This sentimental, irresistible sung-through musical is a joyous anthology of gospel, blues, jitterbug, swing and ballad, and another triumph for the theatre’s ongoing collaboration with John Fulljames’s Opera Group, this time co-producing with the Watford Palace.
Galt MacDermot may be a one-hit wonder for Hair, but this skilful, simple 1984 score – each number in turn leaving you wanting more – is a thorough delight, suggesting an American musical version of The Railway Children crossed with Thornton Wilder’s Our Town, although William Dumaresq’s libretto is actually based on a short novel of William Saroyan.
In the movie, Mickey Rooney played Homer Macauley, the high school student turned telegraph boy around whom the everyday events revolve, and Jos Slovick does wonderfully well here at conveying a more low key mixture of wonder and trepidation.
His elder brother Marcus (Tom Robertson) is in the army, while his younger, Ulysses (Jordi Fray), is worrying at mother’s (Helen Hobson) apron strings and greeting the romantic figure of a trumpet-playing trainman (Chris Storr).
There’s a terrific eight-piece band led by Phil Bateman, a knock-out turn from Brenda Edwards and a great design by Jon Bausor. A stage full of coffins draped in the American flag has an eerie resonance, too.