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Darling of the Day

Music by Jule Styne, lyrics by E Y “Yip” Harburg, book by Nunnally Johnson
Union Theatre, London

Darling of the Day

Arnold Bennett (1867-1931) is best known today as a novelist; but he was also a successful playwright. He adapted his 1908 novel Buried Alive for the stage and it was produced at the Kings Theatre in London in March 1913 under the title of The Great Adventure.

The cast was headed by Henry Ainley who played an illustrious middle-aged Edwardian painter who dies and is buried with full honours in Westminster Abbey. Only he doesn’t die. His valet dies and he lets the doctor think it is him. A shy man, who doesn’t like the humbug of celebrity, he takes on the valet’s identity and meets a homely working class widow who lives in Putney. She had been in correspondence with the valet and presumes the artist is the valet. Totally unbelievably, he marries her. And even more totally unbelievably, they live happily ever after.

The satire at the expense of a corrupt Art world is very gentle indeed. The court case finale is written in the full Gilbert and Sullivan silly nonsensical manner with the hero having to produce two moles on his chest as evidence of who he is.

Ainley modelled his performance on John Singer Sergeant, the leading American portrait painter of the day. Wish Wynne, a popular music hall artiste in her first straight role, scored a big success as the widow.

Jule Styne and E Y “Yip” Harburg turned Bennett’s story into a musical in 1968. Styne thought it was his best score since Gypsy (1959). Vincent Price and Patricia Routledge were cast as the artist and the widow. Routledge won a Tony Award for Best Actress in a musical.

The production, which had been through 5 librettists and 3 directors, ran for only 31 performances. It was said that Price didn’t sing that well. But it is easy to see why the show failed. The songs are pleasant enough to listen to in the theatre but there is not one number to remember after the show has finished.

Paul Foster’s production is Darling of the Day’s British première and the production has considerable charm and deserves to play to fuller houses. The choreographer is Matt Flint who manages to be very energetic in a tiny space. The cast is headed by James Dinsmore as the artist and Katy Secombe as the widow. Dinsmore, who has the light touch the role needs, is particularly good; though you cannot imagine him for one moment even thinking of marrying the widow. Dan Looney and Will Keith stand out in a lively company.

A major West End revival of Jule Styne’s Gypsy is long overdue. Rose, Gypsy Rose Lee’s mother, is one of the great dramatic roles in musical theatre and Ethel Merman in New York and Angela Lansbury in London singing "Everything’s Coming Up Roses" and "Rose’s Turn" have passed into legend.

Reviewer: Robert Tanitch