La Cava : the Musical

  • Date:
    Thursday, August 24, 2000

    The show, which is based on a 'true' story, has book by Dana Broccoli, lyrics by John Claflin and Laurence O'Keefe, with additional lyrics by Shaun McKenna, and music by Laurence O'Keefe and Stephen Keeling.

    The story is set in 8th Century Spain, and concerns the legend of the Spanish King Roderic and his ill-fated love affair with Florinda, the young daughter of his friend, General Julian Espatorias. It is troubled times in Ceuta, North Africa with fears of an uprising from King Roderic's arch enemy Tariq, the leader of the Moors. Ceuta had been under Spanish rule for 200 years and the Moors are now preparing to recapture their land. King Roderic, wants peace and tries to avoid war. However, there is to be tragic consequences when his friend, Julian Espatorias decides to take his daughter Florinda, overseas to be protected by the King.

    The King unknowingly kills Florinda's true love, Somal, in a fight. Florinda, vows to get revenge and bring down the king by seducing him and sending word to her father that the king has raped her. This sets in motion a tragic set of events, made even more tragic when Florinda begins to fall in love with the King.

    This musical has forbidden love, vengeance, religious prejudice, betrayal, passion and more. It is an epic story, and even at 2 hours 45 minutes, goes by at a soaring pace. This pace is helped by a flurry of curtains going up and down the stage creating different backdrops as the scenes changed. In fact, the design by Francis O'Connor is most impressive and certainly helps the musical flow. There is also some nice choreography by Mitch Sebastian. The show doesn't have many memorable songs, but the score is reasonably solid and complements the story.

    One problem with the show is that it is very predictable which removes any suspense. It also does not attempt anything new. With competition from so many other musicals, this musical is your 'ordinary' show sticking to familiar themes and formats. Nethertheless, it is a solid and professional production worthy of the West End.

    Julia-Alanah Brighten as 'Florinda', certainly excels. She is utterly convincing as a beautiful, carefree girl on the brink of womanhood, and she also has a terrific voice. In fact, her role is the most important, as everything revolves around her. Olivier Tobias as 'King Roderic', produces an adequate performance as the 'gentle' king who wants peace for his country and religious tolerance. However, I must say I was surprised that his character was played down somewhat. I expected the King to be big and powerful with Tobias dominating the stage, but instead he is like a pussycat!

    La Cava is worth seeing, but it is nothing to get excited about!

    (Darren Dalglish)

    What the popular press had to say about its opening at the Victoria Palace Theatre...

    The show has received mixed reviews from the popular press... BRIAN LOGAN for TIME OUT says, 'La Cava' is actually rather good." He goes on to say, "Its songs aren't bland or saccharine; they can be witty or...vicious." He finishes by saying "A rollicking good yarn which deserves to succeed." LISA MARTLAND for THE STAGE says, "There are those who probably could not wait for another victim to add to the current toll of musical turkeys, but this...might not be so easy to dismiss." She goes on to say, "Laurence O'Keefe and Stephen Keeling's music can be bland on occasion, but there are also some nice melodies.." THE INDEPENDENT says, "Dana Broccoli's scenario began life as a novel, a form which thrives on endless complications. But on stage all that plot feels like two and a half hours of exposition. Broccoli and her composers and lyricists simply cannot turn it all into a satisfying musical scenario." THE FINANCIAL TIMES says, "This strange event, based on the novel by Dana Broccoli (which in turn is based on historical events), is not dislikeable, just rather relentless. There are witty lines and comic moments, but they get swallowed up in the rising tide of passion and unremitting succession of events." THE TIMES says, "On paper it promises more dramatic excitement than, say, Cats. But paper is paper and the stage the stage. La Cava is, as it turns out, far from the worst of the period musicals that have been clogging up the West End of late." THE DAILY TELEGRAPH says, "Another day, another doomed musical. Yet of all the turkeys that have arrived on our stages recently, La Cava is the one I've enjoyed most. It's tosh, of course, but often surprisingly entertaining tosh, though the bovine stupidity of producers continues to baffle me." THE EVENING STANDARD says, "The cast do their best with a cumbersome framework. Tobias is rugged enough while the likable Julia-Alanah Brighten makes a decent stab at evolving from teenybopper to seductress to her chastened denouement." THE SUNDAY TIMES says, "Oliver Tobias brings quiet dignity to a woefully underwritten role."

