Phantoms of the musical

Forgotten song-and-dance shows are getting another chance on the stage
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The Independent Culture

The hammerbeam roof of St Martin's Church is reverberating, not with hymns but with the surging of passionate love and the call of the sea. Ian Marshall Fisher's Lost Musicals troupe is rehearsing the first of this season's three rediscoveries, Harold Rome's Fanny.

The hammerbeam roof of St Martin's Church is reverberating, not with hymns but with the surging of passionate love and the call of the sea. Ian Marshall Fisher's Lost Musicals troupe is rehearsing the first of this season's three rediscoveries, Harold Rome's Fanny.

The show has an extraordinarily powerful score. "Who would have thought that Rome had this in him?" says Fisher. A composer and lyricist (like the creators of the other two of the season's musicals), Rome was better known for such satirical shows as I Can Get it For You Wholesale and Pins and Needles; but Fanny, a Broadway hit in 1954 and a moderate success later in the West End, hits you with elemental emotion, especially in the title tune. Marius confesses to his sweetheart: "My heart isn't mine to give, Fanny." Her rival is not another woman, but the sea that seduces him from Marseilles.

"There's a lot of underscoring," says Fisher. "Rome keeps reprising the theme so that the show takes on the power of a film noir." Fanny also has, however, typically Roman light moments as the delightful "Be Kind to Your Parents," which continues, "Though they don't deserve it/ Remember, they're grown-ups/ A difficult stage of life".

While Fisher's next musical, Silk Stockings (1955), never had a London production, it is fairly well known from the Fred Astaire movie. Based on the Greta Garbo film Ninotchka, it's the story of a stern female commissar who melts under the influence of Paris and Cole Porter. The show-stopping number, however, belongs to a dizzy movie star who laments the dominance of Technicolor, Cinemascope and "Stereophonic Sound": "If Zanuck's latest picture were the good old-fashioned kind/ There'd be no one out in front to look at Marilyn's behind."

The last show, by far the least known, is a rarity to thrill Stephen Sondheim fans. Evening Primrose, based on a story by the fiendish John Collier (the author of His Monkey Wife), is about a penniless poet who decides to live in a department store: "All alone, only me and my muse/ And 40 pianos and 10,000 shoes". He finds, however, that there are other residents, of a very sinister nature. Less than an hour long, the musical, which starred Anthony Perkins, was shown on TV in 1966, and has not been performed since.

Fisher, who founded Lost Musicals in 1989, has a list of 2,000 fine singers who are so fanatical about the great shows that they work without pay - ticket revenues pay for rights, publicity and the hire of halls.

"We get the usual revivals again and again," says Fisher, "but so much has been neglected." He is especially impatient with people who deride musicals as trivial and naive. "People always think the age in which they're living is the most sophisticated. But when you listen to these songs, you can see they came out of a literary culture that has been lost to the music of today."

Lost Musicals, Lilian Baylis Theatre, Sadler's Wells, London EC1 (0870 737 7737) Sundays, 6 March to 24 July

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