The Lost Musicals series restored Cole Porter's classic musical to The West End Stage.
The Lost Musicals series presented their latest production at London's Palace Theatre in Shaftsbury Avenue, best known as the home of Les Miserables. The Gay Divorce was performed on 17 and 24 September 2000 by an ensemble cast of sixteen, together with the BBC Concert Orchestra.
The intention of director Ian Marshall Fisher is to find and restore musicals to the original version written by the composer. Many musicals were changed in order to fit a film format or particular stars. In the case of Gay Divorce, it was a return to the theatre that had staged the first London production in 1933 that had starred Fred Astaire and Claire Luce.
There was no set for the performance; the Orchestra was placed at the back of the stage, and chairs placed in front for the cast, each of whom read from a libretto. The cast had donated their services for free, and as such had only had limited rehearsal time. This did not detract from the performances however, with Tim Flavin as Guy Holden (the Fred Astaire character) and Janie Dee as Mimi Pratt (Claire Luce on stage, Ginger Rogers in the film) adding the right mixture of style and romance.
There were stand-out performances from the senior members of the cast, Thelma Ruby as Mimi's friend Hortense, James Vaughan as the co-respondant Tonetti and especially Michael Roberts as The Waiter. Roberts has completely captured the speech and mannerisms of Eric Blore, who took the part both on stage and in the film. Ruby, for her part, has many of the best lines. Her explanation of men to Mimi is "They are all the same, it's just the neckties that are different". The script of this show is much sharper than the filmed version.
Brendan O'Hea also adds much comic delight in the part of Teddy Egbert, the lawyer arranging the divorce. Playing it as camp as row of tents, O'Hea imbues the character with shades of Michael Crawford's Frank Spencer and current-day Julian Clary. The chorus girls too, are great fun, with much back-biting in the ranks competing to find a husband: "I remember my first man!" "What a memory you must have!"
So what of the dancing? Well, Flavin has a couple of solos, which makes one yearn for Bret Jones. Here is a part tailor-made for him. Note to the producer: next time you revive an Astaire musical - get Jones! Flavin's duet with Janie Dee in the second half was a marked improvement, with some nice jazz ballet and a bit of tap thrown in for good measure. Several of the moves are obviously copied from the film, but taking out the trickier bits makes some of the choreography look watered-down.
The BBC Concert Orchestra under the baton of Kevin Amos was excellent throughout. With no amplification, they succeeded in providing support to the singers - not all of who were possessed with powerful voices - as well as adding overtures and incidental music.
The next production is planned to take place at the Linbury studio in the Royal Opera House in December, with music by The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. One Touch Of Venus (1943) was written by Ogden Nash and the great Hollywood screenwriter S J Perelman, known for his work on The Marx Brothers movies amongst others. The music is provided by Kurt Weill, and the show is presented as part of the Weill Centenary celebrations. For an entertaining and unusual night out, this is a must-see.
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