The Grand Tour**** (Finborough Theatre)

Posted: January 6, 2015 in Theatre

the-grand-tour-mainSometimes it seems as if as many forgotten musicals lie buried beneath Broadway as Roman coins in Buckinghamshire fields and no team has become more accomplished at mining the treasure than producer Danielle Tarento and director Thom Southerland. This show bears the name of no less than Jerry Herman (Hello Dolly, Mame, La Cage…, Mack & Mabel etc) and it is getting its European premiere over 35 years after it first opened in New York. Based on a play by Franz Werfel, it tells of Jacobowsky, a Polish Jew who, having fled from persecution in Warsaw, Berlin and Vienna, now finds himself in Paris at the beginning of the German occupation of France. Resourceful and indomitable, he joins with an arrogant, anti-semitic officer in the defeated Polish army and his fiancee in an attempt to flee to England and the “grand tour” of war torn Northern France begins. This is not the first musical to feature an escape from the Nazis, but in this one the tone is weighty throughout and the French countryside is alive with the sound of jackboots and gunfire. The book by Michael Stewart and Mark Bramble gives Jacobowsky a number of stirring passages, but, otherwise, it never tries too hard to steer clear of the predictable. The same can be said of Herman’s score and lyrics, particularly the key pre-interval uplifting number One Extraordinary Thing, which could easily have slotted into any other of his shows; however, he still comes up with pleasing melodies, performed here with the accompaniment of a keyboard player on each side of the stage; most notably, the haunting Marianne will linger long in the memory. The producer/director team’s previous successes have been at the comparatively spacious Southwark Playhouse; here, the company of ten literally fills the stage, with Phil Lindley’s rather clever set of moveable panels adapting to suggest the show’s many different locations. Southerland’s task is the equivalent of painting a panoramic landscape on a postage stamp, yet so successful is he in narrowing the focus to the human drama that it feels as if any attempt to open up the show for a larger stage would have the effect of diminishing it. Much credit for this must go to an extraordinarily moving performance by Alastair Brookshaw as Jacobowsky, hardened by his forced peripatetic lifestyle, but full of good humour and optimism. Nic Kyle and Zoe Doano also shine as the fellow travellers, transcending the somewhat stereotypical nature of their characters. The Grand Tour ran for only 61 performances on Broadway, but, as a fringe production, maybe it can do the rounds for quite a bit longer.

Performance date: 4 January 2015

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