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The Theatreguide.London Review

Me and Juliet
Finborough Theatre      Autumn 2010

The B-level work of A-level artists can be more interesting and successful than the A-level work of B-level artists.

Rodgers and Hammerstein's 1953 musical is not among their best, but by any standards but their own it is a thoroughly entertaining light musical typical of the period, and this sprightly fringe production shows off all its virtues and limits.

There's nothing actually wrong with Me And Juliet, just the sense that both creators were in a minor artistic slump.

Hammerstein's book (one of his rare originals) essentially just moves the plot of Oklahoma to a theatre's backstage - chorus line girl chooses stage manager nice guy over stagehand bad boy, and bad boy gets very angry.

The structure and lyrics to the opening song, 'A Very Special Day', come out of the same perky-heroine cookie cutter as 'Cockeyed Optimist' and 'It Might As Well Be Spring'. 

Meanwhile the best song in the score, 'No Other Love', is set to a melody Rodgers wrote as background music to a TV documentary two years earlier, and some of the other tunes, notably for 'The Big Black Giant' and 'It Feels Good', sound like Carousel out-takes.

Still, 'No Other Love' is a good song,  the pastiche numbers for the musical within the musical (the one the characters are putting on when not involved in their romantic triangle) are witty, and it's all quite pleasant in its modest, somewhat generic way.

And that may be the biggest disappointment 1953 audiences felt - the show ran a year, which by R&H standards amounted to a flop - the sense that this was a generic little musical that anyone could have written.

Some of that generic quality is evident in this production, with none of the performers able to give more than type-characterisations or to put their individual stamp or personality into the roles or songs. Everyone is fine and no one is memorable.

Honours do go to director Thom Southerland for inventively fitting the musical (originally with a cast of 74) into the Finborough, and for generating a nice sense of the on- and offstage division in the characters' lives - it is fun, for example, to see them stand chatting in the 'wings' and then turn on the flashing smiles as they go 'onstage'.

Much credit also to choreographer Sally Brooks, who creates pocket versions of big production numbers for the inner musical that evocatively hint at a cast of 74 while never seeming cramped on the tabletop-sized stage.

Gerald Berkowitz

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Review of Me And Juliet - Finborough  Theatre 2010


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