What can you say about a show, a ten-year-old show that died - far too soon? Most shows which last weeks in the West End are forgotten. That this one managed to fill over four fifths (and all the most expensive seats) of a 953 seat auditorium on a freezing Sunday night, after being postponed twice in 18 months, means it must be special.
And to fans, it really is. The monkey was always upset that illness, snowfall and the short run meant it missed it. Two strong fringe productions – the first an “actor / musician” version at the Brockley Jack, the second a wonderful Union Theatre event, plus the show’s CD – fortunately recorded and released, meant that it at least knew the show well before this evening.
The real thrill was seeing in person most of the original cast, and witnessing the chemistry and characterisations ignite again between them.
Emma Williams plays Jenny with Italian passion and East Coast USA wit. Every line has double meaning, every laugh a tear of affection.
Michael D. Xavier’s Oliver is enchanted, wrestling to meld his entitled background with his emerging liberal views and all-encompassing love for a woman he cannot live without.
Jenny’s father Phil (Michael Matus) instilled in her that you only reap what you sow, but gives full support and a hearty voice to her every decision. Some light comedy wrong-foots her suitor too, to good effect.
For Oliver, the Barrett family patriarch is less supportive. Simon Green is grim, formal but melts in the flames of real tragedy. Wife Alison (Rebecca Caine) is far more open to her son’s match, indulging in bonding with Jenny over the family art collection as the men square off.
This lavishly mounted production under Kirk Jameson and Andrew Linnie used not just the original score, but the script too and a full ensemble to fill out the sound.
Simbi Akande as Jennie’s mother provided vocal harmony and maternal advice on cue, with a clear and beautiful voice. Jenna Boyd broke the worst news with sensitivity as Jenny’s doctor, Niko Kaim equally talented dealt with Oliver’s bruising with a little less tenderness but more amusement. Alison Driver, Charlie-Jade Jones and Nikhil Singh Rai rounded out the vocal section and made the experience the fully satisfying event it deserved to be.
A quick note too for sound and lighting designers Seeta Mistry and Alex Lewer who provided the hall with a full and clear noise, highlighted or bathed in music and illumination to enhance the moments.
Without Mark Etherington, John Gregson, Shelly Britton, Kath James, Polly Wiltshire, Dave Hornberger and Jo Nicols there would be no music, and it was fine tribute to them that the audience stayed until the end of the playout music just to enjoy every moment.
A surprise appearance from surviving composer Howard Goodall rounded off this memorable evening. He rightly paid tribute to the late Stephen Clark and Stephen Sondheim, so sadly lost that weekend. Even better, he recognised that without the determination of producers Ben Lockwood, Rupert Henderson, Andrew Linnie and Samuel Hopkins we would not have had the chance to meet Jenny and Oliver again.
Goodall ended on the hope that this would not be the last professional performance of the show. The monkey hopes so too. It’s too precious a jewel to be forgotten. Maybe one day the Charing Cross Theatre or similar sized West End venue would provide a home for a show that has it all – soaring ballads, hilarious patter-numbers but most of all true romantic heart.
What more can be said about a show, a ten-year old show that died.
5 stars, standing ovation.