Author Archive for phayward

December latest news

  • “Dick Whittington” has been announced as the first pantomime that will play the newly refurbished Southampton Mayflower for the 2018-19 Christmas season with booking opening on Saturday 16th December 2017.
  • “Bat Out Of Hell” – Jim Steinman’s musical went on sale on Monday and has already broken box office records at London’s Dominion Theatre, taking £350,000 on the first day. It is currently running in Toronto until 7th January 2018. Andrew Polec, winner of the Joe Allen Best West End Debut in the Stage Debut Awards 2017, and Christina Bennington are looking to recreate their London lead roles.
  • QDOS censors its pantomimes – amid sexual harassment allegations within the theatre sector the producer of the UK’s biggest pantomimes is to remove a longstanding routine from its 30-plus shows. A routine based on an old Morecambe and Wise sketch – where a male character looks up a female performer’s skirt – has been removed from the company’s pantomimes; last Christmas it was in nearly every panto in the land, including the Palladium, and it got a massive laugh. This year it just feels wrong. Everybody is a little bit more mindful of that kind of thing a spokesman said.
  • “Teddy“ a revival of Tristan Bernays and Dougal Irvine’s musical which turns the clock back some 60 or so years to a postwar Elephant and Castle, is a game changer that pushes the integrated musical play forward and will run at the Watermill Theatre in Newbury from 11 January to 10 February, and then tour to Salford’s Lowry, Bury St Edmunds, NST Southampton, Chesterfield, Ipswich before opening at the Vaults, London.
  • “Blood Brothers” – Lyn Paul is to return to the role of Mrs Johnstone in the musical for the show’s 2018 tour. Paul performed the role in the final nights of the show’s run at the Phoenix Theatre in London. The tour includes return dates in Belfast, Edinburgh, Southampton and Manchester.
  • Tunbridge Wells Borough Council has backed plans for a £41 million development in the centre of the town that will include a 1,200-seat theatre, a civic centre, an underground car park, and new office space.
  • “The Sound of Music” – a new tour of Bill Kenwright’s production opens at the Bord Gais Energy Theatre in Dublin on 19th December with Lucy O’Byrne as Maria and Neil McDermott as Captain von Trapp.
  • Evening Standard Theatre Awards 2017 – view the full list of winners –https://www.thestage.co.uk/news/2017/ferryman-triumphs-london-evening-standard-theatre-awards/
  • “White Christmas” – a brand new adaptation of Irving Berlin’s festive favourite will be the 2018 christmas musical at Leicester’s Curve working in partnership with Jamie Wilson and his team with the expectation that it will be seen around the UK for many Christmases to come.

Meredith Willson brought The Music Man to Broadway 60 years ago

Sixty years ago a breath of fresh air came to Broadway.  It was brought by a show called The Music Man written by a man of music but one who had no theatre background.  It broke a few theatrical rules and invented new ones and it went on to win the Tony Award for the season’s Best Musical.

The man of music was Meredith Willson whose career had been originally classical based before making his name on radio as an orchestra leader.  He was famous enough to have written an autobiography (or as called a Memento) of his early years growing up in small town Iowa USA.  It was fun, touching and showed insight on ordinary America.  There had been interest from hit show writer Frank Loesser in the book as he saw it had musical possibilities.  Loesser introduced Willson to the producers of his last two shows, Feyer and Martin.  They also saw the possibilities and encouraged Willson to turn it into a musical for which they would have first option to produce.  The book was published in 1948 and it would take nine years to bring to the stage and then with different producers.

Willson’s knowledge of writing specifically for the theatre was non-existent though he certainly knew how to construct a song.  After a few attempts at creating a story line he sought help from Franklin Lacey, a playwright and screen writer, and their collaboration eventually succeeded.  At first they had considered a television version but the stage won.

