The Theatreguide.London Review
Finborough Theatre January-February 2015
Director Thom Southerland has built his career (and won a slew of awards) by imaginatively restaging big Broadway musicals in small fringe theatres.
He turns his attention here to a 1979 Jerry Herman musical that failed on Broadway and demonstrates once again that inside the perhaps overblown original production was a sweet little pocket musical perfectly suited to a small stage.
The musical (book by Michael Stewart and Mark Bramble) is based on an earlier English adaptation of an Austrian play set in 1940 France. Jewish businessman Jacobowsky and Polish Colonel Stjerbinsky are thrown together as both try to escape the advancing Nazis.
The Colonel is a stiff military man, a nobleman, a snob and (though this is not ever said out loud) an anti-Semite, but he needs Jacobowsky's wiles and survival skills, and the two men gradually develop a mutual respect and friendship. Also involved is the Colonel's girlfriend, who Jacobowsky begins to fall for though he knows there's no hope there.
The musical, like the play, follows them across France as they have a string of serious and comic encounters and close escapes from the Germans, though some of the specifics are changed, while director Southerland has added a few tweaks to fit the show more easily into a small-scale production.
Jerry Herman punctuates the action with a string of typical Jerry Herman songs – that is to say, excellent if a bit generic Broadway pop.
He profligately tosses away the big Jerry Herman anthem in the opening number 'I'll Be Here Tomorrow' (It does get a reprise), and the love song 'Marianne' is so original and lovely that only its inescapable reliance on the repetition of the name can have kept it from becoming a standard.
But you're not likely to remember any of the others, serviceable as they are (One sequence, at a Jewish wedding, looks like an out-take from Herman's first musical, the Israel-set Milk And Honey).
It's easy to see how the show, for all its charm, could have failed on Broadway in 1979, because it's really a very small and intimate story of the two men – even Marianne is more a prop than a real character. So Thom Southerland and choreographer Cressida Carré have little difficulty and could be said to actually improve it by transferring it to the Finborough's postage-stamp-sized stage,
With the supporting cast reduced in number and played by a handful of actor-singers doubling and redoubling roles, and backing limited to a pair of keyboardists, all the musical's strengths can come out and its weaknesses be hidden.
Carré's musical staging is limited largely to a musical-chairs-type moving people about in attractively rhythmic ways and only once, in the first act finale, do you get the sense of a number wanting to be bigger than it is here.
being essentially a three-hander, the musical, like the play before it,
lives or dies on the personality of the actor playing Jacobowsky. (The
musical was a vehicle for Joel Grey and the film of the original play
starred Danny Kaye.)
While one might wish for more puckish loveability in Alastair Brookshaw here, he brings to the role a solid Everyman quality that works almost as well.
The roles of the Colonel and Marianne are underwritten – all that is asked of him is that he be stiff and of her that she be lovely – and Nic Kyle and Zoë Doano serve the show generously.
No one could mistake The Grand Tour for a major musical, but once again Thom Southerland has shown that re-imagining a big show for a small stage can create a modest but thoroughly entertaining evening.
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Review - The Grand Tour - Finborough Theatre 2015