Imagine This

Imagine This – music by Shuki Levy, lyrics by David Goldsmith, book by Glenn Berenbeim

Rebecca (Tamar) – Leila Benn Harris
Daniel (Eleazar) – Peter Polycarpou
Max (Jeremiah) – Sévan Stephan
Sarah (Naomi) – Sarah Ingram
Adolph (Caesar) – Bernard Lloyd
Lola (Salome) – Cameron Leigh
Jan (Aaron) – Steven Serlin
Izzy (Pompey) – Michael Matus
Otto (Rufus) – Gary Milner
Adam (Silva) – Simon Gleeson
Captain Blick – Richard Cotton
Leon – Nathan Attard [or Jamie Davis or Alexander Kalian]
Jacob – Marc Antolin
Hannah – Rebecca Sutherland

Ensemble – Rachael Archer, Stuart Boother, Oliver Brenin, Michael Camp, Joel Elferink, Bob Harms, Paul Iveson, Roy Litvin, Aoife Nally, Grant Neal, Vincent Pirillo, Carrie Sutton, Gemma Sutton & Lucy Thatcher

Swings – Emily Jane Boyle (Dance Captain), Darragh O’Leary (Assistant Dance Captain), Paul Smethurst, Philippa Stefani & Michael Patrick Watson

Timothy Sheader – Director
James McKeon – Musical Director
Liam Steel – Movement Director & Choreographer
Phil Bateman – Music Supervisor & Vocal Score
Chris Walker – Orchestrator
Eugene Lee – Set Designer
Ann Hould-Ward – Costume Designer
Tim Mitchell – Lighting Designer
Terry Jardine & Nick Lidster – Sound Designers

Reviewed by: Michael Darvell

Reviewed: 20 November, 2008
Venue: New London Theatre, Drury Lane, London

So you thought the musical of “Gone with the wind” was bad? Well, you ain’t seen nuthin’ yet! The poor old New London Theatre doesn’t seem to be doing so well since “Cats” left the building. Admittedly the Royal Shakespeare Company’s season with Ian McKellen as Lear was a sell-out success, but then in blew “GWTW” and put the kibosh on it. Four million quid and a few weeks later it closed but not before announcing another new musical called “Imagine This”, set in war-torn Poland in 1942 at the time of the Warsaw Ghetto and the persecution of the Jews by the Nazis.

Although Nazi persecution has featured in musicals before (in “Cabaret” and even “The Sound of Music” and, just for a laugh, in “The Producers”), outside of dramatising it for an opera one wouldn’t immediately think of the Warsaw Ghetto as a fit subject for a musical entertainment.

However, far from being just entertainment, “Imagine This” is billed as “the inspirational new West End musical”. The inspiration is presumably supposed to come from the events in Poland in 1942, as the flyer would have us believe: “where freedom was found through imagination, where hope and laughter could conquer fear, where love knew no boundaries”. That makes it all sound far too pat for the tragedy, the Final Solution that ensued under Nazi occupation. However, the show as staged just doesn’t seem good enough to encompass such an historically important event as the horrors of the ghetto, the result being that it ultimately trivialises it. Other works are evoked in its wake, such as the films “Schindler’s List”, “The Pianist” and “Life is Beautiful”, but it is unfair to compare “Imagine This” to such masterworks.

Matters are complicated by the fact that the Warsaw element is only a frame around which the main part of the musical is based. A group of actors under their director Daniel are putting on a show in an abandoned train depot in the Warsaw Ghetto. It concerns Masada, a fortress above the Dead Sea, to where in the year 70 AD a group of Jewish zealots fled from the marauding Romans and where they set up the Great Revolt against Rome. Finding that they could not escape from the onslaught of the Roman soldiers, they were persuaded by their leader Eleazar to commit suicide. These events were left out of the Jewish history books until the 1920s when Isaac Lamdan wrote a poetic history called “Masada”, possibly the inspiration for the Warsaw Ghetto uprising.

In 1981 there was a television mini-series, “Masada”, with Peter O’Toole, which garnered several awards. Unfortunately the events as portrayed here are not that dramatically interesting until the final scenes of mass suicide, which are genuinely moving. Otherwise there’s a lot of running about, shouting and fighting and, of course, a romance (quote, “love grows in the most unexpected places”) involving Tamar, the daughter of the Masada leader, and Silva, a Roman general. The soppy, soupy music for their love-songs and the banality of the lyrics (songs such as ‘Far from here, far from now’ and ‘I am the dove’ are real June-moon stuff) just hinder the action, dragging the show down to the level of a pop video. Overall, the piece is quite boring and although the second act perks up, it is too late to save the project from disaster. It was a mistake to cover two stories in one show and a worse error to concentrate on the earlier story. There’s probably a decent show to be made out of just the events of the Warsaw uprising. But this is not it.

Composer Shuki Levy’s background has been mainly in pop music, although he still keeps connections with Israel and last year opened a museum on the site of the Masada desert fortress. Sadly his tribute to the memory of the thousand people who died is misplaced. Timothy Sheader directs, however, with a sure hand and the movement and choreography are well managed by Liam Steel against a backdrop of Eugene Lee’s impressive sets. Peter Polycarpou as both the theatre director and the Masada leader is impressively charismatic, particularly when he is telling some welcome Jewish jokes, and he leads with real strength.

Appropriately or not the audience is left in a state of uplift at the finale, despite the tragic events just witnessed in which countless thousands have died. Imagine this, if you will, a cross between the end of Sondheim’s “Sunday in the Park with George” and ‘Make our garden grow’ from Leonard Bernstein’s “Candide”, and you just about have the measure of it, complete with a huge burst of bright light. As the audience quits the theatre, the play-out music is a charming Tchaikovsky-like waltz, presumably based on the rule of ‘always leave ’em dancing’. Imagine that.

  • Imagine This is at the New London Theatre, Drury Lane, London WC2
  • Monday to Saturday 7.30 p.m., matinees Thursday and Saturday 2.30 p.m.
  • Tickets £17.50-£60.00: 0844 412 4654
  • Imagine This The Musical

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