    The following review is from the Victoria Palace Theatre
    Review by David Heppell (
    10th June 2000

    So it is that the Victoria Palace hosts what the press will no-doubt regard as a 'stinker'. It is, of course, not as bad as all that, but it is a below-average show.

    Set in Gothic Spain and North Africa, La Cava ("The Harlot" by translation) concerns itself with the romance between Florinda (Julie-Alanah Brighten), daughter of a Spanish General (David Bardsley), and King Roderic (Oliver Tobias), a romance which eventually leads to his downfall.

    Perhaps there are too many strings to the plot's bow, perhaps the coverage of too much ground is attempted in the time available, but it never really grabs the attention. There are even some unexpected plot twists, but it is sadly not enough to engage, or at times, even entertain. The script has the occasional humorous intervention (both in song and dialogue), but these are almost exclusively in the early part of the show, before they are needed to alleviate the relentlessly "serious" grim and romantic tones that become so tedious by the end of the performance.

    That the show is lacking in quality is noticeable from the very first song. The music is passable, but despite having searing powerful moments, it is too clumsy and lacks fluidity (either within or between the songs). North African motifs are used occasionally in the music, but seemingly as token gestures, and the Spanish involvement is limited to a rattling tambourine and an occasional waft of classical guitar.

    The lyrics are also suspect on more than one occasion, being generally too conversational, wordy and often banal. The problems arise because the songs try to convey too complex a message in driving forward the story. If they weren't so plain and repetitive this could perhaps have been overlooked.

    The only immediately memorable melody is that used in "A Woman's Hands", perhaps as the melody is repeated throughout, but more likely because it is a noticeably better song. The cast have excellent voices and the songs are tremendously well-sung, but this does not improve such bland and uninspiring material.

    Normally reprises are rare, and offer some variation on the theme, or at least some additional emphasis, but this is not the case here. There are numerous reprises and they are often exact duplications, adding little more than another opportunity to hear the song. On the whole, they were clumsy songs initially, and repeating them compounds this, grates on the ears, and makes the show drag.

    The acting from the leads is capable, but the characters are generally stereotypical and/or one-dimensional (the self-interested Catholic Archbishop zealot, the kind but persecuted Jew, the servant dedicated to his mistress&). This is perhaps a result of the somewhat chop-and-change plot, which also leads to many scenes being self-enclosed. Songs end to a dark empty stage and there is a brief silence before the next song. This is a bit jarring, and though applause is obviously supposed to fill the gap, there is no real rush by the audience to assist.

    It is the visual effect that catches the eye perhaps more than any other one element. The costumes (Paul Clark) fit well with the piece and Francis O'Connor's tremendously versatile set is duly utilised in a number of interesting ways. Even so, it is not a truly original design, taking a not insubstantial lead from the theme used in Martin Guerre (the rustic barn effect and the framework), right down to the burning scene at the end. It is used well though, and the revolving stage is used efficiently too, with drapes and bright banners unfurling from above (the drapes neatly held to create ship sails and Arabic tents).

    The choreography (Mitch Sebastian) is adequate, and there are some well-executed sections (one in particular with the Arabs, although one does wonder why it's there), but the style is a little out-of-place.

    I do hate to criticise (as the press are often so quick to do) but sadly I really would not recommend this to anyone. In the current climate it is unexceptional, tedious, average and borders on the poor. Simply put, it is not good enough.

    ( � David Heppell 2000 )

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