There was one piece of good news at the Menier Chocolate Factory last night, and it was nothing to do with the show.
Maria Friedman told me that she is going to direct Merrily We Roll Along at the Southwark venue later this year.
She has recently directed the piece with students at the Central School — opposite the Hampstead Theatre — and Chocolate Factory artistic director David Babani was sufficiently impressed to ask her to repeat the dose for him.
He will need cheering up, I reckon, once the reviews are in for Paradise Found, the excruciating New York import directed by Hal Prince and Susan Stroman, which is about as funny as a eunuch in a harem, Brendan Behan’s cruel definition of a theatre critic.
Which is, more or less, what this limp dick of a show is about, with a whole lot of wallpaper waltz music and a bizarre performance by Mandy Patinkin as a bald prima donna whose screechy singing voice for once sounds justified by a medical condition, not the usual affectation.
Why both Prince and Stroman wanted to have anything to do with the show is a mystery almost as big as Trevor Nunn’s association with the ghastly Gone with the Wind at the New London a few years ago.
There is no question that they must have felt the show had potential, just as Trevor Nunn did with his “gonner.” Which only goes to show how difficult and unpredictable the whole business of musical theatre can be.
Hal Prince knows this better than anyone. His long association with Stephen Sondheim was rudely interrupted when his production of Merrily We Roll Along closed after just sixteen performances on Broadway in 1981.
The show by Sondheim and George Furth was heavily revised and began to be liked a lot more, certainly in this country, when Maria Friedman appeared in a Leicester Haymarket revival by Paul Kerryson in 1992.
And Michael Grandage’s Donmar Warehouse production in 2000 confirmed its reputation as one of Sondheim’s best scores.
Perhaps the same process of assimilation awaits Paradise Found, though I doubt it. The Menier was chock-a-block last night with Broadway producers and investors, and they gave a very good impression of enjoying what they had sat through.
And Prince himself, amazingly chipper and spry, his unlined rubbery face belying his 82 years, lit up the theatre by the mere fact of being there.
He is one of the world’s greatest producer/directors and his career is virtually the story of the musical theatre in the second half of the twentieth century, from West Side Story and The Pyjama Game through Company, A Little Night Music, Evita and The Phantom of the Opera.
But I don’t think Paradise Found will be featuring too prominently on his future CV.