Review: Me and Juliet

Following on from the success of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s State Fair both at the Finborough and in the West End, Me and Juliet is the second UK premiere of a Rodgers and Hammerstein musical presented by the Finborough, directed by acclaimed young director Thom Southerland.  Me and Juliet is a love story of singer Jeanie and stage manager Larry whose secret relationship arouses jealousy from contemptuous ex-boyfriend, lighting technician Bob.  As the relationship is discovered, chaos breaks out onstage and emotions run high backstage, but the show must go on.  Described as Rodgers and Hammerstein’s valentine to theatre, Me and Juliet was an indulgent venture that allowed the writing duo to put into song what they really felt about theatre.  This satirical show-within-a-show musical is a tongue in cheek lament of showbusiness, the result, a heartwarming comedy with a foot-tapping and memorable score.

Southerland’s production gives a contemporary feel to this golden age style musical, making it palatable for a modern audience yet without losing any of its warmth and charm.  His direction is often adventurous within the confined space offered by the Finborough, particularly for a sixteen-strong cast, but his confidence in this has paid off, resulting in an impressive production and use of space.  Alex Marker’s design embraces every inch of the available space and is thoroughly integral to the piece.  The set unfolds and adapts from onstage to backstage with ease, assisted by the use of actors and thoughtful direction.  No detail is lacked in this engaging design.

Laura Main as the quietly prepossessing Jeanie is innocently sweet with a beautifully light voice shown most in classic No Other Love.  Robert Hands as soft-tempered assistant stage manager Larry is affable and well matched to Main’s character.  John Addison as philanderer Bob is suitably repulsive and formidable, and Jodie Jacobs as astute principle dancer Betty, often central to the comedy, plays with great energy.  Dafydd Gwyn Howells as stage manager Mac is dominant and unruffled by the backstage chaos, and charismatic featured-lead Charlie (Stephen McGlynn) pulls in the laughs with his teeth and jazz-hands comedy.  Though the cast is pared down somewhat from the 74 actors used in the 1953 Broadway production, the company upholds great energy with wonderfully characterful performances and delightful harmonies; thanks to musical director Joseph Atkins who alongside his superb accompaniment, plays a sideline acting part.  Sally Brooks’ gallant choreography brings Broadway majesty to this small theatre and is delivered with elegance by this unfaltering cast.

Me and Juliet is a wonderful parody of musical comedy including bad-rhymes and the occasional uncomfortably high chorus parts.  But with a captivating love story at its heart, it offers the familiar allure of a work by undoubtedly America’s greatest songwriting partnership.  The vague meta-fiction and unapologetic gaiety, non-less than in Intermission Talk where theatre patrons are battling over “theatre is practically dead” and “theatre is living”, is appeasing as Rodgers and Hammerstein show so much appetite for comedy in their classics but rightfully there remain constrained.  Me and Juliet was unjustly one of their least commercially successful collaborations but this delighting production is presented with a thick sheen of polish and leaves a warm, fuzzy feeling inside.

Runs until Saturday 30th October 2010 at the Finborough Theatre.

Written on behalf of The Public Reviews www.thepublicreviews.com.

Copyright © The Public Reviews & theatreJunki 2010.

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