I am glad I did my last scene-setting blog for PARADISE FOUND. Now I don't have to linger too long over it.
It was truly one of the most bizarre musicals I have ever seen - and I saw BERNADETTE.
It is based on a 1939 novel by one Joseph Roth, an alcoholic Jewish Austro-Hungarian whose only other work I am familiar with is THE LEGEND OF THE HOLY DRINKER - a glomfest about an alcoholic down-and-out trying to get his life together. Expect a musical of that sometime soon.
Oh lord where to start... the torturous plot? The Shah of Persia travels to Vienna with his Chief Eunuch due to his terminal boredom with his hundreds of wives and while attending the Emperor's welcoming celebration finally gets aroused... by the Empress.
The Eunuch arranges with a Baron who he has just met to bring the Shah to the brothel where the Baron's mistress - who looks vaguely like the Empress - works and hoodwink the Shah into thinking he has had the real thing.All goes well but there are always consequences - the Baron is jealous of his mistress... who falls out with the madam of the brothel over a string of pearls that the Shah gave her... so she lands in debtor's prison... and the Eunuch turns up with a full head of hair... to find a-now alcoholic, suicidal Baron and mistress playing in a cheap vaudeville act based on the hoodwinking of the Shah... and the vaudeville is owned by the ex-madam... and it just never ends.
The lyrics aim for wit but land on facile. They are set to Johan Strauss waltzes which no doubt seemed a good idea at the outset but the unrelenting 4/4 time rob the songs of any variety. Happy song, sad song - they all sound the same.
Now onto the set design... Beowolf Boritt's set of black shiny walls with wonky left and right sides looks more like the design for THE STUD: THE MUSICAL and Judy Dolan's costumes are not unlike the contents of a particularly run-down fancy dress shop.
As you will have read in my previous blog, the cast included performers who I have long admired. They all performed with that smiling-wide-but-dead-behind-the-eyes look that signalled "You should have seen me in x - I was great in that!" Mandy Patinkin, Judy Kaye, Shuler Hensley, John McMartin, Kate Baldwin, George Lee Andrews and Nancy Opel all gave as much as they could and it was great to see them on a London stage - it's just a shame the material was so beneath their talents.
I don't know whether it was having two directors - Hal Prince and Susan Stroman - that has given the show such an uneven feel but I doubt if anyone could have breathed life into it.
Just goes to show, you can have more Award-winning talent than you can shake a stick at.. but if are building on a dodgy book and misconceived score, your show will just lie there and die there.
Mandy's expression says it all.