Park Avenue, Lilian Baylis Theatre, London
Monday 07 April 2008
It's titled Park Avenue, but Arthur Schwartz and Ira Gershwin's musical is set on Long Island – just one of its many oddities. Written in 1946, this account of marital musical chairs among the wealthy is redolent of the Twenties, in its blithe, brittle acceptance of divorce as a delightful fact of life.
Meeting his fiancée's family, the nice, middle-class Ned Scott is alarmed to find that, as well as a father, she has three stepfathers, all on the best of terms, and another in the wings. His future mother-in-law, Sybil, has become bored with her latest husband, but he is not too upset; he has already picked out his next mate, the wife of one of Sybil's former spouses.
Ostensibly a satire, Park Avenue is that common substitute for one, a mixture of the silly and the distasteful. A woman who drools over her son-in-law, a father who mislays his children and nearly lays his daughter – if this could be made palatable, there'd have to be more wit than that supplied by writers Nunnally Johnson and George S Kaufman. The plot and characters are thin and the lame songs add neither force nor emotion to what seems like a protracted skit.
If the show disappoints, however, the cast of 14 are 14-carat, with an abundance of charm, vim, and musical-comedy technique. Stephen Carlile is an endearing hero, James Vaughan highly comic in his outbursts of lechery and his mortal terror of the outdoors. Peter Gayle turns in a delightful cameo as the family lawyer.
Opera singer John Rawnsley's combination of geniality and gravitas adds a welcome gloss to his characterisation of the discarded millionaire. Best of all is Elizabeth Counsell as Sybil, a glamorous, febrile wraith whose philosophy is to give "romance no chance to decompose" but to part "while the dew [is] on the rose".
The reference to decay, however, and rhymes like "cirrhosis-psychosis" suggest the joylessness of this enterprise.
'Park Avenue', Sundays to 27 April (0870 737 7737)
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