‘Darling of the Day’ – The Union Theatre

DOTD Finale

One of the reasons I planned my trip to London when I did was to see the first staged UK production of Darling of the Day at the Union Theatre in Southwark. The tiny London theatre has been noted for limited season revivals of various musicals in its small black box space, and I felt compelled to make the trip because there haven’t been many opportunities to see this show, with a score by Jule Styne and Yip Harburg, since its Broadway failure in early 1968.

Based on the novel Buried Alive by Arnold Bennett, Darling of the Day tells of an esteemed painter named Priam Farll who returns to London after an extended absence only to discover he’s to receive a royal welcome: knighting, galas, dinners, audiences with royalty; all things he despises. Upon the sudden death of his valet Henry Leek, Farll seizes the opportunity to “get out of the world alive” as he puts it and swaps places with the deceased. Matters are complicated by a lovely Putney widow named Alice Challice, who has been corresponding with Leek through a matrimonial agency. Romance and farcical hijinks ensue.

The musical was a bit of a fiasco in late 1967 and early 1968, going through a slew of directors, choreographers and writers before opening on Broadway without a credited librettist (never a good sign). Vincent Price starred as the artist, with Patricia Routledge as the lovely widow. The show received some kind notices, but was buried in the NY Times by a second string critic. By the time Clive Barnes and Walter Kerr had both chimed in favorably, it was too late. Darling of the Day closed after 31 performances. A few months later, Routledge won a Tony (shared in a rare tie with Leslie Uggams) for Best Actress in a Musical.

Unavailable for amateur licensing in the United States, the musical has languished in obscurity for many years. There have been concert revisions presented at Musicals in Mufti in 1998 and 2005, as well as a couple of rare regional productions. However, the musical has most lived on with the cognoscenti because of its superb original cast album, featuring the show’s two best assets: its lovely, rich score and Patricia Routledge, who is one of musical theatre’s most unsung heroines. This is the show that introduced me to the vocal wonder of Routledge, and I’ve long hoped for the opportunity to see a production of the show.

I had been following the progress of the show via Twitter, where I’d been interacting with director Paul Foster, musical director and arranger Inga Davis-Rutter and my beloved Rebecca Caine, who was cast as unscrupulous art collector Lady Vale. In the weeks and months leading up to the production’s premiere, I was following their missives from rehearsals and had some wonderful online discussions with Foster about the script and lyrics, and with Davis-Rutter about the instrumentation and vocal arranging she was going to be doing for the show. As a matter of fact, Davis-Rutter saw me in line for the show, introduced herself and proceeded to give me a whirlwind pre-show tour of the theatre, where I got to meet many of the actors during their warm-up.

The intimacy of the Union Theatre puts the audience close enough to the performers to feel as if you are in the scenes with them (most notably the Putney bar where Alice and co. kick it up). Foster’s production focused on the unlikely and enchanting romance between Priam and Alice, giving the show a great, big heart as well as some choice laughs. Matt Flint’s choreography was superb, and in many cases, downright surprising because of the limited performance space, most notably the barroom showstopper “Not on Your Nellie.”

The original book isn’t as much a liability as one might think. There are certain elements that don’t work, most notably its Gilbertian climax and ending. However, pushing past the farcical elements, there is a lovely and tender relationship at the show’s center and while it pokes satiric fun at upper classes, there is tremendous charm. Foster was given three versions of the script to use, and ultimately used the 1968 Broadway script (written by Nunnally Johnson, who refused opening night credit), aside from minor trims from that script, and the use of “An Extra Little Shilling” in place of “That Something Extra Special,” the text ran pretty much along the lines seen at the George Abbott Theatre in ’68. Foster also included “I’ve Got a Rainbow Working for Me,” which was excised from the Musicals in Mufti revision.

James Dinsmore infused Priam with dry sense of humor and class, and unlike Vincent Price, can actually sing. Katy Secombe made the audience fall in love with her the moment she opened her mouth. Secombe’s more of a Cockney belter; a contrast to the Routledge’s soprano, but everything about her performance worked beautifully – sort of the warm, charming woman young Cosette would wish Madame Thenardier to be. Caine was impeccably droll as Lady Vale, bringing unexpected and welcome soprano flourishes to the role. The entire production was superbly cast. The ensemble was packed with exceptional singers, with more harmonies than I can remember from other incarnations of the score that I have heard. A stand-out among his peers was Matthew Rowland, who played Alice’s Cockney pal Alf, a far departure from Mr. Rowland’s recent stint as Boy George in Taboo.

