Ken Ludwig’s Olivier and Tony Award-winning 1989 farce is given a musical reworking by Peter Sham and Brad Carroll which slows the expected quick-fire comedy a jot in the first half but adds a new dimension to the otherwise somewhat predictable piece.
All the elements of a popular rip roaring night out are here: mistaken identity, amazing co-incidence, double entendres, requited love, infatuation, opulent costumes, comic chaos, dance and song. And no less than five doors to affect the farcial element of a “Noises Off meets Verdi”.
Paul Farnsworth’s sumptuous set, resplendent with gilt and chandeliers, is a worthy backdrop as Italian opera supremo the mercurial Tito Merelli (a tremendous performance both visually and vocally from EastEnders/RSC Taming of the Shrew’s Michael Matus) arrives in uptown 1930s Cleveland, Ohio. He is booked to sing his signature role of Otello in an overpriced production upon which the financial salvation of manic manager (the always good value Olivier Award winner Stars In Their Eyes/Of Mice and Men’s Matthew Kelly) relies.
Il Stupendo’s wife (convincingly played by Sally Anne Triplett – Whatsonstage Theatregoers’ Choice Best Actress In a Musical award winner for Anything Goes) is sick of his womanising, Merelli is sick having eaten too much in a bid to gaze at the cleavage of the waitress, theatre gofer Max (the superb Damian Humbley ofLittle Shop of Horrors renown) is lovesick for the manager’s daughter and Maggie (a sterling performance from relative newcomer Kelly Chinery) is desperate for a fling – preferably with Merelli.
With the three Annas (Shirley Jameson, Jane Quinn and CJ Johnson) providing much light-hearted banter, poisonous shrimps and faffing about in glittering costume; a live orchestra, tap dancing bell hops, snatches of Verdi, comic chaos and slapstick humour, all the essentials of a West End hit abound even if it is not my cup of tea.
For me, the highlight of a somewhat old-fashioned piece was the hilarious but clever showcase aria medley by man-eating diva Diana (Albert Hall headliner and West End stalwart Sophie-Louise Dann)