Review of The Wind In The Willows at The London Palladium
The London Palladium, one of the greatest variety theatres in the world, brought pantomime back there last Christmas (and will be doing another this year); now they've also brought back the summer family musical, too, and its a dazzling triumph of absolutely ravishing set and costume designs, high comedy and great melodies.
While musicals are typically booked for open-ended runs in the West End, this one pours a massive budget -- a reported £4.5m - into a no-expense spared spectacle that has to recoup across just 13 weeks.
But producer Jamie Hendry has built a show to last -- and if its a success, as I sincerely hope it will be, it could become a perennial. He's assembled a team of the terrific British musical theatre collaborators: book writer Julian Fellowes, composer George Stiles and lyricist Anthony Drewe, who previously teamed up on Cameron Mackintosh produced stage version of Mary Poppins and are also currently represented in the West End by their comprehensive revamp of the 60s musical Half a Sixpence. They're not slaves to the Broadway tradition but here have created a show that has an English eccentricity and wistfulness at its core.
A really smart creative team that includes inspired choreographer Aletta Collins, musical supervisor Simon Lee and lighting and sound designers Howard Harrison and Gareth Owen respectively, make ensure it looks, moves and sounds as good as it does.
Kenneth Grahame's 1908 novel of riverside life is an enduringly and endearingly popular story, and it old-fashioned charms are both honoured but also updated in contemporary ways, as we follow the anarchic Toad of Toad Hall and the attempts of his devoted friends to reign in his serial excesses. It's a story above all of friendship -- and adventures.
And Stiles and Drewe set it all to a buoyant score, which draws on an eclectic range of influences from English choral music to more pop sounds. This may be their most fully-realised work yet in a writing partnership that has stretched back across more than 30 years.
Director Rachel Kavanaugh's production knows how to keep it all bubbling away, with a cast of real comedy gold led by Rufus Hound, an ace physical comedian who also knows how to put across a song, as Toad. There's also delightful anthropomorphic work from Simon Lipkin as Rat, Craig Mather as Mole, Neil McDermott as Chief Weasel, Denise Welch as Mrs Otter and Gary Wilmot as Badger plus the most adorable family of hedgehogs led James Gant as Mr Hedgehog and Jenna Boyd as Mrs Hedgehog.
While the West End only managed to produce two original British musicals last year (against some 14 on Broadway), here's a show that proves that homegrown talent can produce the goods, too.
It's a highly welcome addition to the summer theatrical roster.
The Wind in the Willows tickets are available until 9 September 2017.