This heavenly musical premiered on Broadway in 1989, bringing a decade of British domination of musicals there to an end. It did so with a jazz-based score in the classic traditions of Broadway from one of its greatest-ever musical practitioners Cy Coleman, teaming up with a younger, smart razor-sharp lyricist David Zippel. They worked with the legendary Larry Gelbart – author of one of the funniest books for a musical ever in A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum – and the result was a sophisticated, stylish entertainment that expertly channelled a 1940s Hollywood thriller with a modern sophistication.
It simultaneously blends two worlds simultaneously – that of a Hollywood screenwriter Stine, observed crafting his latest work sitting at a typewriter on the upper level, that then comes to life before our eyes. The ‘current’ world is told is colour, the film world in black and white – fantastically well realised in the sleek designs of Robert Jones’ witty sets and costumes.
But the show does, at times, threaten to be too smart for its own good: it’s sometimes difficult to keep them in synch, especially with some doubling up of characters that have identities in both worlds.
But Josie Rourke’s luxury cast rise to the serious challenges of both score and storytelling to deliver easily the punchiest, most intelligent musical in town. Hadley Fraser’s writer, Stine, and his even more dashing alter ego, Stone, played by Tam Mutu, juggle demanding clients and their own complicated love lives with equal aplomb, and give powerful renditions of their big songs.
But it is the women who score even more strikingly, with performances of high glamour as well as grit and wit from Rosalie Craig, Katherine Kelly, Samantha Barks and Rebecca Trehearn. They bring their screen personas to thrilling 3D life.
Gareth Valentine’s 11-piece band set the musical seal to a blissful evening.
Verdict: Crisp, complex and stylish musical is given the Donmar five-star treatment