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 Fieldingâ€™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