The cast from Goodnight Mrs Calabash
Published: 7 June, 2012
by RICHARD OSLEY
This show has had bad luck, quite undeserving given the craft and care which comes with it.
Just before the curtain was due to go up on Good night Mrs Calabash last week, the production’s Jimmy Durante disappeared.
Vanished. Struck by stage fright, it is presumed. Last spotted in Scotland.
That’s not great for a musical actually about Jimmy “Schnozzle” Durante, the comedy singer and entertaining all-rounder of the 1930s.
Early shows had to be plugged. But in this royal week of royal everything, they should be thinking about handing out some Queen’s honours up in Highgate Village.
Services to musical theatre should be served up to John and Katie Plews for running Upstairs At The Gate house – and one big one for Racky, the director daughter who brings this new musical with an accomplishment which disguises her disco youth.
Even bringing in a new Durante (Tim Frost) late in the day has not wrecked the piece. The talk backstage is that it has actually improved it.
And Frost is certainly a smart Durante, capturing the sunny style in an entertainer who would regularly wisecrack about the size of his nose in between piano rolls.
Jimmy Durante fans be warned: this isn’t one Durante classic after another.
It’s not a tribute act. Instead, his life is told through new songs, but new songs which fit cosily enough into the past to make you think they were penned 70 or 80 years ago.
This is a good thing, and they come marinated in tap dance and jazz hands.
Although Frost is centre stage and the show’s saviour, there needs to be more than a passing mention for two others.
David Muscat as scheming sidekick Lou Clayton who, despite being a bigger gentleman than Frost, out-taps the cast, and Rachel Ann Crane as Brooklyn Annie, the wise mother hen who has a stand-out set piece with Think Beautiful.
In fine musical trad ition there is a homespun message to take home on the bus: that you don’t have to have poster boy looks to be charming.
The Durante life story isn’t full of laughs and there are lessons to learn too about how we treat the ones we hold dear.
Racky Plews, a perfectionist who clocked Guys And Dolls on the same stage at Christmas, was taking notes in the back row.
There is a hope that from its false start it could actually transfer at the end of the run to a bigger stage with a bigger band.
It deserves better luck.
Nobody who sees it performed will not wish it well.
Until June 24
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