The Good Old, Good Old Days

THE GOOD OLD, BAD OLD DAYS at the Prince of Wales Theatre, Coventry Street.

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.

Theatre For Christmas

Someone in the editorial collective decided it would be a nice idea if I would select what I thought were suitable shows for our readers to see at Christmas, as that’s the time of year a lot of folk take an occasional visit to the theatre. Firstly take into consideration that we go to press 3 weeks before the actual Christmas week so do check the daily papers to ensure the show you wish to see is still running.

Now it rather depends on the type of show you want to see, and who you are going to take along (if anybody) so I’ll try and categorise those that I consider the best ones.

If you are considering taking along a parent, aunt or anyone approaching middle age, settle for GONE WITH THE WIND at Drury Lane Theatre which has enough glamour to appeal to them, or if you feel a straight play would be preferable I suggest one of the following:

LLOYD GEORGE KNEW MY FATHER at the Savoy Theatre which is a light comedy not likely to offend anyone, and skilfully played by Celia Johnson and Sir Ralph Richardson. Another safe bet is CROWN MATRIMONIAL at the Haymarket Theatre which is the story of Edward VIII’s abdication and would especially appeal to people over 40 who can recall the era when this story took place, and THE DAY AFTER FAIR* at the Lyric Theatre stars the lovely Deborah Kerr in a charming romantic drama.

There are quite a few shows that you can take a child to and that won’t bore you in the process. TOAD OF TOAD HALL is playing at the Jeanette Cochran Theatre, ALICE IN WONDERLAND performed by 10 foot puppets at the Mercury Theatre, Notting Hill Gate sounds interesting, and a new musical version of THE WATER BABIES is due at the Cambridge Theatre, starring Neil Reid of ‘Opportunity Knocks’ fame, with music by John Taylor, the talented composer of ‘Charlie Girl’.

If just you are involved in this theatre trip then let me first mention what is still, in my opinion, the best straight play in town, THE PHILANTHROPIST at the Mayfair Theatre. This forerunner of ‘Butley’ is also set in a college and is likewise all about one of the ‘losers in life’ and it’s an extremely enjoyable evening. Certainly the next best production in town must be LONDON ASSURANCE* at the New Theatre. If you fancy a ‘period piece’ and enjoy first class ensemble playing, this cannot be bettered. My third choice for straight theatre is undoubtedly PRIVATE LIVES at the Queens Theatre, for its witty script and star performance by Maggie Smith, but whether or not you’ll be able to get a seat is another matter entirely.

Which leaves us with the musicals and one revue. HULLA BALOO* at the Criterion Theatre is a fun evening and Rogers and Starr with their blue tinged material will give you a lot of laughs. The two religious musicals are still with us: GODSPELL* at the Wyndhams which I found delightful, and JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR at the Palace Theatre, which I didn’t care for but everyone else did so I might be wrong. THE DIRTIEST SHOW IN TOWN* is still running at the Duchess Theatre and though I missed a few of the jokes along the way I found it at all times enjoyable. APPLAUSE at Her Majesty’s Theatre is hard to get tickets for, but worth the effort to enjoy Lauren Bacall’s star presence, and as we go to press Tony Newley’s latest musical THE GOOD OLD, BAD OLD DAYS is about to open at the Prince of Wales Theatre and if the score is anything to go by ought to be worth the visit.

One last word regarding theatre prices which are getting higher each year. If you really find front stalls too expensive, but don’t care to be sitting a mile away, I can recommend the back dress circle at those shows marked * as not being too expensive and not too far away. Also the back stalls at Mayfair Theatre for THE PHILANTHROPIST are inexpensive and of course both the Jeannetta Cochran Theatre and Mercury Theatre with their children’s shows are reasonably priced.