Note: This review dates from the show's premiere at the King's Head Theatre in April 1999. A Saint She Ain't opened at the Apollo Theatre, Shaftesbury Avenue on 22 September 1999.
Dig out the spats, the zoot suits and those Andrews Sisters 78s. The jumpin', jivin', rootin' tootin' '40s are back in Dick Vosburgh and Denis King's new musical, A Saint She Ain't. Based on Moliere'sLe Cocu Imaginaire, writer Vosburgh and composer King have created a fine pastiche of one of those mindless Tinseltown movie musicals, where boy-meets-girl, boy-loses-girl, and finally boy-wins-girl-back.
Drippy sailor Danny (Gavin Lee) believes that his intended, Anna Bagalucci (Rae Baker), has got herself hitched to the old soak Snaveley T Bogle (Barry Cryer) while he's been away at sea.This simple misunderstanding is further complicated by the fact that Bogle also believes his wife Faye (Pauline Daniels) is having a fling with Danny. And to add to the imbroglio, Anna's ambitious dad, Ray Bagalucci (Brian Greene), wants his offspring not to marry poor Danny, but the wealthy Jack Van Asterbilt.
There's an element of spot-the-film star to Saint, because most of the roles are thinly-disguised parodies of movie icons. Cryer plays Bogle as W.C. Fields, Greene's Bagalucci is Jimmy Durante (complete with the trademark malapropisms) and Ms Daniels is wonderful as a licentious Mae West character. Vincent Marzello and Michael Roberts, meanwhile, offer credible impersonations of Abbott and Costello as Danny's shipmates, Skip and Willoughby.
Relying heavily on the sounds of the era, Vosburgh and King's tunes are a foot-tapping blend of boogie woogie, bluesy ballads and close harmonies. The lyrics are nicely written too, especially the highly suggestive “The Banana for My Pie” sung by Daniels, and Greene's “I Love to Hold a Rose”.
That said, the singing occasionally disappoints, which is, I suppose, what happens when you choose actors for their comic rather than vocal skills. A notable exception is Jessica Martin who plays Willoughby's squeeze, Trudy. She gives a punchy June Allyson-style performance in her number 'I Only Dig That Jive'. Elsewhere, under Lindsay Dolan's choreography, Lee and Baker offer some fine Fred & Ginger-style hoofing on the King's Head's tiny stage.
Patrick Connelan's set isn't up to much - the lighting is particularly harsh, and the cafe-style seating gave me a crick in the neck. But these are small criticisms to offer such a big-hearted show. In all other respects, A Saint She Ain't is uplifting, high-spirited stuff, ably directed by Ned Sherrin.