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Throwback Thursday - The Fields of Ambrosia

Dom O'Hanlon
Dom O'Hanlon

Following on from my previous blog, wherein I confessed my obsession with collecting cast recordings, I thought it would be fun to introduce a new feature to the blog - that of Throwback Thursday (or #TBT), looking at a show that as somewhat been forgotten. With the current market in the West End opening and closing shows at quite a rate, the high turnaround does often mean that some gems fall through the cracks.

As already admitted - I'm a fan of the 'flop' musical, and this past year has certainly not disappointed. From Andrew Lloyd Webber's 'Stephen Ward' to Tim Rice's 'From Here To Eternity', to the latest victims 'Made in Dagenham' and 'Women on the Verge...' - the tools it takes to find a hit show and make it stick are proving to be extremely rare, even to the most seasoned of theatre producers.

Today's 'Throwback Thursday' is a short lived musical called The Fields of Ambrosia which ran at the Aldwych Theatre in London's West End from 22 January 1996 to 11 February 1996, with an official opening on 31 January 1996. Closing in record time (just over a week, officially), the musical featured book and lyrics by Joel Higgins, music by Michael Silvestri and was based on a screenplay by Garrie Bateson.

Reading the short synopsis, it may be clear why the show struggled to find an audience. Set in the deep south in 1918, the musical followed the love story of a travelling executioner and his first victim, an Austrian woman with whom he is set to kill, but ends up falling head over heels in love with her.

A riff on the travelling-salesman-meets-small-town-America plot which has provided the basis for a number of musicals ('The Music Man', '110 in the Shade', 'Leap of Faith'), the main problem with the show was it's uneven tone. Whereas Professor Harold Hill dupes the town into believing he can start a boys band, and Starbuck convinces Lizzie and her family he can make it rain, Jonas Candide brings the death penalty. Not your average cheerful musical.

The mix of black comedy, violence and sex made for a more than uneven tone which baffled audience members and most critics, although Paul Taylor of The Independent described it as "a reprehensibly enjoyable new musical", adding that it was "often very funny in its own right, the show has a number of moments where it seems to be tone deaf to its own ridiculousness".

The cast was led by writer Joel Higgins in the role of Jonas, alongside Christine Andreas as Gretchen Herzallerliebst, Michael Fenton Stevens as Doc, Mark Heenehan as Malcolm Piquant, Marc Joseph as Jimmy Crawford and Roger Leach as Warden Brodsky.

Whilst the score was fairly successful, the stand out number comes from the character of Jimmy Crawford with the ballad "Alone", which he sings after being assaulted in prison. Have a listen to the title song from the show and see what you think:

As musicals go - this was always going to be a tough sell. There wasn't a specific audience in mind for the show - bus groups, school groups, tourists and the blue rinse brigade would likely choose one of the slightly happier shows on the block, which at the time included productions of 'Crazy For You', 'Dames at Sea', 'Elvis the Musical' 'Grease' and 'Fame'. The show left many audiences truly baffled by its humour and has gone down as one of the biggest flops in West End history.

Preserved thankfully by First Night Records, the London Cast Recording is quite a gem and definitely worth a full listen.

Did you see The Fields of Ambrosia? Let us know your comments below!

Thanks to our extensive archive, you can search for West End shows, cast members and reviews dating back from 1995 to the present day - have a look for yourself and see what other gems you can find!

Dom O'Hanlon
Editor at Londontheatre.co.uk & NewYorktheatreguide.com

Originally published on