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 The Theatreguide.London Review

Haymarket Theatre Summer 2008

This new musical is earnest, tuneful, dramatic and lifeless.

It has a better-than-average book, adequate music, and worse-than-average lyrics. Most damagingly, for a show about overpowering love, it is bland, with no passion or reality.

The creative forces behind this musical are essentially the Les Miserables team - book by Alain Boublil and Claude-Michel Schonberg, French lyrics by Boublil Englished by Herbert Kretzmer.

The significant additions are music by Michel Legrand, a big plus, and direction and book contributions by Jonathan Kent, a big minus.

As they openly acknowledge, this is essentially the Camille story without the camellias and the tuberculosis, updated to 1940s Paris - the French mistress of a German general falls for a younger musician.

The general takes his revenge, and Liberation only completes the tragedy as the populace turns on her as a collaborator.

The plot is given a little more depth by making the boy's sister and friends members of the Resistance, so that the love affair is made to seem trivial and self-indulgent when not actively dangerous to the others.

And all this could work if raised to the semi-operatic levels of Les Miz. But instead director Kent has flattened everything out, more successfully creating a sense of the spiritual deadness of collaborationist Paris than of the passion of Marguerite and Armand or even the dedication of the Resistance.

And so it just sits there, never involving or stirring you.

The songs are the best part of the show. Though Kretzmer's lyrics are uniformly pedestrian and unevocative, Michel Legrand has written some lovely melodies.

Marguerite's first solo 'China Doll' is a sweet little minor-key song, the first love duet 'I Am Here' has a strong melody, and her big climactic number 'How Did I Get Where I Am' is appropriately dramatic.

But even the best songs have a vaguely second-hand quality to them that climax sounds like an Edith Piaf song, and you can't help thinking how much stronger it would have been if Piaf had sung it.

'The Face I See' has a Jacques Brel sound and the German's one big number feels very much like Javert's song in Les Miz.

The one song most likely to have any life outside this show, a generic but evocative paean to Paris sung by Gay Soper as a minor character, isn't even listed in the programme.

On the other hand, the first act climax, a quartet for the lovers and a Resistance couple, is the victim of muddied singing and/or sound engineering and is reduced to unintelligible gabble, hurting both the ironies and the drama.

As Marguerite, Ruthie Henshall works hard to capture the sense of a woman in the throes of passion and does get so far as letting us see that the character is feeling things she's never felt before.

The role of the German is written to be wooden, which is how Alexander Hanson plays it. The role of Armand is not written to be wooden, but that's how Julian Ovenden plays it.

When everyone in a show is poor, and poor in the same ways, the fault is the director's. I can only guess that Jonathan Kent was attempting to give this darker-than-usual musical some dramatic depth, but what he did was suck most of the life out of it.

Oh, and programmes cost 6.

Gerald Berkowitz

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Review of  Marguarite - Haymarket Theatre 2008