The central character became Harold Hill, a con man set to make money from selling musical instruments and uniforms for a town band perceived by the brain washed towns folk to be needed to keep their young on the straight and narrow.  A con man may not be the accepted view of a Broadway male lead – indeed the opening number (in lieu of an overture) would leave the audience in no doubt about his morals (or lack of).  What the book cleverly did was to give him a heart that would, we hope, lead him to salvation and a happy ending for everyone concerned.  This was helped by the introduction of Marion, the town’s librarian and a piano teacher who saw through Hill’s plan but eventually saw the positive change in the hopes of the young and the more positive side of her ‘white knight’.

There was no overture and no ballet (a must since Oklahoma!)  but there was a terrific story with all the hope, warmth together with an important insight to American small town life a generation or so before.  There was also the fact that it was perfectly cast. 

Harold Hill was played by Robert Preston, a minor Hollywood leading man known mainly for his cowboy pictures.  He had limited vocal skills but, as see the previous year with Rex Harrison, acting skills could overcome many vocal problems.  Marion, on the other hand, was played by one of the most beautifully sounding voices of all time, that of Barbara Cook. 

The Music Man opened on Broadway on 19 December 1957. 

It was an immediate hit winning five Tony Awards including Best Musical and nods to both Preston and Cook.  The show would run for 1375 performances.  The cast album won the Grammy Award for best Musical theatre Album of the year and went on to become one of the largest original cast selling albums.  All this in the season that also introduced West Side Story, New Girl in Town, Jamaica and Oh, Captain!

 

London saw it with Val Johnson playing Harold Hill and again it was a hit – but only while he remained with the show.  It was not considered suitable to tour the UK. 

There was a successful film version which stayed close to the original show starring Robert Preston but not Barbara Cook – her part was played by Shirley Jones.  It has remained a firm American favourite with successful revivals and a television adaptation. A recent revival at Chichester featured Brian Conley as Harold Hill but didn’t make it to the West End.

The Meredith Willson archive is now available on line via the Great American Songbook web site.  His book on the making of The Musical Man called “But he didn’t know the territory” is out of print.

Rexton S Bunnett                                                                                             Illustrations from the Overtures archive

Me And My Girl – the 80th anniversary – on Musical Theatre Melodies

“Musical Theatre Melodies” to be broadcast on 96.5 FM on Tuesday, 12th December will feature an 80th Anniversary tribute to Noel Gay and Douglas Furber’s “Me and My Girl”, from the 1985 London revival cast recording starring Robert Lindsay, Emma Thompson and Frank Thornton, with Susannah Fellows, Robert Longden, Roy Macready and Ursula Smith and will be introduced by London-based musical theatre historian, archivist and author, Rex Bunnett. 
 
The remainder of the programme will feature recordings by the original 1937 London cast members, Lupino Lane, Teddie St. Denis and Wallace Lupino plus a selection of Noel Gay songs from stage and screen sung by Evelyn Laye, Cicely Courtneidge, Jack Hulbert, Flanagan and Allen and George Formby, amongst others.
 
The broadcast will go “to air” between 9 – 11 p.m. EDT local Melbourne time; (= 10 a.m. – 12 noon GMT in Britain; = 11 p.m. – 1 a.m. NZDT; = 5 – 7 a.m. EST New York time; = 2 – 4 a.m. PST Los Angeles time.)

For those listening in via the Internet on 96.5 Inner FM’s website the webpage link for the Inner FM Web Radio player is http://right-click.com.au/rcPlayer2/index.php?c=innerfm or go to the Inner FM homepage at www.innerfm.org.au and follow the links from “Listen Live” on the top menu.

