A Refreshing Grand Tour at Finborough Theatre

Jerry Herman's little known show is a welcome visitor, says Bill Hagerty

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The brilliance of his contemporary, Stephen Sondheim, is to blame for composer and lyricist Jerry Herman rarely being acknowledged as the hugely significant contributor to modern musical theatre that he undoubtedly is.

Sondheim may be the master, but Hello, Dolly!, Mame and Herman’s masterpiece, La Cage Aux Folles, put him close to the pinnacle of his trade.

Other, less profitable projects, especially the stunning but so far unsuccessfully-produced Mack & Mabel, bolster an impressive canon of work. This piece numbers among Herman’s also-rans, and it wasn’t much of a run. Written with co-librettists Michael Stewart and Mark Bramble, it was a notable Broadway flop in 1979, lasting for only 61 performances.

Even when reshaped and slimmed-down to a more competitive fighting weight, as it is here, The Grand Tour occasionally creaks like an ageing prizefighter. But it still contains Herman charm enough for producer Danielle Tarento to deserve congratulations for bringing it to Europe for the first time.

The plot revolves around Jewish refugee and part-time philosopher Jacobowsky, scampering nervously just ahead of the Nazis as they goosestep across Europe in 1940. He coerces a snobbish, anti-Semitic Polish officer to assist in escaping from about-to-be-occupied Paris, where they have been joined by Colonel Stjerbinsky’s beautiful French girlfriend, Marianne.

And, oh yes, the Colonel is carrying secret and very important papers that are to be delivered to a French underground contact in St Nazaire. So from then on the trio blunder from one near-disaster to another, pursued by an SS captain – due to the production’s budgetary considerations, he appears to be the lone representative of the Third Reicht’s military might in the whole of France – and becoming embroiled in as many adventures as Nicholas Nickleby and Smike on their way to Portsmouth (with a ramshackle circus replacing the Crummies acting troupe).

The show contains not one memorable song, nor one that is anything but pleasant, with strains of the soon-to-come La Cage Aux Folles often lurking somewhere. Choreography is always a challenge in the Finborough’s small playing area, but Cressida Carré gives the 11-strong cast plenty to do and manages now and then to infuse their steps with a little Bob (Cabaret, Chicago) Fosse magic.

For all this, what makes The Grand Tour an especially warm, satisfying experience is the performance of Alastair Brookshaw as the ever-optimistic Jacobowsky. Physically very much like Robin Williams, he shares with the late actor the ability to inject tear duct- inducing pathos while warming the heart. He is superb.

Ably supported by Nic Kyle, as the Colonel, and Zoë Doano, singing sweetly if sometimes too softly as Marianne, Mr Brookshaw renders an unlikely story almost plausible and sings well enough to lend the two-piano accompaniment the finesse of an orchestra with soaring strings.

Directed with loving care by musicals specialist Thom Southerland, The Grand Tour is a refreshing journey well worth making.

The Grand Tour plays until February 21, Tuesday to Saturday Evenings at 7.30pm with
Saturday and Sunday Matinees at 3pm (no Saturday matinee January 10).
Extra matinee on Friday February 20 at 3pm

Ticket prices:
Daily till January 25: £20, £16 concessions, except Tuesday evenings £16 all seats, and Friday and Saturday evenings £20 all seats
January 27 - February 21: £22, £18 concessions, except Tuesday evenings £18 all seats, and Friday and
Saturday evenings £22 all seats
£10 tickets for under 30’s for performances from Tuesday to Sunday of the first week when booked online only.

For tickets, call the box office on 0844 847 1652 or book online.

 

January 9, 2015