Arts: Musical: Is that a pastiche in your pocket?

A Saint She Ain't Kings Head Theatre London
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The Independent Culture
THAT MOLIeRE guy... what a klutz. All them fancy words is fine but how come the guy forgot the songs? Fortunately, along came Dick Vosburgh and composer Denis King, who corrected this foolish oversight and gave Moliere's The Imaginary Cuckold a musical makeover and fixed up this sunny, funny, honey of a show.

Not so much theft as indictable grand larceny, this lovingly-fashioned musical is a sort of "new lampoons for old". Even the title's a steal, originally attached to a (wisely) abandoned movie musical of Eugene O'Neill's Anna Christie which eventually wound up as the stage musical New Girl in Town.

You only have to look down the cast list to see what you're in for. Everyone sounds like they've escaped from a madcap Preston Sturges farce. Barry Cryer is Snaveley T. Bogle, the supremely disgruntled, self-important wiseacre not a million miles from WC Fields. Then there's the elderly, curvaceous sex-bomb Mae, I'm sorry, Faye Bogle (Pauline Daniels) shaking her chassis to the man, er, born, and forever inviting guys up to see her. And how about lame-brained Willoughby Dittenfeffer (Michael Roberts), a sailor so dim he has to run through "Happy Birthday to You" to remember his name?

Speaking of the plot "which we wasn't, but who cares?" Moliere has been niftily relocated to the Hollywood musical milieu of Second World War sailors on shore leave. Two intertwined couples believe their loves have been unfaithful with each other but guess what? Despite daft complications via Ray Bagalucci (a buoyant Jimmy Durante impersonation from Brian Greene) there's a happy ending, not to mention gloriously silly running gags, show-stopping mad- logic routines out of the Marx Brothers, and yards of Vosburgh's shimmering lyrics. How can you not warm to a show whose bouncy title number includes the shameless, sublime rhyme, "As sure as Goebbels/ Loved propaganda/ As sure as fruit loved Carmen Miranda..."?

Trim, tall and terrific tapper Gavin Lee is Danny O'Reilly ("Oh, really?"). A cross between Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly, he sweetly shows his talent in a spoof of "Singin' in the Rain". Liking what she sees, Faye, the "bargain-basement Bathsheba", launches into a non-stop stream of single entendres. Sizing up her sailor, she suggests they play a little game. "I'll pretend to be Japan." "Japan?" puzzles the innocent boy. "Yeah... you invade me."

Happily, thanks to Ned Sherrin's spry direction, great piano work from King and Chris Walker and the manifest pleasure of the entire cast, it never feels like a trawl through the archive. In her Rita Hayworth wig, Rae Baker puts down her marker as a musical comedy delight and Jessica Martin is a squeal on legs.

At one point, she comes on in a two-piece emblazoned with the letter "V". "For Virginia?" cries everyone. "No, for virginity. It's a very old sweater." The individual parts of this pocket-sized pastiche are as old as vaudeville, but as you collapse in delighted giggles at the skill and wit on display, you wish that vaudeville and musical comedy had never died.

David Benedict

Booking: 0171-226 1916