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Review Round-up: Menier Finds & Loses Paradise

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The Menier Chocolate Factory, riding high from its recent 15 Tony nominations, presented its latest musical offering this week, Paradise Found, brought to the stage by dream-team Hal Prince and Susan Stroman with a book by Olivier Award-winning dramatist Richard Nelson.

Paradise Found
is a brand new operetta adapted from the 1939 novel by Joseph Roth, The Tale of the 1002nd Night, about the 19th-century Persian shah who visited Vienna to ask to his eunuch to seduce the Austro-Hungarian empress.

Set to the music of Johann Strauss and orchestrated by Jonathan Tunick, Paradise Found is led by an all-American cast that includes Mandy Patinkin, John McMartin, Judy Kaye, Kate Baldwin, Shuler Hensley and George Lee Andrews. The musical plays at the Menier Chocolate Factory until 26 June.

  • Michael Coveney in Whatsonstage.com - (one star) – “Paradise Found  is a bizarrely dreadful musical … And it’s all the more peculiar because it has been produced to such a notably high level. The entire show has been shipped in, as if from Broadway … The music is finely textured throughout, but is curiously bereft of tunes you might recognize… For a show that supposedly celebrates the restoration of sexual potency, the proceedings are inappropriately limp and joyless … Everything else in the presentation is top notch: wigs, costumes, the invisible band under Charles Prince’s musical direction, and the severely expressive lighting design by Howell Binkley. But I’m at a loss to understand why anyone thought the musical worth doing in the first place, and I doubt if it will add much lustre to the Menier legend.”
  • Michael Billington in the Guradian (two stars) – “Some of Broadway\'s best have descended on this Southwark playhouse bearing a brand-new musical … Yet, I fear, all they have brought us is a prize turkey: a pastiche Arabian Nights fable of unbelievable coarseness and vulgarity … The attempt to marry the earthy robustness of the Arabian Nights with the lilting melodies of Johann Strauss also reminds you of the worst excesses … Prince and Stroman, who\'s responsible for the choreography, are practised hands who know how to stage even this kind of tosh. The American cast also acquit themselves decently. But the show fails in its attempt to combine rogueish naughtiness with Viennese sophistication, and, in its desecration of Strauss\'s melodies, proves you can\'t pour \'alt Wien\' into new bottles.”

  • Paul Taylor in the Independent (one star) – “Poor old Mandy Patinkin. America\'s highest-pitched tenor picked a stinker for his British musical debut … The creative team on Paradise Found are showbiz royalty … But they seem to have taken leave of their collective senses … You could call it a glorified juke-box musical, if it weren\'t for the original and largely woeful lyrics by Ellen Fitzhugh …  Patinkin bleats and whinnies at the top of his vertiginous register and beyond … Between them, Prince and Stroman boast so many awards that their shelves must be severely congested. The one consolation they can take from the failure of this flagrant Broadway-tryout here in cheaper Britain is that it won\'t leave them with any storage problems in their display cabinets.”

  • Charles Spencer in the Daily Telegraph (two stars) – “Paradise Found often feels strained when it ought to be funny, mawkish when it ought to be moving, and Strauss’s waltzes and polkas, played by a small band, begin to seem repetitive … The jocose, nudge-nudge, wink-wink tone of the production, with its gaudy costumes and often dire jokes, quickly becomes wearisome … Patinkin, perspiring freely as he struggles to keep the show afloat, could find far more pathos in the role of the eunuch … The best performance comes from Kate Baldwin, who is both affecting and a succulent feast for the eye, as Mizzi … this is a rare botched shot from both the Menier and the dream-team of Prince and Stroman. Theatrical paradise it certainly ain’t.”
  • Dominic Maxwell in The Times (two stars) – “No denying the polish of this new musical comedy … But, blimey, what are they polishing? … Its first act twinkles so hard that you worry the cast’s eyes are going to fall out … Paradise Found is a misfire, a handsome mess that shouldn’t make it out of SE1 … Granted, the action can look cramped on the stage of this 150-seater. But the story is the problem … The cast look as if they are under orders to have fun …The shame is, you don’t often see the sort of dazzling professionalism you get from this 14-strong cast … the tone is wrong. Or should that be, the tones are wrong? This is lavish whimsy: quite an achievement, but who needs it?”
  • Henry Hitchings in the Evening Standard (two stars) - \"The Menier’s stock is at a high ... But with Paradise Found, its handsome run of form comes to an end. This is a dizzyingly unfashionable operetta, set in Vienna in the heyday of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Wags might dub it a Viennetta. It’s certainly a sickly confection ... The chief problem, apparent early on, is Richard Nelson’s book, which refashions a story by Joseph Roth into a lubricious farce. The opening scenes drag, unleavened by humour. Nods to The King And I, as well as a more-than-passing resemblance to Measure For Measure, only emphasise the poverty of the material and its structural mess. When the mood darkens, it’s thoroughly incongruous, a bit like splicing The White Ribbon into an episode of Glee ... There’s a lot of expensive, imported talent squeezed on to the small stage, and it is largely wasted.\"

    - Tom Williams & Theo Bosanquet

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