First News In December

  • “The Sound of Music” – a new tour of Bill Kenwright’s production opens at the Bord Gais Energy Theatre in Dublin on 19th December with Lucy O’Byrne as Maria and Neil McDermott as Captain von Trapp.
  • Evening Standard Theatre Awards 2017 – view the full list of winners –https://www.thestage.co.uk/news/2017/ferryman-triumphs-london-evening-standard-theatre-awards/
  • “White Christmas” – a brand new adaptation of Irving Berlin’s festive favourite will be the 2018 christmas musical at Leicester’s Curve working in partnership with Jamie Wilson and his team with the expectation that it will be seen around the UK for many Christmases to come.
  • “Hamilton” – theatregoers can apply for a maximum of two £10 lottery tickets each day via the Hamilton app or online. Each lottery opens at 4pm and closes at 2pm the following day. Within an hour of the lottery closing, winners will be notified via the app or by email.
  • “Bat Out Of Hell” – confirmation that the multi-award nominated musical will return to the West End opening at the Dominion Theatre on 2nd April 2018.
  • 18th Annual WhatsOnStage Awards – Nominations have been announced with Bat Out of Hell and 42nd Street each leading the shortlist with eight nominations, including Best Musical and Best Musical Revival respectively. The full list of nominations can be viewed at http://www.whatsonstage.com/london-theatre/news/whatsonstage-awards-nominations-18-annual-voting_45258.html . The winners of the awards will be announced at a ceremony at the Prince of Wales Theatre on 25 February 2018 and public can buy tickets to attend the awards.
  • “Doctor Dolittle” – confirmation that the new stage adaptation of Leslie Bricusse’s film musical (he has distanced himself from the stage productions) will embark on a UK tour starting in Bromley next year, before touring to Salford, Wolverhampton, Newcastle, Hull, Aberdeen, Northampton, Nottingham, Sheffield, Edinburgh, Bradford, Dublin, Canterbury, Cardiff, Southampton, Blackpool and Birmingham, with further venues to be announced.
  • “The Little Match Girl” – opens at the London’s Tabard Theatre on 7 December, based on the Hans Christian Andersen story the musical tale will be directed by its composer Keith Strachan. First performed 40 years ago at the Orange Tree Theatre in Richmond, the musical was famously adapted for television in 1986 in an HTV production that featured Twiggy and Roger Daltrey. The score includes the Ivor Novello Award-winning song ‘Mistletoe and Wine’ which went on to become a Christmas No.1 single for Cliff Richard in 1988.
  • “Finding My Voice” – the Tony Award nominee and Golden Globe Award winner Kathleen Turner is performing  her debut cabaret, at  The Other Palace for 3 weeks next Spring from 17th April-6th May.
  • “Rock of Ages” – a national tour of the musical  will open at the Churchill Theatre, Bromley on 20 September 2018 and then visit Manchester Opera House (25-29 September), Wycombe Swan Theatre (2-6 October), Darlington Hippodrome (8-13 October), Bord Gais Energy Theatre, Dublin (16-20 October), Liverpool Empire Theatre (23-27 October), New Theatre, Cardiff (6-10 November), New Alexandra Theatre, Birmingham (13-17 November), Orchard Theatre, Dartford (20-25 November), and Lyceum Theatre, Sheffield (26 November to 1 December).

Whatever Happened To The Four Musketeers from 1967

This week’s Musical Theatre Melodies features the 1967 show “The Four Musketeers” (Details of the broadcast on 5th December can be found at the bottom of this article) which is celebrated in its golden anniversary year by Overtures.

On paper the Delfont production of  “The Four Musketeers” should have been the total flop in the way Twang!! had been two years previously.  But the show had an ingredient that was golden – its star was Harry Secombe.  Secombe was what we would now call a super-star, a British national treasure loved both as a comedian and as a home trained tenor of operatic strength – to most he could do no wrong. 

“The Four Musketeers” was a vehicle for Secombe that had been suggested by the impresario Bernard Delfont, who had co-produced the previous Secombe vehicle Pickwick.  Pickwick had been a resounding hit, although it was a downright flop on Broadway – Harry Secombe was a home grown phenomenon, but not an international one.

Harry Secombe played D’Artagnan in an almost unrecognisable version of the famed story.  He was the loveable one, the other three musketeers were a drunken set of rogues.  The book for the show was written by Michael Pertwee, the successful television and film writer known mainly for his comedy work.  He was the elder brother of actor Jon Pertwee (Dr Who and the film version of A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum) and uncle to Bill Pertwee, another actor remembered mainly for Dad’s Army.

