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Hey. Mr Producer!
Lyceum Theatre

Review by Nick Perry
7th June 1998

"What do you do with all the songs that don't make it into your final productions?" I recall someone asking of Stephen Sondheim a few years ago at the RNT, "Cameron Mackintosh makes them into revues" retorted Sondheim. I don't think he meant that unkindly - Mackintosh arguable made Sondheim accessible for the first time in the UK with "Side By Side By Sondheim", and if I may be forgiven another contrived Sondheim reference, Sir Cameron certainly does a good job of "Putting it Together".

"Hey, Mr Producer" (itself a Sondheim lyric and a title used some nine years ago by Cameron's brother, Robert for a compilation recording of his sibling's work) is the grand result of a commission to produce a benefit concert for the RNIB. I confess to being enticed to pay twice as much as I would normally ever pay for a ticket to quite possibly the most impressive cast of its genre, ever assembled in one place. Sunday night was the 'cheap' night preceding the Gala performance before The Queen and Duke of Edinburgh on Monday. It offered all the glitz of the "real thing" but at half the price and without the presence of Julian Lloyd Webber (a double bonus!).

The show was staged at the Lyceum, recently restored to house Lloyd Webber's production of Jesus Christ Superstar. The large stage opened with a false proscenium, the removal of which prompted a bout of that pet-hate of mine, the Indiscriminate Applause Syndrome. The ticket price, it seemed, had not deterred the ever-growing breed of Inconsiderate Theatre Goers. I was surprised at how close to the stage my seat in row T was, and even more surprised at how close it was to the creaking plywood and booming voices of the Front-of-house sound crew. I concluded that the two people in-front of me were founding members of the Bernadette Peters Fan Club, whose appearance on stage caused the couple to simultaneously spasm into Random Standing Ovation fits. This was only marginally less annoying than the person sitting to my right who felt it necessary to climb up on their seat, and off again, in cycles of ten minutes. At least I did not have to suffer the man, who sitting behind me at "Guys and Dolls" recently, had managed to fashion a percussion instrument from his spectacles case, a feat that would draw admiration were it not for the fact that he seemed not to be able to follow the rhythm of the band.

But I carp... for much of what appeared on stage was exceptional. I can forgive the rolling-out of has-beens for the sake of nostalgia - I could only just bear Marion Montgomery wailing through "I Get a Kick Out of You". David Kernan and Millicent Martin were fortunately limited to just a few bars of solo singing, and we were saved from enduring too much of Paul Nicholas in a rather disturbing cat suit, by a similar technique. The infinitely more youthful John Barrowman misfired somewhat and proved with "One Two Three", that The Fix really wasn't suited to a large stage. Hal Fowler (of recent Martin Guerre fame and I think currently starring in a dreadful, Restoration-style Ice Cream TV ad) bumbled through as Enjolras in the showpiece, Les Miserable segment.

I seem to be carping again, but I assure you, these event represent the flaws (almost) in their entirety.

The fabulous City Of London Philharmonic orchestra, lead by Martin Koch, lifted many-a-song I had previously dismissed as average. The simple but effective staging consisted of costumes from original productions, some simple props and very effective use of a gauze screen to receive projected 'backdrops'. Keeping up the momentum can often be a problem for cabaret and revue style show such as these, but "Hey, Mr Producer!" suffered not one jot. Occasional minor technical flaws rarely showed in such glittering company.

Jonathan Pryce was a notable treat as Professor Henry Higgins in a "My Fair Lady Segment", in addition to a reprisal of his role as The Engineer in "The American Dream" from Miss Saigon. Julie Andrews was tonight's diamond-studded star who 'introduced' the night halfway through the first act. She didn't however, bless or curse us with any singing.

In the first act two songs from the recently re-written Martin Guerre were previewed. The first, a vastly-upped tempo and totally unlistenable rewrite of the title song was the only true 'miss' of the night - soon forgotten. The previously unwitnessed, electric, combination of Colm Wilkinson and Michael Ball (for my money tonight's 'Man of the Match') reprising roles played in different productions of Lloyd Webber's Phantom of the Opera.

Act II opened on the predictable but pleasingly performed Broadway Baby from Sondheim's "Follies" - proving Julia McKenzie is ageing well! The same pen and performers provided more humour in the infrequently performed but very funny "You've Gotta Have A Gimmick" which proffered McKenzie with her Broadway 'equivalent', in the shape of Bernadette Peters - but neither quite in the 'shape' of the scantily-clad, 'Woman of the Match', Ruthie Henshall. Followed quite appropriately by the man behind the pen - Stephen Sonheim presented a very amusing, and quite surprising collaboration on video: Sondheim and Lloyd Webber seated at the same piano in an entertaining Cameron tribute; a pastiche based on "Music of The Night" and "Send in the Clowns".

The rareley-seen US satirist, Tom Lehrer kept up the humour with two numbers in his unique style - a segue into excerpts from Cameron's two big earners: Cats, which included the obligatory "Memory" with Elaine Paige, and Les Miserables with the stellar performances of Wilkinson, Ball, Quast, Henshall and Salonga.

A show that glittered with stars from the musical theatre smattered with many a name from other spheres of entertainment was an impressive testament to the incredibly successful world of Cameron Macintosh. A show that leaves me asking 'Hey, Mr Producer - where can I buy the CD?'

Email : nick.perry@amulation.co.uk
Web site: www.amulation.co.uk/nick/


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