More than 40 years after its Broadway opening (and closing after just 132 performances), UK audiences finally have the opportunity to see Jerry Herman’s Dear World, a show close to the composer/lyricist’s heart but one which never repeated anywhere near the success of his other big-hitters like Mame and Hello, Dolly!
Rebecca Lock (Gabrielle), Annabel Leventon (Constance) and Betty Buckley (Countess Aurelia) in Dear World at the Charing Cross Theatre, London Photo: Tristram Kenton
Herman and librettists Jerome Lawrence and Robert E Lee’s whimsical fable - based in post-Occupation Paris - focuses on a group of fat-cat businessmen who believe there is oil beneath the Parisian café belonging to Countess Aurelia (also known as The Madwoman of Chaillot - the name of the novel by Jean Giraudoux which provides the show’s plot). They are determined to get their own way, but she and her friends believe that hope, love and decency will win out over corporate greed.
Despite the efforts of David Thompson (who has adapted the book), legendary director/choreographer Gillian Lynne and a talented ensemble, Dear World remains a flawed piece. Its dependence on whimsy can be tiresome, resulting in a lack of engagement with characters that prove to be irritatingly one-dimensional.
However, there is also much to recommend an often charming production, not least Betty Buckley’s touching portrayal of Aurelia - whether she is rousing her troops to fight back in One Person - hints of Herman’s Before the Parade Passes By - or dreaming of the loss that passed her by during the beautifully staged And I Was Beautiful (Matt Kinley’s set design for Aurelia’s basement flat perfectly reflects her personality).
In addition, when Buckley teams up with the equally dotty countesses, Constance (Annabel Leventon) and Gabrielle (Rebecca Lock), along with the latter’s imaginary dog Dickie, the evening receives a much welcome injection of humour. Paul Nicholas’ Sewerman revels in the quirkiness of his numbers, while Stuart Matthew Price and Katy Treharne deserve a mention for bringing a sweet subtlety to the romance between Julian and Nina.
Apparently Herman always saw Dear World as a chamber piece and was frustrated when it was originally staged on such a grand scale. One suspects that this interpretation will meet with his approval.