Culture: Theatre

Beige Recommends: Dear World

Dear World

Jerry Herman’s Dear World is poles apart from his other shows. Unlike the huge Broadway extravaganzas for which he is most famous, Hello Dolly and Mame, it lacks the kind of showbiz pizazz and exuberant dance routines that have often been needed for a big hit.

The musical closed after only 132 performances of a 1969 Broadway production, starring Angela Lansbury, and this production at The Charing Cross Theatre marks its UK premiere.

Billed as “a musical fable”, the curious story is based upon Giraudoux’s play The Madwoman of Chailllot and tells the tale of rapacious oil prospectors who are threatening to dig up Paris in search of riches. Their unlikely adversary comes in the form of The Countess Aurelia, owner of the Café Francis. The plot unravels as the Countess, and a group of eccentrics, lure the enemy to their demise.

The small Charing Cross Theatre is the perfect setting for this intimate and charming story. The score contains some of Herman’s most beautiful songs and has a refreshingly tender heart. Arranged by Sarah Travis, who has a history of stripping down complicated musical scores to channel their humanity, the music offers a timely and poignant reflection on the greed of corporations, the lifeblood of community and the loss of love.

As Countess Aurelia Betty Buckley is a tour de force. She gives a remarkably multi-layered performance of a woman who lives in a dream world, but a world based upon innocence and optimism. Buckley’s voice remains a magnificent instrument. It aches with vulnerability before soaring to the heights to capture the fierce core of a character that refuses to be destroyed by a twisted society. Her raw lament to her past lover in I Was Beautiful is one of the most subtle, magical renditions I have seen in years. Indeed, it is everything that theatre should be.

As the mysterious Sewerman, Paul Nicholas equips himself well, singing effortlessly while providing comic repartee. He is joined by Annabel Leventon and Rebecca Lock, who play two old Parisian ladies, and add much bizarre humour to the piece.

Gillian Lynne’s direction is faultless. The staging is restrained and understated and suitably in keeping with this whimsical, delicate tale. At a time when the West End is inundated with soulless hit compilation musicals it’s refreshing to see a sensitive piece that attempts to say something profound about the troubled world we live in. Dear World’s triumph is that it does so thoughtfully and simply. The results are unexpectedly moving.

Dear World runs until 30 March.

Charing Cross Theatre
The Arches, Villiers Street, London, WC2N 6NL

Words: Alex Hopkins

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