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Goodnight Mrs Calabash

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
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Inspired by the life and times of US singer, pianist, actor and comedian Jimmy Durante this new musical by Tony Day gets top marks for blood, sweat and tears. With little room for dialogue in between all the singing - there are 39 songs in total - and dancing, including some impressive tap routines, it's a wonder the performers don't drop dead by the end.

The title is a reference to Durante's trademark signoff at the end of his radio shows, which for many years the meaning of which he kept locked in secrecy. Durante later admitted that he was addressing his first wife Jeanne Olsen who passed away in 1943, affectionately performed here by Jenni Bowden. Sadly Tony Day's own wife Marti passed away just a week before Goodnight Mrs Calabash was due to open, and a tribute is published in the programme.

Not only is the musical a laudable tribute to Durante but director Racky Plews' use of space is quite ingenious, aided by a cast of 11 who don't put a foot wrong as they spin and leap about the stage. But while an attractive ensemble provides plenty to look at the performances frequently engage more than the plot.

The ugliness of Durante is a frequent reference but Tim Frost, whose delivery of malapropisms are spot on, is actually rather a looker. Nevertheless the charm of Brooklyn Annie (Rachel Ann Crane), Lou Clayton (David Muscat) and Ed Jackson (Matt Palmer) help to give the storyline more depth even though their parts are somewhat patchy. Brooklyn Annie's role is very pronounced in the first half but much less so in the second.

But it's certainly refreshing to have the opportunity to witness a musical in all its splendour on an intimate stage above a pub. Good effort.

- Will Stone


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