DAFT AND DARING, WITTY AND WHOOPEE
Onstage a suave Robert Lindsay preens and pirouettes, a matinée idol sick of self-love, pivot of Dirty Rotten Scoundrels running just across the Strand. Down in the audience the real Lindsay, on his night off, cringes in the dark amid the first-night guests. That is the sporting spirit which, for thirty years, stars and creators of musical theatre have had to summon up in the face of Gerard Alessandrini and Phillip George’s spoof ’n satire revue of musical theatre. From broad amiable joshing to startlingly sharp digs of the knife, this incarnation takes care to reflect the London streets around it: more West End than Great White Way, and all the jollier for it.
It feels soon for a re-review – my take on the Menier’s July show can be found by scrolling down a few inches here – but this transfer is studded with new numbers (not least some astonishing diva-impersonations by the new cast member, Christina Bianco, who joins Anna-Jane Casey, Damian Humbley and Ben Lewis). It nods to the coming Evita and Cats revivals and the new Miss Saigon, has a wonderful time with Once and even squeezes in a Stephen Ward joke (brief, because the creators prefer to kick shows which are winning, rather than relative flops).
So plenty of remembered treats from July: the child-exploitation sequence with a Warchus-Trunchbull cursing “vermin! vermin with Oliviers!”; the super-stupor Abba, Cameron Mackintosh as producer-seducer humping the grand piano (where Joel Fram presides with brilliant panache). The glorious quick-change costumes are each more absurd than the last, the vocal and lightning wit of the foursome cast intact. But seeing it again draws out its sheer cleverness, verbal and musical. The barbs are finely tuned to each show’s weakness: Miss Saigon is pilloried for noisiness and show-off helicopter, and given a snatch of West Side Story to guy its derivativeness. Sondheim’s oeuvre is a scholarly gabble of antonym and metonym and tonguetwisting internal rhymes as the cast challenge the house to an impossible Sondha-singalong. That’s an almost loving parody: others – like the Book of Moron – are startlingly savage. Though among the barbs about that show’s smugness and crudity I’d have liked a swipe at its racism too…
Almost best though are the moments when sympathy lies with the actors – the CATS revival sequence has a row of disaffected moggies longing to be in A CHORUS LINE but finding “One. Singular. Degradation” instead of Sensation. In the Les Mis section weary veterans shuffle round an invisible revolve (“Ten more years…”) .Valjean struggles to bring down the high notes in Bring Him Home – “Bring it down!” and Eponine glumly texts behind the barricade: wage-slaves of long musical runs, loving steady pay and starting to hate the show. The Lion King, soldiering on, hear their vertebrae crunching under enormous headdresses and sing resignedly “African baloney, but we won a lotta Tony”. An Evita revival meets a demonstration against itself; a Frankie Valli Jerseyboy resorts to helium.
Cleverness and silliness entwine, as they should: physical jokes and puns like “Vietnumb” alternate with parody so clever you only get it seconds too late. It’s party-time, a riot of an evening, a love-hate insider treat for musical-junkies.
box office 0844 412 4663 to 22 nov