Michael Pertwee took the original book and set to make it into a musical comedy (which is how the show was described) in which D’artagnan’s ability to succeed in his heroic deeds was by error more than ability.  The show’s composer was Laurie Johnson who had shown great promise in Lock Up Your Daughters but he did not have Lionel Bart to inspire.  His lyricist was Herbert Kretzmer, a journalist, theatre critic and inspired satirical lyricist on the television That Was the Week That Was.  He had also written the lyrics to Our Man Crichton.

There was no out-of-town try out for The Four Musketeers.  It had a massive £150,000 budget which much went to a massive set by Sean Kenny (who had designed Pickwick) designed specifically of the Drury Lane stage – one not built to tour.

When the show went into rehearsal book changes were still taking place.  The original three (other) musketeers were Sydney Tafler, Jeremy Lloyd and John Junkin.  Tafler was one of the first to leave the (seen to be) sinking ship, he was replaced by Glyn Owen.  Jan Brinker, an American artist contracted to play the Queen Anne of France left and Sheena Marshe was replaced her.  Then, within days of opening the female lead, the Sadler’s Wells Opera star Joyce Blackman walked out and at short notice Elizabeth Larner stepped in.  The show opened with the programme still advertising Joyce Blackham.

The man at the helm of the production, the director, was Peter Coe.  He had taken that role with both Pickwick and Lock Up Your Daughters, but was still most known for Oliver!  For all his talent he was not able to bring this show to a satisfactory conclusion.  When it opened on 5th December 1967 it received almost universal bad reviews.  But the opening during the then profitable pantomime season had attract a good advance and the show was able to run on and on while the theatre longed for a replacement (that was to be Mame starring Ginger Rodgers over 14 months away).

Even after the show opened cast changes continued amongst the other three musketeers – their roles were never that satisfying.  Secombe continued in the lead not taking a holiday and even miming to his own recorded voice when he was too ill to sing.  It closed after only recouping £100,000 of the original investment and has hardly been heard of again.  But, it left an original cast recording and, surprisingly, a studio cast version boasting the Laurie Johnson’s orchestra and two strong female leads but no male lead.

 

Musical Theatre Melodies broadcast on 96.5 FM on Tuesday, 5th December will feature a 50th Anniversary tribute to Laurie Johnson and Herbert Kretzmer’s “The Four Musketeers”, (based on the characters of Alexandre Dumas), from the 1967 original London cast recording starring Harry Secombe, Elizabeth Larner, Stephanie Voss, Aubrey Woods, Glyn Owen, John Junkin, Jeremy Lloyd and Kenneth Connor. The introduction will be by London-based musical theatre historian, archivist and author, Rex Bunnett. 
The  programme will also feature selections from Laurie Johnson and Lionel Bart’s “Lock Up Your Daughters”, (based on Henry Fielding’s comedy “Rape Upon Rape”), from the 1959 original London cast recording starring Richard Wordsworth, Stephanie Voss, Terence Cooper, Hy Hazell, Frederick Jaeger, Keith Marsh, John Sharp, Brendan Barry, Madeleine Newbury and Robin Wentworth.
 
The broadcast will go “to air” between 9 – 11 p.m. EDT local Melbourne time; (= 10 a.m. – 12 noon GMT in Britain; = 11 p.m. – 1 a.m. NZDT; = 5 – 7 a.m. EST New York time; = 2 – 4 a.m. PST Los Angeles time.)
For those listening in via the Internet on 96.5 Inner FM’s website the webpage link for the Inner FM Web Radio player is http://right-click.com.au/rcPlayer2/index.php?c=innerfm or go to the Inner FM homepage at www.innerfm.org.au and follow the links from “Listen Live” on the top menu.

