The Best of Times at the Vaudeville Theatre

Whether you're a fan of the Broadway musical or not, sitting through 43 show tunes in the space of an hour-and-a-half can be something of a tall order. Even when the tunes in question were written by Jerry Herman and are amongst the most popular in the musical comedy canon.

Herman has long since taken his place in the pantheon of Broadway greats, having written Hello Dolly, Mame, Mack and Mabel and La Cage aux Folles , and has had every possible gong bestowed upon him in a career spanning 40-odd years. This revue, entitled The Best of Times after a number from La Cage aux Folles, displays the composer-lyricist's versatile range. There are torchy ballads ('I Belong Here', 'If He Walked Into My Life'), anthems imbued with a kind of pick-yourself-off-the-floor-and dust-yourself-off optimism ('Tap Your Troubles Away', 'I am What I am') and of course, the big brassy title numbers from the popular Herman shows.

All this might sound as if you're in for a cracking time, yet strangely, all The Best of Times feels like is a dreary stroll through Herman's extensive oeuvre. For me, the standard by which all revues have to be judged, is Side by Side by Sondheim, a show with half the numbers, and thanks to Ned Sherrin's marvellously dry commentary, twice the amount of wit.

Funnily enough, it's also the musical where I last saw The Best of Times' lead artiste, Kathryn Evans, onstage. The strong-voiced Evans, is one of six performers who sing and sashay across the stage, carrying parasols, feather boas, and bowler hats. Bill Starr, who choreographs and directs, is mindful of the limitations of the Vaudeville's stage, and keeps the routines contained, yet that doesn't stop the cast nudging up against James Followell's grand piano occasionally.

There were a few good things about this evening: Garth Bardsley's rendition of 'I am what I am', and Lindsay Hamilton's portrayal of a pregnant woman in rabbit slippers, 'What Do I Do Now?'. Oh, and the bit where the elderly American gentleman sitting behind me bolted out of his seat and disappeared into a door at the side of the stage. Seconds later, he was standing there amongst the performers, taking his bows, none other than the legendary Mr Jerry Herman himself.

It was great to see a man of his years looking so sprightly and enthusiastic, as he soaked up the applause. I only wish his work had a better showcase than this one.

Richard Forrest