I'm usually good at avoiding the summer's big musical disaster. Gone With the Wind, The Musical? Auschwitz, The Musical? Ernest Hemingway's suicide, The Musical? Avoided them all. I guess it's caught up with me as this summer I've sat through two of them (so far - fingers crossed it stays that way,) first with The Fantasticks and now something even worse: Here to mess up the Menier Chocolate Factory's good track record in spectacular fashion is Paradise Found. This review I'm writing now is the only reason I even stayed for the second act, as I feel if I'm going to slag something off I should at least know what I'm talking about. But it's the most tempted I've been for a long time to leave at the interval (several other people did.) And it has such good pedigree on the production side as well - a Broadway cast, and legendary directors Hal Prince and Susan Stroman. But even they can't polish a turd, and this is one hell of a floater.
I wanted to see this solely because of Mandy Patinkin, but after this and last year's disaster with Wallace Shawn I really should stop seeing things just because they star people from The Princess Bride. If next year there's a show starring the reanimated corpse of Andre the Giant, for crying out loud somebody stop me. Patinkin plays The Eunuch, whose elderly master the Shah of Persia has lost his libido, and has gone on a visit to Vienna to find it again. All the songs are set to waltzes by Johann Strauss II, and every one of them is lovely, especially when they're played as instrumental like they were meant to be. Unfortunately most of the time we have to put up with Ellen Fitzhugh's crowbarred-in lyrics with their painful attempts at wit. The whole first act is made up of attempts at saucy humour that are limper than the Shah's dick. It's like America did a bad remake of a Carry On film and tried to sell it back to us. The second act attempts a more serious tone, fails at that as comprehensively as at everything else, and then rushes an insultingly contrived, meaningless happy ending. But worst of all, this doesn't come close to being so-bad-it's-good because the whole thing from start to finish is astonishingly boring. What's going on? Who cares? Things that caught my eye that were much more interesting than what was on stage included (a) a fly buzzing around the lights, and (b) my feet.
The Menier has just stormed the Tonys on Broadway so you can't help feeling cheated that this is what Broadway has given back. In fact in this World Premiere it very quickly becomes obvious that this isn't, as the programme would like you to think, big Broadway names teaming up with a small but influential producing house out of respect for their work, but Prince and Stroman testing out material they're not confident in, at a venue they clearly consider sufficiently off the radar if it all goes tits up. I actually think if Patinkin had just stood there for two and a half hours repeatedly saying "Hello, my name is Inigo Montoya, you killed my father, prepare to die," it would have been more entertaining.
Paradise Found by Richard Nelson, Johann Strauss II, Ellen Fitzhugh and Jonathan Tunick is booking until the 26th of June at the Menier Chocolate Factory.