RSB                                                                                             Illustrations from the Overtures Archive

NEWS UPDATE – NOVEMBER 27th

  • “Finding My Voice” – the Tony Award nominee and Golden Globe Award winner Kathleen Turner is performing  her debut cabaret, at  The Other Palace for 3 weeks next Spring from 17th April-6th May.
  • “Rock of Ages” – a national tour of the musical  will open at the Churchill Theatre, Bromley on 20 September 2018 and then visit Manchester Opera House (25-29 September), Wycombe Swan Theatre (2-6 October), Darlington Hippodrome (8-13 October), Bord Gais Energy Theatre, Dublin (16-20 October), Liverpool Empire Theatre (23-27 October), New Theatre, Cardiff (6-10 November), New Alexandra Theatre, Birmingham (13-17 November), Orchard Theatre, Dartford (20-25 November), and Lyceum Theatre, Sheffield (26 November to 1 December).
  • “Bat Out Of Hell” looks likely to follow Chinese dance spectacular “Shen Yun” into London’s Dominion in the spring.
  • “Tina The Musical” based on the life and career of  Tina Turner, will feature Adrienne Warren as Tina Turner with Kobna Holbrook Smith as singer and music arranger Ike Turner, best known for his work in films such as Doctor Strange, Paddington 2 and  will also be seen in Mary Poppins Returns and Justice League, with Madeline Appiah and Jenny Fitzpatrick (alternate Tina), Gerard McCarthy with Ryan O’Donnell and Lorna Gayle.
  • “The King & I”, the Lincoln Center production will preview at the London Palladium from 21st June with a press night on 3rd July and run until 4th August.
  • “Billionaire Boy” a new musical by David Walliams and Miranda Cooper will premiere at Southampton’s Nuffield Theatre (Campus) on 19th November 2018 and will run until 6th  January 2019, directed by Luke Sheppard (In The Heights), as part of an ambitious season which includes the opening of a new 500 seater theatre and 150 seat studio space in the heart of the City.
  • “Son of Rambow” a musical adaptation of the cult film is under development by  Nuffield Southampton Theatres director Samuel Hodges and will workshop at The Other Palace in May and Hodges will be joined at by two new associates at NST – Olivier Award-winning director and choreographer Drew McOnie, and poet and playwright Inua Ellams.

Unions gave theatre Pins And Needles 80 years ago – (musical theatre melodies)

Political theatre has always had a place in the world.  At its extreme it is pure propaganda and gives only one view but in the free world the slant may be less severe but still one sided.  From ancient Greek through to Shakespeare and on to Stoppard it is a much valued theatrical form.  On the lighter side it can be in the form of satire as seen in shows such as Of Thee I Sing and I’d rather be Right or more direct as in The Cradle Will Rock.   But much political comment has come through the form of Revue from its germination days in France and Germany. 

Great Britain had censorship until 1968 but the United States had no censorship other than in a moralistic way in the eyes of the various States and Cities.  The thirties saw the world slowly coming out of the Great Recession and the rise in the importance of Unions looking after their member’s livelihood.  Local Unions had their lighter side in that they often acted as social clubs.  The American Musical Rags showed how important it was that Unions were formed.  One such Union from that time was the International Ladies Garment Workers Union.  It was strong in New York where its own newspaper called Justice was produced.  Justice’s editor in the mid-thirties was Max Danish.  He had the idea of putting on an amateur revue cast from the workers they represented.  Material was to be by various people giving a political slant towards worker’s rights.  The songs were to be written by Harold Rome.

Harold Rome had studied architecture and law at Yale and wanted to become an architect in New York.  He started writing revue songs for a Jewish summer resort.  His songs were ‘socially conscious’ and attracted the eye of Max Danish.  The show was to be called “Pins And Needles”.

The Union used the Princess Theatre, a 299 seater where Bolton, Kern and Wodehouse had helped create the Broadway musical, as their meeting hall.  They had renamed it The Labor Stage and it was where they were to present the show.  The cast were all members of the union and the accompaniment was simply two pianos.  It was rehearsed after work and on weekends and when it started of 27 November 1937 played on Friday and Saturday evenings.   However, it was obvious from the word ‘go’ that this light-hearted politically aware piece was a hit.  The cast gave up their day jobs and the show played eight times a week moving to the 849 seat Windsor Theatre.  In total it ran for 1108 performances.

During its run Eleanor Roosevelt requested a performance at the White House which she attended with her husband President Franklin Roosevelt. 

