Musical theatre in post-war Britain was in a state of flux. There were giants at work such as Noel Coward, Vivian Ellis and Ivor Novello, whose music had dominated the past 20 years in the West End. But there was also a new style coming over from Broadway from the likes of Rodgers and Hammerstein marrying music, dance and story into something altogether different.
A scene from Gay's The Word at Jermyn Street Theatre, London Photo: Tristram Kenton
These changes in style and public taste are gaily catalogued in what became Novello’s final musical comedy telling the story of Gay Daventry, who opens a drama school after the failure of her latest operetta threatens bankruptcy. While the plot is woefully thin by todays standards, Novello’s music resonates through the decades and Alan Melville’s gleefully witty lyrics celebrate the best of all worlds.
Musical supervisor Ross Leadbeater ushers the company towards producing a delightfully nostalgic timbre to the chorus numbers and if Stewart Nicholls’ direction misses a few tricks, it hardly matters when faced with a plot that rapidly descends into pantomime territory.
Helena Blackman as ingenue Linda Severn and Josh Little as undercover-aristo Peter Lynton give the story its romantic undercurrent with Blackman vocally on form with the exquisite Finder, Please Return. They are juxtaposed beautifully by Gaye Brown, Eileen Page, Myra Sands and Elizabeth Seal, as a quartet of grizzled veteran actors who form the erstwhile faculty at the Daventry School of Acting.
Undoubedtly the success of this revival rests very much on the shoulders of its star Sophie-Louise Dann as the eponymous Gay Daventry. Blessed with an abundance of vitality, Dann utterly inhabits the role, breathing new life into this creaky old star vehicle and capturing the essence of the post-war musical comedy and the characters that devoted their lives to bringing laughter and music to the nation.