As I saw the show on its closing night, I was invited to join the cast in the Union Theatre’s accompanying bar for a drink. The cast was aware of me, and that I was coming to see the show – something that took me a bit by surprise. I had some lovely chats about the show and its score, and got to tell everyone just how much I enjoyed their production, and how much it meant to me to see it. I also had the opportunity to chat with Secombe and her brother Andy, also in the company, about their father: the late, great Harry Secombe. Hearing their stories growing up with one of the great voices in musical theatre was thrilling (particularly hearing what the late Mr. Secombe thought of the abysmal film adaptation of Song of Norway). My night entered another realm entirely when Caine presented me with her copy of the script, which she had signed by the entire company. My cup runneth over. (Pic courtesy of Rebecca Caine).


One of the treasures of this experience was not only the opportunity to see a production of one my beloved forgotten shows, but also the chance to see a show in the Union. They have developed a reputation for their various productions, which receive consistently strong notices and are handsomely attended. The venue had been threatened with closure by its owner, who wanted to turn the theatre as well as other surrounding businesses into office space. That should never happen.

Sunday Night Musings

My 2013 theatergoing started with my first trip to the Metropolitan Opera in about 4 1/2 years. Out of the blue, I got a message from Roxie asking me if I was interested in seeing Turandot and I thought for about a split second before saying yes. Puccini’s music is glorious – ask me some time to tell you about my experiences playing one of Cio-Cio San’s cousins in Madame Butterfly sometime – and this opera intrigued me. I only new the famed “Nessun Dorma,” a showstopper if there ever was one but I was curious since I knew it was Puccini’s final work, and that he died leaving it unfinished. I was captivated by this bizarre piece with its antiquated gender politics, bizarre Asian aesthetic and similarities to The Taming of the Shrew. Also, I was amused that they stopped to sing to the moon for what felt to be fifteen minutes. But, oh those melodies! And that glorious singing! Zeffirelli’s production is first-rate, and that set is to-die-for; however I had forgotten that Met Opera intermissions are longer than the norm. Here, the first intermission was 45 minutes, longer than the first act itself. It didn’t detract as it allowed Roxie and I the chance to catch up on other things, and to plan future visits to the opera, as I don’t intend on staying away another four and a half years.

Walking through Midtown recently, I noticed that the Music Box Theatre has replaced its traditional marquee with a digital one since the closing of One Man, Two Guvnors. It’s not the first one I’ve noticed; I don’t know when it happened but the classy New Amsterdam Theatre now houses one as well. Now, I understand that digital is the way of the future, but there’s an utter charmlessness in these LED screens. Instead of a billboard or sign that stands out, these two theatre marquees become just more billboards for tourists to ignore. And frankly, for being all state of the art, the quality is cheap. Let us hope this lunacy is just a trend.

I recently read Maurice Walsh’s short story “The Quiet Man,” which later became the basis for the eponymous film classic – and one of my all-time favorites starring John Wayne and Maureen O’Hara. The 1952 Oscar-winner is receiving its long-overdue Blu-ray release this month (and by all accounts it looks exquisite) so I’ve been paying attention and felt it time to check out the brief, 20-something page story about short boxer Paddy Bawn Enright, his wife Ellen Roe Danaher and his feud with his brother-in-law Red Will Danaher. And as fate would have it, the Irish Repertory Theatre will be presenting the first NY revival of the musical adaptation of the film/short story, called Donnybrook! with a score by Johnny Burke and book by Robert McEnroe, starting in February.

The show ran only 68 performances in 1961, but featured lovely songs and performances from Art Lund, Joan Fagan, Susan Johnson and Eddie Foy, Jr. (Also in the cast was Philip Bosco as Will Danaher). The original cast album has never been officially released digitally (though some rogue labels offer an mp3 for sale on iTunes and Amazon), but I was fortunate to receive a cassette tape copied from the record album. (Side B was the musical version of How Green Was My Valley  – another Maureen O’Hara classic – called A Time for Singing). I later acquired the Kapp Records gatefold LP, which I continue to play every so often. The cast, headed by James Barbour and Jenny Powers looks to be top notch, so I look forward to checking that out soon.

