It's been a long time since musicals thrived on old-fashioned romance - indeed, looking back over the past 40 years, it is remarkable how completely non-commitment, sexual boredom and marital strife have become the stock themes of the form.
Even so, the marriage of Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald seems an unpromising basis for a night out in the West End. For a brief time after their marriage they were the most glamorous couple in America, blessed with looks, talent, money and success; but the party soon collapsed in sexual taunts, affairs, alcoholism (his) and mental breakdown (hers). When he died in 1940, aged 44, she had already spent the best part of a decade in a mental hospital, where she died in a fire eight years later. How on earth do you turn that into a musical? The answer turns out to be, you make it an old-fashioned romance.
Beautiful and Damned tells how they loved each other from the first. But it is hard to see how anybody could fit this plot to the facts of the Fitzgeralds' lives. The words and music are by the veteran songwriters Roger Cook and Les Reed and for this show they have turned out competent but unmemorable Twenties pastiche, alternating with big, bland love-songs in which stereotyped emotions are expressed through crashingly predictable rhyme-schemes.
Around these, Kit Hesketh Harvey has done his best to cobble together a coherent book - the story is narrated in flashback by Zelda to her psychiatrist. The device at least explains away some of the show's distortions of fact, but it is not well sustained, and Helen Anker's portrayal of insanity is picturesque and stereotyped. Odd flashes of wit - primarily involving David Burt's droll Hemingway - are drowned out by inanity: "Get out of Hollywood," Fitzgerald's publisher advises him, "Go back to Zelda. She's your inspiration, always has been." Craig Revel Horwood's direction and choreography are uninspired and take place in front of one of the most revolting sets I have ever seen. The poor actors, including Michael Praed's Fitzgerald, are stifled, and so is any sense of the things for which we might actually want to remember Fitzgerald - the clarity and originality of his prose, the pose of despair lightly worn. Beautiful - absolutely not. Damned - somebody ought to be.