Showstoppers from the musicals you missed. Devised and directed by Peter Bull & Tim McArthur. Music and lyrics by Rupert Holmes, Stephen Schwartz, Joe Brooks & Dusty Hughes, Lynn Ahrens & Stephen Flaherty, Robert Longden & Hereward Kaye, John Kander & Fred Ebb, Stephen Sondheim, Bill Russell & Henry Krieger, Jon & Al Kaplan, Frank Wildhorn & Nan Knighton, Jerry Herman, Andrew Lloyd Webber, Don Black & Christopher Hampton, Henry Mancini & Leslie Bricusse, Lisa Lambert & Greg Morrison, Cy Coleman, David Zippel & Dorothy Fields, Marsha Norman & Lucy Simon, Richard & Robert Sherman, A. R. Rahman, Richard O’Brien, Mike Leander & Eddie Seago, Billy Goldenberg, and Alan & Marilyn Bergman.
Julia G. Addison, Alexander Bradford, Nikki Gerrard, Tim McArthur & Elena Rossi
Debbie Morris (musical director & piano)
Tim McArthur – Musical Staging
Prav Menon-Johansson – Designer
Howard Hudson – Lighting Designer
Peter Bull – Producer
Reviewed by: Michael Darvell
Reviewed: 21 July, 2009
Venue: Above the Stag Theatre, 15 Bressenden Place, Victoria, London SW1
The history of Broadway and London’s West End is littered with flop musicals. It is probably true to say that there have been more duds than hits. Certainly in America the failure rate has been spectacular. In years gone by London always waited for the US to have the hit-show before trying it out. That is not always the case nowadays. Britain has generated many top shows that have crossed the Atlantic and become enormously successful on Broadway. You only have to think of “Cats”, “Les Misérables”, “The Phantom of the Opera”, “Mamma Mia!”. Yet what was a hit in the US doesn’t always travel well to London: “The Mystery of Edwin Drood”, “The Baker’s Wife”, “The Drowsy Chaperone”, “City of Angels”. All except the first mentioned were perfectly decent productions but they just did not grab the attention of the London audience. In the US, “The Rocky Horror Show”, “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang” and “Bombay Dreams” did not take off.
Some shows, however, take their time to settle in. The first London production of “La Cage aux Folles” in the mid-1980s ran for only 300 performances. On Broadway it did 1,100. The lack of success in London was blamed on various excuses such as rail-strikes and the rise of AIDS which apparently stopped patrons from going to a show about two gay men. The current London revival, however, has had great success along with two other shows in which the main parts are in drag, namely “Hairspray” and “Priscilla, Queen of the Desert”. The same could be said for “Chicago”, now one of the longest-running shows in both New York and London. Thirty years ago it could not find an audience, but a concert performance revival twelve years ago led to its current success and there seems to be no signs of its closing.
For “Blink!” Peter Bull and Tim McArthur have collected some of the flops that eventually became hits, the successes that drowned crossing the Atlantic and the flops that stayed flops. Some, however, were good shows that nobody wanted to see. It presents the work of some of the most successful composers and lyricists in the history of musical theatre including Stephen Sondheim, Jerry Herman, John Kander & Fred Ebb, Stephen Schwartz, Henry Mancini & Leslie Bricusse, Cy Coleman & Dorothy Fields, the Sherman Brothers and even Andrew Lloyd Webber. The last is included for “Sunset Boulevard” which cost too much to stage for it to make money, although the recent scaled-down version in London in which the actors also played the orchestra, was probably not much out of pocket. The cast of “Blink!” make reference to these economic measures by bringing on their own instruments including a Swanee whistle, a triangle and a pair of cymbals.
Obsession must be the reason why some composers feel they must make a musical out of, say, an unfinished Dickens novel (“Edwin Drood”), Adam and Eve (“Children of Eden”), Fritz Lang’s classic film “Metropolis”, Baroness Orczy’s “The Scarlet Pimpernel”, and, most astonishing of all, “The Silence of the Lambs”, which Jon & Al Kaplan rewrote as “Silence! The Musical”, from which “Blink!” includes one of the few songs that could be sung in polite company. Needless to say the show never reached Broadway or London. The backdrop to the show lists many that are not included here such as “Bernadette”, “Carrie”, “Jeeves”, “Oscar” and “Lautrec”. Add to these “Napoléon” and “Leonardo”, “Phil the Fluter” and “Mr & Mrs”, the last based on Noël Coward’s “Fumed Oak” and “Brief Encounter”. The list is endless: there’s another show in there somewhere (“Blink Again!”)!
The young cast enjoy themselves singing some songs straight or sending them up in the case of “Silence!”. Nikki Gerrard gives a fine plangent performance of a great song, ‘Anyone Can Whistle’ from Sondheim’s show of the same name that lasted only nine performances. Tim McArthur follows with ‘Now You Know’ from Sondheim’s “Merrily We Roll Along”, a brilliant score that’s destined never to be a hit: it originally ran for just sixteen performances. Alexander Bradford is very moving in ‘Blue Crystal’ from Kander & Ebb’s “The Rink”, which flopped in London despite another great score. Julia G. Addison does hilariously another brilliant number by Kander & Ebb, ‘Everybody’s Girl’ and Elena Rossi is Norma Desmond for ‘With One Look’ from “Sunset Boulevard” complete with clashing cymbals. But as a team they skip their way through some thirty numbers, with occasional interruptions from Debbie Morris, explaining why some shows never took off before they were forcibly taken off. Yes, blink and they are gone. However, taken out of context the material is often quite good. It was just the shows that did not work.
- Blink! is at Above the Stag Theatre, 15 Bressenden Place, London SW1 until Sunday 16 August 2009
- Tuesday to Friday 7.30 p.m., Saturday 5.30 p.m. & 8.15 p.m., Sunday 6.30 p.m.
- Tickets 0844 478 0030
- Above the Stag