This forgotten musical by the composer of Gypsy and Funny Girl, Jule Styne, and the lyricist of Finian's Rainbow, E Y "Yip" Harburg, won a Tony on Broadway for Patricia Routledge in 1968, having garnered very mixed reviews and a closing notice after just 31 performances.
It's an Edwardian anomaly of a show, set in the London world of art dealers and pub crawlers and based on a play written exactly a century ago by Arnold Bennett, initially scripted by Keith Waterhouse and Willis Hall, then by Nunnally Johnson, and first starring horror film hero Vincent Price as a withdrawn painter posing as his own late manservant in order to reinvent himself as an artist.
Routledge's role of Alice Challis, a Putney widow who marries the disguised artist, is here taken by bouncy, chirpy Katy Secombe, while Price's suave brush-man, Priam Farll, is very well sung by James Dinmore. Rebecca Caine chips in vividly in with an art gallery patron and Michael Hobbs with a smarmy, double-dealing dealer.
Despite its overall jauntiness, however, there's not a single song that has entered the canon of these great writers, nor does anything leap out in Paul Foster's production, though "Let's See What Happens" is a charming waltz duet for Alice and Farll, and there's a clever second act sextet, "What Makes a Marriage Merry?" in the Putney pub.
Farll wants to act naturally and make his way as an artist without market pressures, so he tries to become his own "man" - until Oxford rumbles him and Alice wants to know what's going on.
There's a climactic court case and a company chorus of "Not on Your Nellie" that makes you yearn for a bit of authentic Lionel Bart; although Styne was born in London, his attempt at reanimating his musical roots was no more successful here than it was some years later in Bar Mitzvah Boy, his mis-fired collaboration with Jack Rosenthal and Don Black.
Still, there's an easy charm and old-fashioned elegance about the show that is caught very well in the performance, and in the musical direction of Inga Davis-Rutter and her three musicians to the side, and choreographer Matt Flint does a fine job in galvanising the tiny stage with ensemble movement.
But this is much less an important rediscovery at the ever adventurous Union than it is a fascinating curiosity. And it's good to see the Secombe dynasty in action again, Katy's brother, Andy, returning to the stage as the rapidly weakening manservant (not called Leek for nothing) and a fusty old judge at the end.