Theatre review: You won’t succeed on Broadway if you don’t have any Jews at St James Theatre

This nostalgic production was a clumsy look at Broadway’s Jewish history, says Marianka Swain.

Lacking the shrewd lampooning instincts of Spamalot, from which it takes its name, this revue is a muddle: too solemn for satire, too grandiloquent for cabaret, and too fractured for musical theatre.

Cheap video clips – essentially a school project cribbed from Wikipedia – skate over Broadway history, from the 1930s to present day, and its gifted Jewish composers. Without those guys, there’d probably be no showbusiness, is the hazy conclusion.

The premise reaches breaking point in later years, turning to Disney and cancelled TV drama Smash – hardly comparable with Gershwin or Irving Berlin.

So, best to ignore creator/directors Michaela Stern and Daniel Donskoy’s ill-conceived framing altogether and focus on the affectionate delivery of indelible standards from a mostly young, up-and-coming cast.

Granted, removing songs from narrative context does result in some soulless, Glee-like renditions, all big smiles and jazz hands, and the decision to separate disciplines – static singers competing with distracting dancers – seems odd for what should be a celebration of the triple threat.

But there are some gems. Natalie Lippin is light, bright and witty in “The Lady is a Tramp”, while Sophie Evans (runner-up in Lloyd Webber’s Dorothy talent search) produces a pensive, folksy “Over the Rainbow” – though focus is pulled by a clunky pas de deux.

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Mama Rose is inexplicably cross-cast, but Danny Lane commits impressively. Sarah Earnshaw gives a comic masterclass in Sondheim’s mile-a-minute “Getting Married Today”, and the veterans show how it’s done: original Les Mis cast member Jackie Marks still has chops, while assured John Barr provides the evening’s highpoint in “Be Our Guest”.

There’s little invention, with workmanlike pastiche from choreographer Chris Whittaker, and no insight into Jewish creative history, but toe-tapping nostalgia decently delivered by a promising company.

Rating: 2/5 stars

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