This production is a text-book example of the importance of scale. If any element of a show (its story, its score, its cast, its sets - whatever) is out of proportion to the other elements, the show won't come across well. Here everything seems in balance and, as a result, this contemporary pop-musical tragedy following a prince and pauper type of plot works very well indeed.
Storyline: A working class Liverpool woman struggles to support her children after her husband abandons her. She is pregnant again but figures the salary from her job as a housekeeper will stretch just enough. Then she learns she is to have twins. Her childless employer offers to take one of the two children to raise as her own. The two boys grow up on opposite sides of the economic divide but come to know each other. They don't know of their relationship, however, because their mother and the employer believe an old wives tale that twins separated at birth will die on the day they learn of their connection.
The first time the show was produced in London's West End, the equivalent of New York's Broadway, it was something less than a hit. It ran for six months in 1983 but closed before breaking even. It was a 1988 staging at the Albery Theater which was well received and subsequently transferred to the Phoenix that is still running some fourteen years later. On the basis of that success, a Broadway production was mounted at the Music Box Theatre which had a profitable two year run. Both the Music Box on Broadway and The Phoenix in the West End are small theaters by Broadway and West End standards. With seating in the vicinity of 1,000 and the balcony overhang fairly close to the proscenium, they both give audiences a very intimate feeling which is just right for Willy Russellís modest little musical.
Russell, who was well known for straight plays, wrote the book, the lyrics and the music for this musical, giving it a score reminiscent of the early 1960s British Invasion music of the Beatles, the Dave Clark Five or even Petula Clark who sang the lead for a while during the show's Broadway run. The entire score is fleshed out with a musical theater lushness in the arrangements and the lyrics are serviceably precise in their delivery of key plot points. The link to the pop music of early 1960's England isn't too surprising given that Russell's plays not only include the well known Shirley Valentine and Educating Rita but the less familiar John, Paul, George, Ringo . . . and Bert.
Currently holding down the part of the mother who can't afford both twins is Linda Nolan who delivers both the bright and lively musical numbers of her good days and the emotion of her struggles with poverty. The handkerchief quotient of the melodramatic climax is so strong that it comes as no surprise that she is still choking back sobs all the way through the curtain call. The simple sets, lighting and a wide range of costumes that clearly establish time, age and economic circumstance are all the work of a single designer: Marty Flood. They all contribute to a well balanced production.
Book, Music and Lyrcs by Willy Russell. Directed by Bob Tomson and Bill Kenwright. Musical Director Rod Edwards. Designed by Marty Flood. Cast: Linda Nolen, Philip Stewart, Paul Crosby, Mark Hutchinson, Luisa Lydell, Ruth Gibson, Daniel Taylor, Stephen Pallister.
The Phoenix Theatre
Book, Music and Lyrics by Willy Russell
Price Range 17 - 14 Pounds
Potomac Stages London