With writers as prolific as Rodgers & Hammerstein it's not entirely surprising that they had their share of flops to go with the huge hits. What's harder to believe is that some of these lesser-known plays have remained so obscure that they remain entirely unperformed in this country. But after last year's European premiere of State Fair
, which got a transfer to Trafalgar Studio 2 this summer, the Finborough Theatre and director Thom Southerland have unearthed another one, and this production of 1953's Me and Juliet
is the first time the play's been seen in Europe, more than half a century after its Broadway debut.
This is Rodgers and Hammerstein's homage to the medium they worked in. Set mainly backstage in a theatre, Me and Juliet
is also the name of the fictional hit musical that's playing there every night, and of which we occasionally see snatches. In the show it's divaish leading man Charlie (Stephen McGlynn) who's the star attraction, but backstage we're more concerned with likeable, unambitious chorus girl Jeanie (Laura Main.) She's dating thuggish electrician Bob (John Addison) but the geeky ASM Larry (Robert Hands) is also in love with her. Interestingly enough, the story doesn't follow how Jeanie realises Larry is much better for her, like you'd expect it to: Instead we jump forward several months, and the two have secretly got married. The only problem is nobody's got round to telling Bob he's been dumped yet.
Southerland and choreographer Sally Brooks once again marshall a large cast (of 15) around a tiny stage, and there's some great singing and acting from a cast who throw everything into their performances. Most of the cast get a chance to grab the spotlight, although Jodie Jacobs' brassy actress is the standout. (Jacobs is also the reason for me using that avatar, as she was in I Love You Because
- if you can manage to look past Mr Boys' nipple you'll see her behind him there.) In this small-scale setting, with a lively cast, this is an appealing evening's entertainment, but this is definitely the right venue for it. As a musical comedy, the songs are unmemorable and the comedy slight - you'll be smiling throughout but not actually laughing. In the sort of large theatre it was actually designed for, Me and Juliet
's flaws would be hard to ignore and its charms lost. I guess the near six-decade delay in it arriving this side of the pond was a wait for a theatre small enough yet ambitious enough to suit it.Me and Juliet
by Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II is booking until the 30th of October at the Finborough Theatre.