Today's Throwback Thursday is a musical which admittingly I've never seen, but have long since enjoyed the cast recording. I was introduced to it through the songs performed by the ever talented Jenna Russell who made an appearance in the 1994 revival at Regent's Park Open Air Theatre and is preserved on the cast recoding by First Night Records.
Cameron Mackintosh's original West End production opened on July 24, 1973 at the Queen's Theatre where it ran for a modest 130 performances. Directed by Val May and choreographed by Gillian Lynne, it starred showman Jim Dale, Millicent Martin, Joan Hickson, Marti Webb, and Eleanor Bron - a strong cast of popular names at the time.
Critic Sheridan Morley described the show as one of the "most joyous musicals of regional British life since 'Half a Sixpence'", and there is certainly a similar charm to the show found within the northern accents and earnest musical numbers.
In a nutshell, the show is based on Arnold Bennett's 1911 novel of the same name and charts the rise of Denry Machin from washerwoman's son to Mayor of Bursley through initiative, guile, and luck. A sort of British version of 'How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying' if you will. Unlike the Pulitzer Prize winning American version, there's something altogether more parochial about Denry's rise to glory, and the conceit never feels witty enough, instead it balanaces a fine line between charming and twee. The show made its mark due to Producer Cameron Mackintosh's dedication to it. As one of his earliest efforts, he believed so strongly in the show that he created a revised version which featured a brand new set of lyrics by Anthony Drewe and updated score by Tony Hatch and Jackie Trent, in a tradition he would go on to repeat throughout his career.
The revival opened at the Watermill in 1993 and transferred into the Regent's Park Theatre before enjoying a worldwide tour that took in cities including Moscow and gained much critical praise.
Whilst the cast recording only goes someway in offering a glimpse of the production, there is certainly much to be enjoyed - in particular the female songs that display the strength in both melody and lyric (thanks in part to the exceptional work by Anthony Drewe). Jessica Martin provides necessary relief from the repetitive 'um-chas' with a beautiful song called "Moving On", but it is left to Jenna Russell to steal the show as girlfriend 'Nellie' with the Act Two song 'If Only'.
Denry Machin was played by Blue Peter presenter Peter Duncan who had taken on similar showman roles in 'Barnum' and 'Me and My Girl'. I remember him from playing The Scarecrow in one of the first stage musicals I ever say, 'The Wizard of Oz' at Darlington Civic Theatre way back when...
As Throwback Thursday's go - The Card is probably not one that's ripe for a revival. I could imagine a grittier version at the Union or Southwark Playhouse in years to come perhaps, but for Cast Recording collectors this is certainly one to add to your list!
Did you see The Card? Let us know your comments below!
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