This is not a musical you would normally expect from Andrew Lloyd Webber, so any fans of his big blockbusters are in for a shock.What we have here is a very delightful and pleasing kind of 'farce' musical, with music and lyrics not great, but nice!
The silliness of it all can take a little getting used to. I must admit to being a little embarrassed within the first 10 minutes or so, thinking, why am I watching this? However as the show goes on you soon warm to the characters and the music. It is so nice to see something very different from the norm you usually get on the West End theatres.
The acting is just superb from Steven Pacey who plays 'Bertram Wooster' and Malcolm Sinclair who plays 'Jeeves'. Their timing is exceptional and they go together so well. The props are very inventive and comical, making this evening as a whole a very nice and pleasant evening indeed, once you have gotten over just how loony it all really is!
This musical, by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Alan Ayckbourn, started it's life as "Jeeves" back in 1975. If this is the new improved version, I can only be grateful that I never had to sit though the original! Based on the original P. G. Wodehouse novels, this is the tale of Bertie Wooster, a dim-witted aristocrat (played by Steven Pacey) doing a concert in the local village hall with the help of his Butler, Jeeves (played by Malcolm Sinclair. His banjo goes missing and aided by his equally aristocratic and dim-witted friends, attempts to re- enact a recent weekend houseparty held at Totleigh Towers by magistrate Sir Watkyn Bassett.
This is not like any other Andrew Lloyd Webber Musical. Do not go expecting sweeping melodies, sensational effects, lasers hydraulic sets, full orchestra complete with orchestrations, or indeed a worthwhile plot. The theatre is decked out as a village hall, there is no set to speak of , and the music is bland and uninteresting, in fact in many cases fairly irritating. This is a farce, but it is not funny.
The cast have my sympathy as they have no decent material to work with. The piece has one joke, and that is how rib-tickling hilarious it is if everyone walks around with plummy accents and acts like a buffoon. In reality, this wears thin after the first 30 seconds. Nobody in the cast is naturally funny, they do their best, and work as hard as they can, but even their hard work and energy cannot make this piece entertaining.
This is a very second rate production, it is certainly not what I expect to see in the West End.
(Jason L Belne)
I really wasn't too sure what to expect but was prepared to dislike this musical. All I knew about this By Jeeves previous incarnation (under the title Jeeves) was what I had read in Michael Walsh's book on Andrew Lloyd Webber. The concept of some sort of collaboration between Lloyd-Webber and Alan Ayckbourne is probably what made me nervous. Ayckbourne writes almost-farce, complex, middle-class plays with lots of text to be inwardly digested. Lloyd Webber writes rich, varied and deep scores. Or at least he used to. I was surprised to learn that Jeeves was originally Tim Rice's idea, but was distracted by Evita and felt too restricted writing within PG Wodehouse's setting.
It was quite refreshing to hear Lloyd Webber in this less-demanding context. Each peice stood reasonably well on its own. Love's Maze had something Sondheim-esque about it and a suitably comic stage direction. The performances were generally excellent both in terms of acting (which must have counted for a good 70% of the show) and singing. I thought I might not like Steven Pacey's Bertie Wooster, but he grew on me; with a fine, characterful voice. Pacey sang the delightful Travel Hopefully apparenty with some easy.
Malcolm Sinclair played Jeeves quite well and his audience interactions were well-timed. The three female parts were oddly less prominent in Aycknourne's book as they were in the songs. Lucy Tregear played an archetypal upper-class toff character of Honoria perfectly, though Diana Morrison's lisp-impeded young dreamer was disappointing, though rarely tested.
A couple of big numbers brought the entire cast on stage with great effect and complex choreographic movement which sits well in Ayckbourne's staging. The "play within a play" device allowed for some comic hamming up of props and staging which all fitted well. Altogether a well-paced and very different, unexpected mix of straight theatre and songs puts By Jeeves almost in the class of cabaret.
This comedy makes both Ayckbourne and Lloyd Webber more accessible. I doubt that something so perculiar would work in a long run, probably why such a short run (by Lloyd Webber standards) is planned. See it now while you have the chance, to see both a music laden Ayckbourne and an unconstrained Lloyd Webber cooly delivered by a splendid cast.
