Thursday, September 26, 2013

'Pipe Dream' by Rodgers and Hammerstein

For a musical theatre fanatic, the idea of there being an entire musical by a writing partnership as famous as Rodgers and Hammerstein that they have never heard of seems almost ridiculous. Not a single person I talked to had heard of Pipe Dream before seeing it advertised as coming to the Union Theatre. According to the programme for this production, Pipe Dream opened on Broadway in 1955 and only ran for 246 performances which is less than any other Rodgers and Hammerstein show which made Broadway. The Union Theatre is the first to bring the musical on to a London stage. 

Pipe Dream at The Union Theatre
Performance: Friday 23rd August 2013 at 19:30
Seat: Front row (unreserved)
Music: Richard Rodgers
Book and Lyrics: Oscar Hammerstein II
Director: Sasha Regan
Cast included: Kieran Brown (Doc), Charlotte Scott (Suzy), Virge Gilchrist (Fauna), David Haydn (Mack), Nick Martland (Hazel)

Poster for the Union Theatre production. (Source)
Let's just say, I can understand why Pipe Dream didn't do brilliantly when it first came out. The story is predictable (a love story between Doc and Suzy) but that is not a huge problem in itself considering the age of the piece. I was more distracted by the number of seemingly random and loose-ended subplots and sudden scene changes jumping from one end of the story to another. In addition, some scenes felt too long and others left me uncertain of their purpose in the first place. 

The score of Pipe Dream was not what I think of as typically Rodgers and Hammerstein. Legit yes and the melodic accompaniment gave the game away to an extent but it lacked a let's-see-how-high-a-note-I-can-reach principal girl part and the musical mostly worked with a less operatic style of singing. Also, although this might have been to do with the small size of the theatre, the whole musical felt a little bit less fairytale-like to me than other works by Rodgers and Hammerstein. The prostitute girls reminded me of The Little Whorehouse in Texas - I wonder if they would have been presented in the same way back in the 1950s. Apparently in the original novel on which Pipe Dream is based on written by John Steinbeck, Suzy was a prostitute too but the writers did not feel comfortable having an upright prostitute protagonist and so Suzy's profession is left up to audience interpretation. 

I enjoy going to the Union Theatre for its intimate atmosphere. It was a shame overall that the audience was non-existent the night I went (I counted 19 audience members including myself - never seen the Union as quiet as that) but at least that meant I had a guaranteed front row seat and got to enjoy a virtually private performance with the opportunity to observe the actors' gestures and facial expressions closely. 

Kieran Brown (Doc) and Charlotte Scott (Suzy). Picture: Kay Young Photography

Charlotte was her wonderful self and it was nice to hear her and the other cast members sing without amplification. The role of Suzy really suited Charlotte and, again, although Suzy is also a girly, naïve role, there was a detectable difference between this role and others I have seen Charlotte play. Kieran Brown was a brilliant choice for the role of Doc. He successfully found the lonely, irritable and enigmatic traits of the character. The only part I have seen him play before is Dr Dillamond in Wicked and playing that he obviously had a mask on so facial expressions did not count for much. This time I watched him with a lot of interest.
One of the highlights was hearing David Haydn sing. He had an absolutely beautiful voice and with him dressed in farmer clothes, one just did not expect that voice to stream out (a slight Susan Boyle effect). 

Researching the musical further I found that there has been a recent (2012) live concert recording of the musical with Will Chase and Laura Osnes as Doc and Suzy respectively. I would highly recommend the recording especially if you are interested in finding out more about Pipe Dream

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