In other flop musical news, both Dear World and Darling of the Day are getting their first UK productions in the next couple of months. The wondrous Betty Buckley will play the Madwoman of Chaillot, which is cause for much excitement, at the Charing Cross Theatre through February and March. The latter, however, interests me more on a personal level. I have long been a champion of Darling of the Day, unavailable for licensing since its 1968 premiere, ever since I first heard the original cast album (which is a must for any show music fan). The Styne-Harburg score is delightful, and Tony-winning star Patricia Routledge is the pinnacle of loveliness as the show’s leading lady. So I am hoping to fly out to see this one, which will star Kate Secombe as Alice Challice (the Routledge role) and Rebecca Caine as Lady Vale. No word on the gents just yet, but the show plays the Union Theatre from March 20 to April 20.

Rebecca Caine: “No, No, Cosette!”


What becomes of a light lyric soprano when her personality is, shall we say, a bit darker than that of her repertoire? This was the premise behind Rebecca Caine‘s new cleverly titled cabaret No, No, Cosette!, which played The Pheasantry in London. Caine, who famously created the role of Cosette in the original company of Les Miserables, is a noted singer who has had a hybrid career bouncing back and forth between opera and musical theatre. She is arguably most famous for her performances in Les Mis as well as The Phantom of the Opera, having played Christine Daae in both London and Toronto. However, these two roles are the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the soprano’s diverse career.

Ms. Caine started the evening on a literal high note with the tango “Jealousy,” her second note a D above top C. It set the standard for the evening – flawless technique and crystalline tone matched by a coy, subversive sense of humor. In her opening remarks, Caine commented on the disparity between the roles she’s played and who she really is before launching into spirited renditions of Harper and Zippel’s “The Ingenue” and “The Diva’s Lament” from Spamalot (hilariously tossing the line “I’ve no Tony awards!” at her close friend and former Les Mis co-star, Tony-winner Frances Ruffele, in the front row).

The repertoire was eclectic, from operetta to contemporary opera, musical theatre (both British and American) as well as specialties. Among the composers heard were Sondheim, Coward, Novello (someone I feel I need to know more about), Ricky Ian Gordon, Frank Loesser, Maury Yeston, Jerry Herman and Marc Blitzstein. (Ms. Caine also spoke of her admiration for Blitzstein’s Regina, and is perfect for the role of Birdie if anyone should have the forethought to produce this underrated opera).

Following a complex aria from Gordon’s My Life with Albertine, Caine treated the audience to “The Song is You,” one of my favorite Kern-Hammerstein songs (from Music in the Air). An effective pairing of “So in Love” from Kiss Me Kate with “Losing My Mind” from Follies was delivered to devastating effect. Similarly, she combined “I Saw Him Once,” Cosette’s cut number from Les Miserables with a ravishing “Somebody Somewhere” from The Most Happy Fella. Her rendition of Vernon Duke’s “Words Without Music” was utterly enchanting.

Ms. Caine was accompanied by Nathan Martin, who performed “I Hold Your Hand in Mine.” As a team they had great rapport, as he helped her on various numbers throughout the evening. The soprano’s cheekier side shown through with Blitzstein’s “Modest Maid,” Tom Lehrer’s “Masochism Tango,” and infamously, the Lapdancing Aria from Anna Nicole Smith: The Opera. She finished her set with Carlotta’s number “This Place is Mine” from Yeston’s Phantom, culminating in a thrilling high C finish.

The applause was deafening, drawing Ms. Caine and Mr. Martin for an encore, Coward’s “If Love Were All.” If anything, the applause was even more thunderous than before, bringing the duo back out on stage. For a second encore, Caine joked that her husband told her to “sing something they all know,” before the pianist started playing the vamp to “Think of Me,” Christine’s first song from The Phantom of the Opera. I admit, I have very little time for POTO, but will sit up and take notice when Ms. Caine is singing the score. If anything, Ms. Caine’s mellifluous soprano is sounding better than ever, and it was a pleasure to hear such stellar singing.

