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 The Theatreguide.London Review

Darling Of The Day
Union Theatre Spring 2013

The past year has seen a string of first-class revivals of 'lost' Broadway musicals that turned out to be hardly worth the trouble of finding. I have nothing but praise for this sweet and energetic production – it's just the show itself that isn't very good. 

The musical version of Arnold Bennett's novel Buried Alive lasted less than four weeks on Broadway in 1968, and it's easy enough to see why. Though the preceding few years had seen Oliver! and the Tommy Steele vehicle Half A Sixpence mine the English novel and ersatz Englishness successfully, the vein had run out and Darling Of The Day just feels too tired and derivative. 

A great painter hates the burden of success and celebrity and so takes on the identity of his valet, only to discover that the gentleman's gentleman had been corresponding with a jolly salt-of-the-earth widow. 

He meets and is thoroughly charmed by both the lady and her quiet life and, in the name of his valet, marries her and settles down happily. But an avaricious dealer and art collector set out to prove his real identity and boost the value of his paintings. 

The plot, adapted by Nunnally Johnson, is adequate for a musical, though it leans a bit too hard on satire of the pretentious upper classes and celebration of honest common folk, both of which Broadway had seen enough of since My Fair Lady. 

Worse, the songs by veterans Jule Styne and E.Y. Harburg have a tired and derivative feel to them, so you think you've heard them before even if you haven't. 

The happy-English-common-folk numbers – Enough To Make A Lady Fall In Love, A Gentleman's Gentleman, Money Money Money, Not On Your Nellie – all sound like out-takes from My Fair Lady or Oliver!, though several of them do lead into sprightly dance sequences. 

Harburg's wittiest lyrics were probably conscious salutes to W.S. Gilbert, but Let's See What Happens, the loveliest melody in the score, is just a waltz-tempo version of Rodgers and Hammerstein's Shall We Dance? and Sunset Tree a pale imitation of the Weill-Anderson September Song. 

When you're mentally footnoting every song as it appears, as I'm sure the 1968 audiences were, there's not much to make this score stand out. 

None of this questions the energy or inventiveness of Paul Foster's production or the cast's performances, which are all far more dedicated and attractive than the raw material deserves.

James Dinsmore is manly and sympathetic as the peace-seeking painter, and (unlike his 1968 counterpart Vincent Price) sings well. Katy Secombe is essence-of-jolly-English-lass as the widow, and Michael Hobbs and Rebecca Caine stylish as the villains. 

Matt Flint's choreography is energetic and colourful without overpowering or cluttering the tiny Union Theatre stage, and musical director Inga Davis-Rutter has actually coerced most of her singers to make themselves audible above the tiny band. 

It is for the production and the cast and all they bring to the show, and not for the show itself, that Darling Of The Day is worth seeing.

Gerald Berkowitz

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Review - Darling of the Day - Union Theatre 2013  

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