partially because audiences expected another big and brassy show like his Hello Dolly and Mame.
And partially because it isn't really a very good show. It has a couple of lovely ballads and some good comic numbers, but even in a small-scale version like this first UK production, the effects of a musical sit uncomfortably on the source, Jean Giraudoux's political-social fable The Madwoman of Chaillot.
In play and musical, a pleasantly dotty old lady discovers for the first time that there are bad people in the world, represented here by some businessmen planning to destroy Paris in their search for oil. She enlists some other benignly mad women and the more balanced friends who love her to put on trial and condemn the baddies, symbolically saving Paris and the world.
As you can imagine, the whimsy runs pretty thick here, and whimsy is very difficult to sustain onstage. Composer Herman, adaptors Lawrence and Lee, and director Gillian Lynne keep the comic and romantic moments sweet and light, but every time the plot or philosophising take over, the thing goes leaden.
Jerry Herman has always been a songwriter of the old Broadway school, with no quasi-operatic pretensions, and love songs like 'I Never Said I Love You' and 'Kiss Her Now' represent Broadway pop at its best.
There's a funny song about greed for the villains, and a show-stopping extended comic trio for the three crazy ladies, and the obligatory Jerry Herman march, 'One Person' (very much in the spirit and style of 'Before The Parade Passes By').
Another thing that places Dear World very much in the traditional Broadway mould is that it is structured as a star vehicle, and lives or dies on the charm and energy of its central performance (Angela Lansbury's reported unhappiness with the show and role may have been another contributor to its 1969 failure).
Betty Buckley, whose star credentials go back at least as far as the original Broadway Grizabella, unquestionably brings a star's presence to the show, embracing the stage and audience with her warmth and charisma.
It's a bit unfortunate that she has been directed (or allowed) to play all her songs and much of her dialogue full-front, without even the pretence of relating to the other characters, since that makes her seem like more of a visiting grande dame than she would want to be.
Paul Nicholas looks uncomfortable in the awkwardly half-symbolic role of the sewer man, Katy Treharne and Stuart Matthew Price make attractive lovers, and Rebecca Lock and Annabel Leventon are show-stealingly hilarious as the friends each dottier than the other.
Gillian Lynne's direction and choreography have a lot of charming and witty small touches, but also some clunkier patches, as Betty Buckley is not the only one to repeatedly break the illusion and play directly to the audience.
Dear World will always remain more a curiosity as the rare Jerry Herman flop than an attraction on its own limited merits, and will mainly be of interest to Herman fans looking to fill a gap in their experience of his work. But there are enough of us around to give this belated premiere a successful run.
Review - Dear World - Charing Cross Theatre 2013
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