This review was originally written for The Public Reviews: http://www.thepublicreviews.com
The 1950s was a damn good decade for Broadway shows. Their energy and good humour reflect what seem like more innocent times and their enduring popularity indicates that they have become a beacon of light in a more cynical modern world. The Richard Adler and Jerry Ross musical The Pajama Game was revived to acclaim in Chichester and then London recently and now it is the turn of the same team’s Tony award winning follow-up, an unlikely marriage of Baseball and Faust, to reappear. Bringing to life every sports fan’s fantasies, the show sees Joe Boyd (Gary Bland), a Baseball-addicted, overweight couch potato, do a deal with the Devil and transform into the fresh-faced, athletic Joe Hardy (Alex Lodge), joining his beloved Washington Senators team to help depose the all-conquering Yankees. But he ought to have been more careful of what he wished for, because he soon begins to doubt whether all the fame and riches that ensue can equal the worth of plain domesticity and a loving, dutiful, stay-at-home wife. Yes, of course, after toying with immorality, the book by George Abbott and Douglass Wallopp soundly endorses all the values of the middle America of 60 years ago, giving out just the messages that Broadway audiences of that era wanted to hear. The dated nature of the book may have seemed less significant had all of the Adler/Ross songs been top class. However, only two of them, the Coach’s pep talk, (You’ve Gotta Have) Heart and the seduction song, Whatever Lola Wants, have become standards. The rest are somewhat disappointing and the singers here often struggle to give the solo numbers any life. That said, Robert McWhir’s production skips lightly over most of the cracks in the show’s foundations, the 20-strong company giving a terrific ensemble display. The exuberant chorus line sings to raise the celling and dances to rattle the glasses in the bar below. Choreographer Robbie O”Reilly works miracles in cramming so much action into so little space and the accompanying three-piece band, directed by Michael Webborn, fills the room with pulsating rhythms. As the Devil, aka Mr Applegate, Jonathan D Ellis is slimy, malevolent and oh so camp. In displaying over-confidence, Ellis is certainly acting in character, but he sometimes seems too aware that he is potentially the evening’s star comedy turn and, in his showcase number, Those Were The Good Old Days, he goes a little over the top. Playing his accomplice, Lola, Poppy Tierney is more convincing as the lost girl who had sold her soul than as an irresistible temptress. Scaling down a big Broadway musical to fit into this small space above a pub in Clapham must have presented quite a challenge, made more difficult by the show being dated and not really out of the top drawer. However, McWhir and his company have taken a mighty swing at it and, for sheer entertainment value, they have ended up hitting a winning home run.
Performance date: 7 October 2014