They're Playing Our Song, Menier Chocolate Factory, London

Fisher's move from mountains to Manhattan is a problem

Wise-cracking neurosis is about as alien as devout Buddhism to Maria, the fresh-faced novice nun in The Sound of Music. It's the very air she breathes to Sonia Walsk, the kooky New York Jewish lyricist who is the heroine of the 1979 musical They're Playing Our Song. In an effort to prove that she's not a one-trick pony, Connie Fisher – the viewers' choice on the original casting-by-TV talent show – has now graduated from the first role to the second. Fiona Laird's production at the Menier Chocolate Factory suggests that this was not such a brilliant idea. Picture Julie Andrews attempting to impersonate Barbra Streisand – well, it's by no means as bad as that but let's just say it's on that kind of spectrum.

Apart from providing a platform for Fisher in her bid to break the Maria mould, it's hard to figure out why the Menier – which has such a distinguished record with musicals – has chosen to revive this miserably untalented tuner. Essentially a two-hander, it's a semi-autobiographical account – by composer Marvin Hamlisch and lyricist Carole Bayer Sager – of the bumpy relationship between (you got it) a repressed composer and his new, offbeat female lyricist.

Just in case the atmosphere of showbiz narcissism becomes too stifling, each character has a backing group of three identically clad alter-egos. The resulting dance routines would make Pan's People blush but this device at least multiplies at the Menier the opportunities for sniggering at the hilarious wigs (Fisher looks as if her face has been pushed through one of those seaside cut-outs) and the hideous fashions from the Decade Taste Forgot. The production's intention is witty pastiche but it's a misguided aim since it sabotages any hope that the love story will matter to us.

Alistair McGowan is as miscast as Fisher in the part of the composer, Vernon Gersch, who only feels safe when barricaded behind his piano. A strapping, healthy-looking figure, he looks as if he'd be happier wife-walloping in Kiss Me, Kate than kvetching about therapy and fame ("The man hasn't been born who's as neurotic as I am"). The two performers can't be accused of not waggling their hands a lot in that aggressively self-deprecating Noo Yawk manner but the dogged semaphore and the dodgy accents seem to get in the way of their establishing much sense of sexual chemistry.

Fisher's clear and true soprano is largely wasted on Hamlisch's forgettable score, which ranges from flavourless soft-pop to flaccid sub-disco. The book is by Neil Simon at his most mechanical. As you listen to the non-stop barrage not-so-cracking wisecracks, it's the other meaning of "gag" to which the mind fondly strays. Vernon has heard that there are Russian peasants who are free from neurosis – but not one of them ever has a song in the Top 40. Sonia dresses kookily in hand-me-down costumes from old shows like Pippin. If the characters were still struggling for recognition, they might be just about tolerable.

So what next in this line? Lee Mead from Joseph as Sweeney Todd? Danny Bayne and Susan McFadden from Grease in The King and I? I somehow feel that Fisher, transposed from the mountains to Manhattan, is not going to set a trend.

News
Northern exposure: social housing in Edinburgh, where Hassiba now works in a takeaway
books An Algerian scientist adjusts to life working in a kebab shop
Arts and Entertainment
Terminator Genisys: Arnie remains doggedly true to his word as the man who said 'I'll be back', returning once more to protect Sarah Connor in a new instalment

 

film review
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Relocation, relocation: Zawe Ashton travels the pathway to Northampton
Arts and Entertainment
BBC Three was launched a little over five years ago with the slogan: “Three, is a magic number, yes it is.”

BBC Trust agrees to axe channel from TV in favour of digital move

TV
Arts and Entertainment
British actor Idris Elba is also a DJ and rapper who played Ibiza last summer

film
Arts and Entertainment

books
Arts and Entertainment
Armie Hammer in the new film of ‘The Lone Ranger’

TV
Arts and Entertainment

festivals
Arts and Entertainment

Final Top Gear review

TV
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Pete Doherty and Carl Barat perform at Glastonbury 2015

music
Arts and Entertainment
Lionel Richie performs live on the Pyramid stage during the third day of Glastonbury Festival

music
Arts and Entertainment
Buying a stairway to Hubbard: the Scientology centre in Los Angeles
film review Chilling inside views on a secretive church
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Williamson, left, and Andrew Fearn of Sleaford Mods
musicYou are nobody in public life until you have been soundly insulted by Sleaford Mods
Arts and Entertainment
Natalie Dew (Jess) in Bend It Like Beckham The Musical
theatreReview: Bend It Like Beckham hits back of the net on opening night
Arts and Entertainment
The young sea-faring Charles Darwin – seen here in an 1809 portrait – is to be portrayed as an Indiana Jones-style adventurer
film
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Greece debt crisis: EU 'family' needs to forgive rather than punish an impoverished state

    EU 'family' needs to forgive rather than punish an impoverished state

    An outbreak of malaria in Greece four years ago helps us understand the crisis, says Robert Fisk
    Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge: The traumatised kibbutz on Israel's front line, still recovering from last summer's war with Hamas

    Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge

    The traumatised kibbutz on Israel's front line, still recovering from last summer's war with Hamas
    How to survive electrical storms: What are the chances of being hit by lightning?

    Heavy weather

    What are the chances of being hit by lightning?
    World Bodypainting Festival 2015: Bizarre and brilliant photos celebrate 'the body as art'

    World Bodypainting Festival 2015

    Bizarre and brilliant photos celebrate 'the body as art'
    alt-j: A private jet, a Mercury Prize and Latitude headliners

    Don't call us nerds

    Craig Mclean meets alt-j - the math-folk act who are flying high
    How to find gold: The Californian badlands, digging out crevasses and sifting sludge

    How to find gold

    Steve Boggan finds himself in the Californian badlands, digging out crevasses and sifting sludge
    Singing accents: From Herman's Hermits and David Bowie to Alesha Dixon

    Not born in the USA

    Lay off Alesha Dixon: songs sound better in US accents, even our national anthem
    10 best balsamic vinegars

    10 best balsamic vinegars

    Drizzle it over salad, enjoy it with ciabatta, marinate vegetables, or use it to add depth to a sauce - this versatile staple is a cook's best friend
    Greece says 'No': A night of huge celebrations in Athens as voters decisively back Tsipras and his anti-austerity stance in historic referendum

    Greece referendum

    Greeks say 'No' to austerity and plunge Europe into crisis
    Ten years after the 7/7 terror attacks, is Britain an altered state?

    7/7 bombings anniversary

    Ten years after the terror attacks, is Britain an altered state?
    Beautiful evening dresses are some of the loveliest Donatella has created

    Versace haute couture review

    Beautiful evening dresses are some of the loveliest Donatella has ever created
    No hope and no jobs, so Gaza's young risk their lives, climb the fence and run for it

    No hope and no jobs in Gaza

    So the young risk their lives and run for it
    Fashion apps: Retailers roll together shopping and social networking for mobile customers

    Fashion apps

    Retailers roll together shopping and social networking for mobile customers
    The Greek referendum exposes a gaping hole at the heart of the European Union – its distinct lack of any genuine popular legitimacy

    Gaping hole at the heart of the European Union

    Treatment of Greece has shown up a lack of genuine legitimacy
    Number of young homeless in Britain 'more than three times the official figures'

    'Everything changed when I went to the hostel'

    Number of young homeless people in Britain is 'more than three times the official figures'