Harold Rome went on to even greater success and broke into the world of Tin Pan Alley and Broadway.  He had recorded for Columbia his show I Can Get it for You Wholesale and the idea of his recording songs from the revue, which was celebrating its 25th anniversary, was born. 

It was a simple studio reconstruction with Rome and a few artist friends helping with the songs and Stan Freeman at the piano.  But Rome also invited a young lady who had a small part in Wholesale for which she had received great reviews.  The ladies name was Barbra Streisand and the rest is history.  The LP was later issued as a CD. 

In 1978 the Roundabout Theatre Company revived it Off- Broadway and it ran for 225 performances. 

London saw it in 2010 at the Cock Tavern Theatre in Kilburn.

For those who are interested, “Musical Theatre Melodies” to be broadcast on 96.5 FM on Tuesday, 28th November will feature an 80th Anniversary tribute to the Harold Rome revue “Pins and Needles”, from the 1962 U.S. studio cast recording featuring Barbra Streisand, Jack Carroll, Rose Marie Jun, Alan Sokoloff and Harold Rome. This will be preceded by an introduction from New York-based theatre critic and Internet columnist, Peter Filichia. 

The remainder of the programme will feature selections from the Harold Rome revue “Call Me Mister”, from the 1946 original Broadway cast recordings starring Betty Garrett, Lawrence Winter, Danny Scholl, Paula Bane, Jules Munshin, Chandler Cowles, Harry Clark and Bill Callaghan.

The broadcast will go “to air” between 9 – 11 p.m. EDT local Melbourne time; (= 10 a.m. – 12 noon GMT in Britain; = 11 p.m. – 1 a.m. NZDT; = 5 – 7 a.m. EST New York time; = 2 – 4 a.m. PST Los Angeles time.)

For those listening in via the Internet on 96.5 Inner FM’s website the webpage link for the Inner FM Web Radio player is http://right-click.com.au/rcPlayer2/index.php?c=innerfm or go to the Inner FM homepage at www.innerfm.org.au and follow the links from “Listen Live” on the top menu.

 

Rexton S Bunnett                                                                             Illustrations from the Overtures Archive

Overtures Fond Memories of Sheila O’Neill (1930-2017)

Sheila O’Neill, dancer and choreographer has died at the age of 87.  She was born on 5 May 1930 and died on 16 October 2017.  Her long career spanned classical and jazz dance, revue, musicals, cabaret and film.

Sheila trained in classical dance but sought a career on the musical stage.  Impresario Jack Hylton chose her to play the small part of Yvonne Sorel and to be one of the principal dancers in his London production of Paint Your Wagon.  

Again for Jack Hylton she was given the part of one of the three dancing Princesses of Abadu in the original London production of Kismet in 1955.  Sheila so impressed Hylton that she was given featured billing in the new Crazy Gang revue Jokers Wild at the Victoria Palace.

 

Having found a voice to match her dancing talent she went on to appear in many other fifties and sixties revues such as Six to One starring Dora Bryan, One Over the Eight with Kenneth Williams and the less successful Chaganog.  There was also the Lyric Hammersmith musical How Now Brown Cow which unfortunately disappeared quickly.

Sheila was a regular dancer / performer on television and also in the world of cabaret appearing all over the world and including New York and Cunard.  She made a few films, notably Dream Maker and Half a Sixpence with Tommy Steele and Summer Holiday with Cliff Richard.

When Matt Mattox came to the Palladium Sheila became his dancing partner.  Mattox could boast of dancing with Marilyn Monroe in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes and as one of the brothers in Seven Brides for Seven Brothers.

She returned to the West End stage to feature in original London production of Sweet Charity and eventually took over the lead role.  There was also a return to Kismet in its 1987 revival in which she again played a Princess.  Her last West End show was Applause.

At this stage in her career she became a choreographer for the 1970 Kiss Me Kate revival. The King and I and The Beggar’s Opera in Chichester.  She was the National Theatre’s adviser in movement for a number of years.  

Sheila met her husband, Don Lawson, during the run of One Over the Eight.  Don was a hugely successful modern jazz musician.  He died in 2015 after a marriage of fifty years.

