Musicals On The FringeDate: 3 June 1999
Unlike in New York, where the thriving Off-Broadway scene ensures a healthy diet of small-scale musicals and revues alongside plays, musicals in London are mainly confined to the West End.
A couple of smaller fringe/studio venues regularly break this rule, however, and both of them, the King's Head in Islington and the Bridewell near Blackfriars Bridge, are continuing their trailblazing efforts this month and next.
At the King's Head, they are following a highly acclaimed run of an original new musical, A Saint She Ain't, with a rare revival of a 1947 English musical, Bless the Bride, written by Vivian Ellis and A.P Herbert. Opening on June 8 (following previews from June 3), the production is scheduled to run to July 11.
The King's Head, London's most long established pub theatre, has had a long association with the late Vivian Ellis, having brought his even earlier show, Mr Cinders (1927) back into the popular repertoire after their production in the early 80s, which subsequently transferred to the Fortune Theatre in the West End, and featured perhaps the composer's best known song, 'Spread a Little Happiness' (which became a Top Ten hit for Sting in the eighties as well).
Ellis was perhaps the Andrew Lloyd Webber of his day, a comparison born out by the fact that Bless the Bride - which ran for over 3 years and some 800 performances - established the record for the longest run of a musical in the West End until then in its original production at the Adelphi Theatre. The score includes such classics as 'This Is My Lovely Day', 'Ma Belle Marguerite' and 'I Was Never Kissed Before'.
The new production, which is being adapted by Martin Charnin (original lyricist and director of Annie), will feature a cast of 32 including the legendary British actress Judy Campbell. In 1940, she was the first person to sing the classic 'A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square' when she introduced it in a revue called New Faces of 1940 at the West End's Comedy Theatre. In fact by then the 24-year-old Campbell was already a veteran of numerous shows in London and around the country, and would go on in the next few years to be associated particularly with the work of Noel Coward, appearing in 1942 in tours of This Happy Breed, Present Laughter and Blithe Spirit; in 1943, appearing in the latter two in a season at the West End's Haymarket Theatre; and in 1943, starring as Elvira in Blithe Spirit at the West End's Duchess Theatre.
Meanwhile, the Bridewell - which previously staged the world premiere production of Stephen Sondheim's previously unproduced but first-ever professional musical, Saturday Night - is tackling the British premiere of Adam Guettel and Tina Landau's Floyd Collins. Based on the true 1925 story of a Kentucky farmer who became trapped in a cave 200 feet underground, it led to one of the first documented cases of media frenzy as the country's press gathered to follow his fate during the fortnight of frantic attempts to rescue him (which ultimately failed, even as a carnival-like crowd of 30,000 onlookers had been drawn to the site of the tragedy). Originally produced at Off-Broadway's Playwrights Horizons in February 1996, where it won the Lucille Lortel Award for Best off-Broadway Musical of the year, Floyd Collins is currently also to be seen in a new production at Chicago's Goodman Theatre, to June 5. The London production, which will be directed by Clive Paget (who co-directed the Bridewell's production of Saturday Night, with the theatre's artistic director, Carol Metcalfe), is scheduled to run at the Bridewell Theatre, in Bride Lane, near Blackfriars Bridge, from July 8-31 (with opening night set for July 13).
- Mark Shenton, Whatsonstage.com