I’m in London Again

It took eight years, but I have finally returned to England. It started in the fall when I couldn’t stop listening to the cast album of Matilda, and I found myself clamoring to see the show. I have usually waited for the West End smashes to arrive on Broadway in order to experience them. But given how much I appreciated this show, I figured it was time for me to stop waiting and just go. I bought my ticket in December and impatiently played the waiting game. As fate would turn out, for this weekend of theatre, Matilda would mark my first-ever experience seeing a West End show (all previous visits to England were, alas, bereft of theatre). More on that musical hit in another post, I’ll just say that I’m seeing it again tomorrow night.

I left JFK via Virgin Atlantic, but unfortunately was unable to get much sleep on the plane. I rarely can; I don’t sleep well sitting up, and can feel every bit of turbulence. I ended getting about 15 minutes of twilight sleep on what was a 7 hour flight. I took in My Week with Marilyn to pass the time. Michelle Williams was absolutely superb as Marilyn Monroe. Hell, most of the cast was (except Julia Ormond, who didn’t seem to have much of a grasp on Vivien Leigh). The script was a bit rote, but it held my interest throughout. Eddie Redmayne was good as Colin Clark, but Kenneth Branagh walked away with everything with his funny, brittle performance as Sir Laurence Olivier. Special kudos to Dame Judi Dench, whose performance as Dame Sybil Thorndike made me unreasonably happy.

Now, I’ve flown before, but I haven’t been on a train in England since 2000, when I visited by brother in Oxford. And I have never experienced the London Underground. After getting through customs, I made the trek to the tube. The first order of business was getting an Oyster card. I had researched it online several times, but that didn’t quite prep me for the menu options and my sleep deprived self just sort of stared glassy eyed at a screen for a long beat. Fortunately, they had a gentlemen there to assist me. I got on the Piccadilly line with a map of the underground and little knowledge except that I was to meet my hostess after reaching the Whitechapel region (Jack the Ripper’s old haunt).

I got on with my suitcase and laptop bag and sat down. I was in a fog so I failed to realize that it was a Thursday morning and there would be commuters heading into the city for work. It wasn’t long until the train was filled to what seemed to be beyond capacity. Being sleep deprived, I just sort of sat and observed everyone around me. Almost everyone was reading something: a book or newspaper. (One committed gent was deep in a game of Angry Birds). Rapidly, the subway car filled up to capacity, and were I claustrophobic I may have had a break down. Uncertain of what transfer to make, I asked a lovely young woman who was more than happy to help. I switched lines and got to Whitechapel with little incident, where I was handed keys to the house I was staying at.

The London rail system is a marvel of cleanliness and efficiency. And you pay for what you get. The rides are not cheap, especially when compared to the NY subway, but Then I had to get to a different line two blocks away. I am staying in a house in the Canary Wharf area thanks to my pal Vera Chok, actress, producer and artistic director of the London-based theatre company Saltpeter. The house is overlooking the Thames, and about 50 feet from the water itself with a most spectacular view. The O2 Arena is across the water, and in general it’s just a resplendent place. Getting to this house was really no problem, and I opened the door and settled in. After squaring away some minor details, I passed out for several hours.

First on my agenda was the evening’s performance of Matilda. After my nap, I got cleaned up and went out to discover the West End. I have never been through the area in any of my previous trips, so it was all going to be new for me. A couple of rides later, I was out at Leicester Square and wandered around, making my way to the Cambridge Theatre to pick up my seats. Nearby is the famed Dress Circle, so I made a pilgrimage and picked up a couple of London goodies before meeting my Twitter/Facebook friend Rebecca Caine for the first time, and folks she’s even more delightful and funny in person than she is online (and she is one of my favorite presences on Twitter). I was less than a day into my trip, and our meeting is already one of the happiest memories I’ll treasure from this trip. We grabbed a quick bite before the show, then Caine, a West End Eliza, giving me a fast tour of the Covent Garden area before we both went to see Matilda.

As for the show itself, that post is pending as jet lag has gotten the best of me…