RSB

 

Mayflower Theatre 90th Birthday Refurbishment

One of Britain’s Finest – Overtures looks back at Valmouth

Valmouth is a show that few have had the opportunity to see.  It was not a great hit when first seen in 1958 and its only major revival was presented out-of-town.  Yet, for many it is considered one of the best British musicals ever written and one awaiting to be fully discovered. 

Valmouth opened at the Lyric Theatre in Hammersmith, West London and the programme includes a note written by Sandy Wilson which gives some incite to the production:

‘The idea of making Ronald Firbank’s Valmouth into a musical came to me when I first read it – ten years ago; but I did not pursue it until I met Bertice Reading who, it suddenly struck me, was the leading character, Mrs Vajnavalkya, to the life, just as Firbank had described her. The task of adaption seemed formidable to begin with but I found that the novel soon resolved itself into dramatic structures – except for the ending: it has none, it simply fades away.  But by a stroke of good fortune, this difficulty was also overcome.  Thanks to the executors of the Firbank estate, I was allowed access to all of Mr Firbank’s note books in one of which I found he had outlined two possible endings to the novel.  The first that the inhabitants of Valmouth were all stricken with yellow fever, seemed, while very typical, hardly suitable for a musical.  The second is the one I have used.’

Valmouth was indeed specifically written with Bertice Reading in mind.  She had appeared in Jazz Train in London and also in Requiem for a Nun, a play in which she would later win a Tony nomination on Broadway.  What Wilson does not mention is that the English Stage Company at the Royal Court Theatre, where Requiem for a Nun had played, wanted to feature her again and suggested to Sandy Wilson that he write a piece for her.  As we heard Wilson knew the show he wanted to write, one based on Valmouth, the somewhat bizarre novel by Ronald Firbank.  Firbank had created an English spa in the imaginary town of Valmouth.  The spa is blessed with waters that keep its visitors young and active, in more than one way.  The visitors are centenarians who react not just to the waters but to the massage given by the mysterious immigrant from the Caribbean, the famed Mrs Vajnavalkya, the role Wilson had envisaged for Miss Reading.

Once written Wilson presented it to the English Stage Company and they rejected it, surprisingly for that out-looking company, because of subjects it dared to mention.  Wilson refused to make changes and offered it to the young and successful producer Michael Codron who booked the Lyric, Hammersmith.  It was the third Sandy Wilson show to be seen in London.  The first, of course, had been The Boy Friend followed by The Buccaneer.  The Boy Friend was still running when Valmouth appeared – they could not be more different – one so innocent and the other so open.

Valmouth is far from a conventional musical.  There is no simple love story and the plot line has more lust than love and it dares to comment on religion before returning to sex.  There is even a hint of homosexuality.  And this was in 1958 ten years before theatre censorship ended.

Valmouth’s director was Vida Hope who had directed The Boy Friend.  The sets and costumes were by Tony Walton, designing his first London show – he would go on to marry Broadway’s Polly, Julie Andrews.  The show was cast with a number of respected older actresses including Doris Hare.  Somewhat surprisingly the sex-mad centenarian Lady Parvula was given to a young Fenella Fielding.

Valmouth opened at the Lyric, Hammersmith on 2 October 1958 after a try-out at the New Shakespeare Theatre in Liverpool.  It played there for 82 performances and it was not until the end of that run that an offer for a West End transfer was received.  By that time Bertice Reading had accepted a contract to take Requiem for a Nun to Broadway. 

Miss Redding’s part in Valmouth was taken by Cleo Laine.  It re-opened at the Saville Theatre on 27 January 1959 and played for only 102 performances, the lack of Miss Reading took its toll.  The show was recorded during the run, but Cleo Laine’s husband, Johnny Dankworth insisted that her songs were re-orchestrated.  However, Miss Reading did record ‘Big best shoes’ which was issued on a 45.

The following year Valmouth had an Off-Broadway showing at the York Playhouse where it opened on 6 October with Bertice Reading recreating her role. Playing Niri-Esther was Gail Jones, the daughter of Lena Horne.  It only managed a two week run.  There have been no more American productions.

