I can’t understand the London critics. To a man they picked out adjectives like ‘pretentious’ and ‘mannered’ to use about this new show. Even those that praised it had their own share of misgivings.
Often I’ve felt that it depends on the mood you’re in as regards your enjoyment of a show, and the night in question I arrived very tired after a hard day’s work. Hardly the best frame of mind to fully enjoy a new musical. But as soon as the curtain rose on that brilliantly staged title song the show got my interest and held it throughout. The score, like previous works of Bricusse and Newley, was tuneful, the lyrics in turn intelligent and witty. The dancing, staged by Paddy Stone, inventive and full of flair.
The plot, a series of conversations between God and the Devil, has the latter defending mankind by telling the history of the world, in an effort to prove to God that man has not always been responsible for the bad things that have occurred on earth. God is enthroned on a glittering gold throne and makes several appearances descending from heaven, whilst Newley as the Devil, makes his first appearance from the floors of hell.
The score embodies many types of song. The 2nd act opener ‘It’s A Musical World’ and the tuneful ‘People Tree’ are both likely to become standards on a par with this teams’s other good songs. ‘Cotton Picking Moon’, performed by Newley (doing an Al Jolson) aided by black-faced minstrels armed with tambourines and banjoes during the American Civil War sequence is a riot of fun, and ‘Thanksgiving Day’ is a pretty tune sung by the Pilgrim Fathers on landing in America.
Of the other songs I feel that ‘The Good Things In Life’ and ‘The Fool Who Dares To Dream’ may not have the success they deserve, but they are lovely tunes nonetheless. Before the first act ends there are 3 very fine songs that form part of a trilogy ‘Today’ sung by Newley, ‘Tomorrow’ a song full of hope, sung by Terry Mitchell, and ‘Yesterday’ dramatically performed by Caroline Villiers. I’d be more than satisfied by any musical that merely had these 3 songs featured, so good are they in both melody and lyric.
Paul Bacon makes a dignified God, with a beautiful speaking voice and melodious singing one. Both Terry Mitchell and Caroline Villiers put over their songs ably, and Julia Sutton does a riotous Ruby Keeler take-off with Newley in the big Broadway finale.
There remains Newley who is on stage pretty much throughout the show. There are, as with all big personalities, two schools of thought about him, and I have met people who can’t stand him. Personally I think he’s always been one of our biggest talents, and right here and now in this show he’s at his performing peak, whether it be getting a laugh from a comedy item or wringing every ounce of emotion out of a song such as ‘The Good Things In Life’. Yes, you got the picture – I liked the show.