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 The Theatreguide.London Review

Gay's The Word
Jermyn Street Theatre  February-March 2013

Ivor Novello was the most successful British writer of stage musicals until Andrew Lloyd Webber, and yet – largely because his Chocolate Soldier operetta style went out of fashion – his shows are never ever revived. That makes it a special delight to encounter this sprightly small-scale production of his last musical. 

Gay's The Word (1951) may not be high art, but it's a lot of fun, and director Stewart Nicholls and his cast make the most of it. 

Yes, of course the title is a camp joke, but it literally applies to the central character, Gay Daventry, a fading musical star who opens a theatre school for youngsters with more money than talent, encourages a young couple in love, encounters smugglers, fends off the bailiffs and makes a triumphant comeback. 

Novello (book and music) and Alan Melville (lyrics) take none of this very seriously, and at times the show has its tongue so deep in its cheek it's a wonder anyone can sing. The opening numbers, Ruritania and Everything Reminds Me Of You, are deliberate self-parody, bemoaning the fact that Ivor Novello operettas are no longer in style and bidding farewell to their excesses. 

The rest of the show has the breezy flavour of more modern musicals, with a mix of brassy production numbers (Right On The Night, Vitality), light ballads (If Only He'd Looked My Way) and comic songs (Teaching).

It is notable, though, that when reaching beyond his usual musical vocabulary Novello sometimes seems to be imitating others. An Englishman In Love is probably a conscious salute to his friend Noel Coward, and Gaiety Glad a tribute to Music Hall. But Vitality owes a bit too much to Cole Porter, and A Matter Of Minutes sounds like Rodgers and Hammerstein. 

Still, it is not the individual songs but the unflagging energy and high spirits of the whole that carry the show. In the mode of the time it is a star vehicle (originally for Cecily Courtneidge) and lives or dies with the star power its central performer brings to it. 

And Sophie-Louise Dann, seemingly offstage only long enough for the occasional costume change, is the never-flagging driving engine of this production. Unafraid to overplay, to flirt outrageously with the audience and to belt out the big numbers that want to be belted, Dann carries us skilfully over the musical's thinner moments and makes the most of its strengths. 

Helena Blackman and Josh Little make an attractive romantic couple, Kirsten Cooke is droll as a no-nonsense secretary, and the quartet of Elizabeth Seal, Eileen Page, Gaye Brown and Myra Sands hilariously stop the show as the drama school teachers sing about how very much they hate their students.

Gerald Berkowitz

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Review -  Gay's The Word - Jermyn Street Theatre 2013

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