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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  London Theatre Reviews

at the Haymarket


  Alexander Hanson and Ruthie Henshall/PH: Tristram Kenton

It's a truth, universally acknowledged, that for a musical ro succeed, you need to have a leading man or woman (preferably both) for whom you can root. The only exception I can recall is Sweeney Todd - and even that show was never the popular success of, say, My Fair Lady, Guys and Dolls, West Side Story or the Rodgers and Hammerstein canon.

One of the numerous troubles with Marguerite, the new Boublil/Schonberg musical, with lyrics by Herbert Kretzmer and music by Michel Legrand , is that its titular heroine (Ruthie Henshall) is a loose-living opportunist, who, during France's occupation by the Nazis, has an affair with a Nazi general called Otto (Alexander Hanson), not because she loves him but because of the nylon stockings and other gifts his status provides.

In the original story by Alexandre Dumas of which this is just one more variation, Marguerite was a courtesan who sacrifices her genuine love for a well-connected young man when her lover's father persuade her to end the affair or risk ruining his son's life and reputation.

This time round she's a middle-aged singer who, despite her involvement with Otto, falls for Armand (Julian OverdenJ) a handsome young pianist whose sister Annette (Annalene Beechey) works for the resistance.

Needless to say, the ordure hits the fan. Armand becomes a hunted man, his sister is tortured by the gestapo, he shoots and kills Otto at close range and goes into hiding, As soon as the war is over, Marguerite is physically abused and humiliated as a collaborator by the same Parisian friends who benefitted from her affair with Otto.

Marguerite dies, on cue, from some unspecified condition as the curtain falls. Doom and gloom prevail without a single laugh to leaven the bleakness of it all. And there wasn't a moist eye in the house.

Blame this on an ill-conceived book by Messrs Boublil, Schonberg and Jonathan Kent, who also directed. The authors totally fail to make you care for any of the two- dimensional characters, the sub-plot is marginally more interesting than the central romance, and a sense of deja vu seeps miasma-like through the show's two short acts.

Michel Legrand has written some potentially attractive tunes but what we have is a collection of songs (mainly ballads) rather than a fully integrated score. His melodies, as pretty as they are, never rise to the kind of sweeping climax Andrew Lloyd Webber is so good at and, consequently, fail to invite applause. A big mistake, this.

Herbert Kretzmer's elegant, thoroughly professional, well-turned lyrics do their best to advance what little plot there is, but I wish I'd heard more of them in the duets and trios.

Kent's direction is workmanlike, though his decision to begin the curtain-calls without a single note of music until Ruthie Henshall appears for the final call is not only insulting to the rest of the cast, but just bad theatre. With so downbeat an ending, surely you'd want to raise the audience's sagging spirits with some upbeat music? As Marguerite, Henshall gives her all. She sings well and is clearly committed to the role. But it's a cold performance that never once engages your sympathy. And while there's not much to like or admire about her character, one should at least feel some compassion for her.

Julian Ovenden sings well and looks good - but the role allows him to do little more than mope, which he does effectively enough.

The best performance is Alexander Hanson's Otto. The part is pure cliche, but at least he makes it work.

The undisputed success of this work-in-progress is Paul Brown's opulent, visually striking set, whose stylish, shimmering grandeur contrasts d


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