BWW Reviews: LOST MUSICALS 2013 - HOLLY GOLIGHTLY, Lilian Baylis Studio, September 8 2013
Holly is a girl with lots of friends, lots of names and lots of mystery. She knows what she wants (shiny baubles from New York's department stores mainly) and she knows how to get it (men - an endless stream of them attracted by her charm... and her charms). And she knows that the more those men know about her, the less likely she is to get what she wants, so she seldom leaves a trail. But, as it always will, her past catches up with her and then her present unravels too. Always on the run metaphorically, she goes on the run literally, but, like the cat called "Cat", she comes back.
After Words and Music (reviewed here) Ian Marshall Fisher continues his season of Lost Musicals with one that really was lost. Despite plenty of talent amongst the writers (Abe Burrows and Bob Merrill) and star quality in the cast (Mary Tyler-Moore and Richard Chamberlain), the show closed in preview and was actually lost. (Though the film "Breakfast at Tiffany's" has made Holly an icon for the last fifty years). But the show is now found, and has a Sunday afternoon home at Sadler's Wells - and maybe even its own cat.
It's not quite a full staging of the musical - as always in this series, actors sing from scripts, wear evening dress and make do without props. (Some may feel shortchanged by that - I don't. Acting, singing and drama are plenty enough for me). Stripped back like this, the musical's strengths shine through - but it's also clear why the brutally judgemental out of town preview houses gave it the thumbs down.
Holly Dale Spencer's Holly (sounds like a Christmas carol) is flirtatious, gamine and game, with Ms Dale Spencer singing some great songs wonderfully well, unamplified to a piano accompaniment. As her entranced would-be lover, Jefferson, Joseph Wilkins does full justice to the songs if he's slightly hemmed in by a script that requires him to look permanently puzzled. There are some wonderful turns in support - the first half has some splendid comic scenes - with Jonathan Dryden Taylor's jailbird gangster Sally Tomato just shading it from Gareth Davies' washed-up Rusty Trawler, as the pick of an excellent supporting cast boasting impeccable musical credentials and tremendous commitment to the ethos of this series.
If that's the show's strengths, its weaknesses are in its predictable, and literally disappointing, Act Two. Holly's flitting from one man to another - stupid though they are - begins to take on a cruelty that, though we understand why she behaves as she does from her backstory, turns us against our erstwhile heroine. Likewise, Jeff's hangdog familiarity (and lack of character development) wears a little and his initial shy reticence in the face of Holly's force of nature, begins to look more like the work of an incorrigible milquetoast. The principals outstay their welcome and the fun we had with Sally the Hood and pissed up Rusty is forgotten, as they're long gone off stage.
But the Lost Musicals series does not intend to fix these works, merely find them and bring them back to life, albeit not quite full life. The shows though, warts and all (and this one is a perfect exemplar) are more than the sum of their parts. They shine a light on how very difficult musical theatre is to pull off - and, most important of all, they do what they were always intended to do. They entertain.
Holly Golightly continues on Sundays at the Lilian Baylis Studio until end September.