“All gone to look for America” sang Simon and Garfunkel in 1968. In 1974 oral historian and broadcaster Studs Terkel found America by conducting a series of free-form interviews with so-called ‘ordinary’ people – from labourers to teachers – about their working lives. Uninterrupted by their interviewer, they spoke freely about the meaning they found in their work – and its part in the meaning of their lives. The resulting book is a bestseller still.
Kenny Wax is an eclectic producer, responsible for the spectacular award-winning Top Hat, Hollywood musical turned West End show; enchanting children’s shows, including Olivier- nominated Room on the Broom; and now Fellini’s 1954 film La Strada. All are musical adaptations, reimagined with originality and sensitivity, each by the right team for the job.
Ah, Jewish guilt! It propels so many of us. Like our childhoods, it’s a rich seam to mine and Tony Kushner draws on both to fashion this magnificent musical evocation of a time of social change in America he observed first-hand as a small boy. He gives us the microcosm: how change, against the backdrop of Kennedy’s assassination and the civil rights movement, affects a Jewish family in the Deep South.
New Yorkers Abe Burrows (Borowitz), Willie Gilbert (Gomberg) and Jack Weinstock did not invent the title of their 1961 musical satire on big business. It’s actually based on this best-selling lampoon of contemporary office life in 1950s USA, disguised as a self-improvement handbook. Clutching the book he consults on every step of the corporate ladder he climbs from window cleaner to chairman of the board, their anti-hero J Pierrepont Finch really lives up to the book’s subtitle, “The dastard’s guide to fame and fortune”. Burrows had worked with Frank Loesser on Guys and Dolls and the marriage of witty, amoral book with jaunty music and slick lyrics ensured the show’s award-winning success.
A lone figure limps into the light on a bare stage. Wounded in action, GI Adam Hochberg, confides his life, loves, hopes and fears and takes the audience back to newly-liberated Paris, 1945. David Seadon Young’s sardonic, worldly-wise American Jew in Paris is the first surprise in a show that adds depth to the light-as-air story of the much-loved film – without losing any of its charm and vitality.
What better way to open The Other Palace (formerly St James Theatre) than with a wild party? Michael John LaChiusa’s musical takes on Joseph Moncure March’s 1920s poem and paints an unglamorous picture of the dissolute decade with a cast of unsympathetic and pitiless characters. Guys and Dolls it ain’t!
Lush romantic stories are bread and butter to composer/lyricist Maury Yeston, and he writes scores to match. His elegiac music conjures time and place and whether the place is the doomed Titanic ocean liner or Grand Hotel Berlin 1928, the first half of the 20th century seems to be his preferred time.
With its stellar writing team – music and lyrics Burt Bacharach and Hal David, book Neil Simon (based on Billy Wilder’s screenplay for hit comedy The Apartment) – this musical set in early 60s New York is as lovable and eager to be loved as any pedigree pup. It boasts a hero of self-deprecating charm in Chuck Baxter, insurance company junior and wannabe executive dining room key holder. Happily for Chuck, he already holds the keys to a Manhattan studio apartment, discreet walking distance from the office. Jaded middle-aged senior executives aspire to these keys to happiness in their turn for the odd hour’s dalliance with their very personal assistants before they go home to their wives. Chuck seems to hold the keys to his own advancement – the promises are the promotion his superiors offer in return.
Jason Robert Brown’s poignant, semi-autobiographical journey through a relationship, from heady first meeting to marriage and then downhill to disillusion and divorce, is an intimate chamber piece with just two protagonists: Cathy and Jamie. She is a struggling actress, he is a young Jewish writer on the cusp of success.
At this time of post-Brexit xenophobia and with refugees in crisis, Ragtime’s dramatic account of the hardships and hatred faced by early 20th-century immigrants to America is all too timely.
Terrence McNally’s book works seamlessly with Lynn Ahrens’ lyrics to bring EL Doctorow’s 1975 novel to the stage. The story revolves around the interaction of three families: well-established WASPs (white Anglo-Saxon Protestants) Mother, Father and their Little Boy, with Grandfather and Mother’s Younger Brother; ragtime piano-playing African American Coalhouse Walker and Sarah, the mother of his baby son; and Tateh (Yiddish for daddy), a young Jewish widower newly-arrived from Latvia with his daughter, as well as his hopes. “A Shtetl iz Amereke,” sings Gary Tushaw’s starry-eyed, sympathetic Tateh.