A major revival was mounted at the Chichester Festival Theatre in 1982 with Bertice Reading, Fenella Fielding and Marcia Ashton returning to their original roles.  Unfortunately, there was no London transfer but there was a full recording using the correct orchestrations issued on LP and later CD.

Rexton S Bunnett                                                                                             Illustrations from the Overtures archive

Musical Theatre Melodies features Androcles And The Lion

The next Musical Theatre Melodies broadcast on 96.5 FM on Tuesday, 21st November will feature a 50th Anniversary tribute to Richard Rodgers’ “Androcles and the Lion”, (based on the play by George Bernard Shaw), from the original 1967 U.S. TV cast recording starring Norman Wisdom, Ed Ames, Inga Swenson, Brian Bedford, John Cullum, Patricia Routledge and Noel Coward.
 
This will be followed by orchestral selections from Richard Rodgers’ score for the 1952 NBC-TV documentary series Victory at Sea, arranged and conducted by Robert Russell Bennett.

The broadcast will go “to air” between 9 – 11 p.m. EDT local Melbourne time; (= 10 a.m. – 12 noon GMT in Britain; = 11 p.m. – 1 a.m. NZDT; = 5 – 7 a.m. EST New York time; = 2 – 4 a.m. PST Los Angeles time.)

For those listening in via the Internet on 96.5 Inner FM’s website the webpage link for the Inner FM Web Radio player is http://right-click.com.au/rcPlayer2/index.php?c=innerfm or go to the Inner FM homepage at www.innerfm.org.au and follow the links from “Listen Live” on the top menu.

 

November News Update

  • “Bat Out Of Hell” looks likely to follow Chinese dance spectacular “Shen Yun” into London’s Dominion in the spring.
  • “Tina The Musical” based on the life and career of  Tina Turner, will feature Adrienne Warren as Tina Turner with Kobna Holbrook Smith as singer and music arranger Ike Turner, best known for his work in films such as Doctor Strange, Paddington 2 and  will also be seen in Mary Poppins Returns and Justice League, with Madeline Appiah and Jenny Fitzpatrick (alternate Tina), Gerard McCarthy with Ryan O’Donnell and Lorna Gayle.
  • “The King & I”, the Lincoln Center production will preview at the London Palladium from 21st June with a press night on 3rd July and run until 4th August.
  • “Billionaire Boy” a new musical by David Walliams and Miranda Cooper will premiere at Southampton’s Nuffield Theatre (Campus) on 19th November 2018 and will run until 6th  January 2019, directed by Luke Sheppard (In The Heights), as part of an ambitious season which includes the opening of a new 500 seater theatre and 150 seat studio space in the heart of the City.
  • “Son of Rambow” a musical adaptation of the cult film is under development by  Nuffield Southampton Theatres director Samuel Hodges and will workshop at The Other Palace in May and Hodges will be joined at by two new associates at NST – Olivier Award-winning director and choreographer Drew McOnie, and poet and playwright Inua Ellams.
  • “Strictly Ballroom” – the producers have announced casting  for the  West End production of Baz Luhrmann’s  musical which will be directed by Drew McOnie and open at London’s Piccadilly Theatre on 11th April with Jonny Labey and Zizi Strallen leading the cast, while Will Young takes on a specially created role of a band leader.
  • “Heaven on Earth” a new arena tour musical starring Kerry Ellis, Hugh Maynard and Russell Watson as the Voice of God which was due to open next month has been cancelled; directed and choreographed by Racky Plews (American Idiot), it retold  the Bible story of Adam and Eve and was due to open at the Barclaycard Arena in Birmingham in December before touring the UK.
  • Moonfleet”  a major new musical based on classic adventure story is set to be one of the highlights of the spring/summer 2018 season when it premieres at the Salisbury Playhouse featuring a book and lyrics by the Playhouse’s artistic director Gareth Machin and music by Russell Hepplewhite the show will run from 19 April until 5 May.