A tidal wave of hilarity and joy

<i>Road To Heaven</i> | Lyric Hammersmith, London
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The Independent Culture

You can go for years without once thinking about 70, Girls, 70, the Kander and Ebb musical that, in its concentration on the senior-citizen end of the performers' art (think Dora Bryan perched precariously on a crescent moon), is more like a crooked offshoot of Age Concern than a show. Then, goddammit, something comes along that brings the whole shebang back with an involuntary Proustian force. The something in question is Road to Heaven, now visiting the London under the auspices of LIFT. But here's the good news: if this event stirs memories of 70, Girls, 70, it does so only to engulf them immediately in its own unique tidal wave of hilarity and joy.

You can go for years without once thinking about 70, Girls, 70, the Kander and Ebb musical that, in its concentration on the senior-citizen end of the performers' art (think Dora Bryan perched precariously on a crescent moon), is more like a crooked offshoot of Age Concern than a show. Then, goddammit, something comes along that brings the whole shebang back with an involuntary Proustian force. The something in question is Road to Heaven, now visiting the London under the auspices of LIFT. But here's the good news: if this event stirs memories of 70, Girls, 70, it does so only to engulf them immediately in its own unique tidal wave of hilarity and joy.

Imagine the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. Scrub the Mormons and replace them with a massed bunch of America's finest septuagenarians and octogenarians. Now put these blue-rinsers on stage in a spoof theatrical context that seems, with its nurses and wheelchairs, like a camp cross between The Marat/Sade (there's an ancien régime feel to the corkscrew wigs and the frilly scanties), One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest and Golden Girls. Now let them rip in a repertoire that brilliantly bursts out of the show-tune ghetto (though it has its moments there, too) to encompass everything from the Rolling Stones and Bob Dylan to a tinsel-decked faux-winsome rendition of "Nobody Loves A Fairy When She's Eighty".

The pitfalls in such a venture are the size of elephant traps. The "feisty old trouper" has for so long felt like simply the invention of hardbitten Hollywood and TV executives, or of fake oldster-fetishists like Hughie Green, that you might think it would be hard to accept that the Young@Heart Choir are nobody's invention but their own. Even the parts where they rather harp on dissolving the apparent discrepancy between the lyrics and the facts of wrinkling nature, as when they take off in a poignant version of "Forever Young", have the stamp of authenticity.

Your mouth falls open in delighted incredulity even as your throat is wrestling with a lump of golf-ball proportions. These people take themselves seriously by not taking themselves entirely seriously. So there's a saving drollness right through, up to and including the climactic number in which a 97-year-old who couldn't make it on the trip appears on a huge screen reciting the verse of "You Can't Always Get What You Want", in a way that makes the Mick Jagger version seem decidedly under-cooked.

As the chorus steal in with the lines "But if you try some time/You may find/You get what you need", Road To Heaven feels aptly named indeed. You keep thinking of items with which they could extend their repertoire. Although more of an age with the philistine currently known as Prince Philip than with the artist formerly known as Prince, one would pay a great deal to hear this lot sing "Act your age, momma/Not your shoe size/Maybe we could do the twirl".

All in all, it's the best night out of 2000.

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