We think of Rodgers and Hammerstein as the creators of a string of hits -- OKLAHOMA, CAROUSEL, THE KING AND I, THE SOUND OF MUSIC. In between those shows, there are flops as well. ALLEGRO (a lovely scored tied to a meretricious book), ME AND JULIET, PIPE DREAM. FLOWER DRUM SONG was a moderate success. The wonderful recent Broadway revival deserved better press than it got. I don't know PIPE DREAM at all. The superb score from ALLEGRO has been preserved fully on a recent 2 cd album with an all star cast. One can admire the attempt at an adventurous, non-realist approach to the storytelling in ALLEGRO if the story was the least bit interesting and the characters thicker than cardboard.
The tiny Finborough Theatre has revived ME AND JULIET. Perhaps revival is the wrong word as this show has never been produced professionally in London. It ran on Broadway for a little under 400 performances on the strength of a strong advance. The reviews and word of mouth were weak. Like Cole Porter's KISS ME KATE, ME AND JULIET is a backstage musical and has a show within the show. We see the backstage goings on at a Broadway musical named, strangely enough, "Me and Juliet." That show is a symbolic, non-realistic musical a la ALLEGRO. The backstage goings on involve a murderous follow spot operator and a romance between a chorine and a wimpy assistant stage manager. As with ALLEGRO, we are given little reason to care about the characters, and the gender politics are downright embarrassing. "I'm the girl you own," the chorine sings to her boyfriend. The spotlight operator is a possessive bully and a womanizer. He's a bit like Jud in OKLAHOMA, but less interesting. The assistant stage manager gains his manhood and his courage when he falls in love with the wimpy chorus girl. There's a vamp, a bit like Ado Annie in OKLAHOMA. The comedy falls flat as a pancake.
This story didn't seem to inspire Rodgers. There are two songs from the show that are R&H standards. "No Other Love" was filched from Rodger's score for the television documentary VICTORY AT SEA. The other "hit" song is the catchy "Keep It Gay" which the cast managed to sing with straight faces (as it were). Both songs are repeated endlessly a la Andrew Lloyd Webber. The rest is forgettable stuff.
It's a pretty dull show, but the dynamic young cast threw themselves into it. I wondered how they possibly could do an elaborate musical in the tiny Finborough, but the use of space and settings was more than clever. The singing was superb. The big musical numbers looked a bit like crowd scenes (a cast of 16 on a pastage stamp size stage) but were effective. The production gave the show a fair chance.
Little revivals of American musicals are springing up on the fringe since the Menier Chocolate Factory has had its string of hits. Another tiny theater has a sellout run of BELLS ARE RINGING and the Finborough's ME AND JULIET is a sellout, following its hit run of R&H's STATE FAIR last year. It is good to see these pieces, particularly at a ticket price of fifteen pounds. So an off day for Rodgers and Hammerstein, but an enjoyable performance nonetheless. Maybe they'll try PIPE DREAM next.
ME AND JULIET, directed by Thom Southerland, choreographer by Sally Brooks, designed by Alex Marker. Finborough Theatre, October 24, 2010