In spite of negative reviews I liked this show very much! It was jolly good fun! Off course, it is a bit daft. But the humour is much more civilised as the humour in - for example - "Salad Days" In fact, everything seems to breath a kind of high class, very British, aristocratic style. Even in the hilarious scene when Bertie Wooster does an amazing stunt with a ladder!
Mr. Lloyd Webber's tunes were refreshing. He obviously was a lot younger when he wrote this score. When I hear some of his recent work, I can't help thinking his talent has faded. He is repeating himself constantly, as in his early work (musicals like "Jesus Christ" or "Evita") Mr. Lloyd Webber was much more original.
The two main characters in the musical are Bertie Wooster, a rather silly, aristocratic bachelor and his faithful butler Jeeves. It is really a play-within-a-play. Bertie sets off to do a banjo concerto in the village's theatre, but it appears his banjo has been stolen. So Jeeves suggests Bertie to tell some anecdotes to entertain his audience. With the help of Jeeves, who comes up with a few inventive costumes, sceneries and props, it turns out to be a terrific evening. The cast even shows up dressed in the costumes of "The Wizard of Oz" during the grand finale! After that there's more to come: a compilation of the lilting songs and... off course Bertie plays the banjo at last! A great show full of uncomplicated fun!
Just came back from London - last of six shows I saw there was "By Jeeves." Up to this evening, the only ALW I could stand was "Sunset", but "By Jeeves" was very enjoyable too. And it should be *the" ALW-show for amateur companies, because it requires hardly any scenery and a small cast (7 men, four girls, one of the girls a stage-hand with a non-speaking part).
And the names of ALW and P. G. Wodehouse should draw audiences at least in the English speaking parts of the world. While every somnambulist with a butler-like demeanour could play Jeeves (no singing skills required), the role of Bertie Wooster is highly demanding. Except for some minutes at the beginning, he is on stage for the rest of the evening, being involved in nine songs.
About the songs:The title song is easy to remember, while "Banjo Boy" is really bouncy (get real, it cant be by ALW, can it?). "That Was Nearly Us" is a nice ballad, while "The Hallo Song" is the vocal equivalent to the mistaken-identity plots of a PGW-story. All in all - more fun than I expected it to be.
We saw the Saturday afternoon matinee performance of By Jeeves (Aug. 10, 1996). After you get over the initial appearance of both the theater and stage it is easier to adjust to what is going on. By this I mean that this is one of the smallest theaters I have been to with the possible exception of The Vaudeville. But it is very comfortable and I do not think By Jeeves would work as well at say.... The London Palladium. Also, watching the entire show take place on a very bare stage takes some imagination ala Our Town. Sometimes I was not sure if it was just a dirty ramshackle stage or if they went to great lengths to make it look that way. For example, the water-mark across the 2nd traveler. Was that part of this old theater or did they spend lots of money to make it look that way? If people come to this show with A.L.W.'s Cats and Phantom in mind they are going to be disappointed if they are there for costumes, sets and hi-tech theater. But this show works staged this way.
The cast was a strong one and was certainly able to deliver the show and entertain me. There was not a weak person in the cast. Also, they could sing! (Are you listening Judi Dench?) Steven Pacey as Bertie Wooser was outstanding and Malcolm Sinclair WAS Jeeves. Excellent performances also by Simon Day as Gussie Fink-Nottle and Nicolas Colicos as Cyrus Budge III. I could go on but as I said there was not a weak member of the cast.
I don't know anyting about P.G. Wodehouse but will certainly follow up with some reading so I can't say how faithful this production was to his characters and plot. However, I can say that it was entertaining and was a delightful afternoon of song and frolic. There isn't much more to say. It was very light entertainment - not a Le Mis or Phantom. But it was very much better in my opinion than A.L.W.'s "Aspects of Love" which was more of a musical play than a musical. (And a very confusing one at that)
So I would recommend "By Jeeves" as an excellent production, very light and entertaining.
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