Reviewed by Tony Peters.
Despite the pedigree of the writers (Gypsy, The Wizard of Oz, How to Marry a Millionaire) and what was to be a Tony-winning performance by Patricia Routledge, this musical survived for just 31 performances after its Broadway opening in 1968.
However, if this exuberant production (its UK premiere) from director Paul Foster is anything to go by, our American cousins turned their backs on something of a gem.
James Dinsmore stars as artist Priam Farll, who returns to London after some years living abroad. But rather than revelling in a triumphant return, Farll is a man who shuns publicity and has little truck with the snobs on the periphery of the art world.
So when his long-standing manservant Henry Leek (Andy Secombe) dies, Farll takes advantage of a doctor’s confusion to assume his identity — even going so far as to hitch up with Alice Challis (Katy Secombe), a woman Leek had arranged to meet through a matrimonial agency.
Needless to say, confusion reigns and things come to a head when Farll’s compulsion to paint leads to a confrontation with avaricious dealer Clive Oxford (Michael Hobbs) and his equally greedy patron Lady Vale (Rebecca Caine).
Foster has given us a thoroughly delightful production and he’s well served by a talented company. Moments of high comedy are perfectly blended with pathos and drama, while Matt Flint’s wonderfully choreographed dance numbers lift the spirits.
James Dinsmore gives a strong central performance as the cultured Farll with a voice like warm treacle, but perhaps his demeanour could have been softened a little when he takes on the guise of Henry Leek.
And Katy Secombe is a joy as Alice, a simple woman with a heart of gold who’s desperate for love. Her duet Let’s See What Happens with Dinsmore will certainly bring on the sniffles.
Unfortunately on press night Rebecca Caine succumbed to an attack of laryngitis and although she gamely went on and spoke the text, her singing was covered (very well, it must be said) by Olivia Maffet. But then Rebecca isn’t an artist who needs to prove herself and her portrayal of Lady Vale as one half of a scheming double act with Michael Hobbs as Oxford was delicious.
It’s taken a long time for this show to make it across the pond, but it’s here at last and I’d recommend you catch it while you can.