Union Theatre, London
Music by Jule Styne
Lyrics by E. Y. "Yip" Harburg
Book by Nunnally Johnson
Directed by Paul Foster
An Edwardian Englishman returns to London after many years on the other side of the world and assumes a new identity. A baddy seeks to expose him and a feisty widow desires his hand in marriage. Sounds like Sweeney Todd? Well in key plotlines maybe, but as a story, this is far more lighthearted than that of the dark and vengeful barber. Darling Of The Day is a whimsical musical based upon an enchantingly frivolous tale that notwithstanding a disappointing opening history on Broadway, eventually arrives at London’s compact Union Theatre for its European premiere.
The Darling of the title is celebrated artist Priam Farll, recently returned home, accompanied only by his loyal valet Henry Leek. No sooner back in Blighty, than Leek drops dead and a bumbling doctor mistakenly certifies his body as that of Farll. The real Farll, keen to escape the rat race of mercenary art dealers and fawning fans, siezes upon the opportunity to assume his butler's identity. Unbeknownst to Farll though, his manservant had established a romance via correspondence with perhaps one of the most assonantly named characters ever created, a Mrs Alice Challis. Love of course blossoms between Farll and Challis and the premise of the show follows the farcical course that Farll's adopted identity causes amongst the affairs both of the heart and of London's art scene.
Elegantly patrician with an almost Wildean affected air of disdain, James Dinsmore plays Farll as an eminently believable bohemian, keen to duck out of life's commitments. Beautifully voiced, amongst other numbers Dinsmore has the final solo of the show, Butler In The Abbey, which is a as funny as it is cleverly melodious. Michael Hobbs is Clive Oxford an art dealer whose ethics are non-existent. Oxford is another gentleman of apparent breeding and the interaction between these two wise and wily men is banter at its most elegant.
Katy Secombe plays Challis. She fits the bill of an ever so ‘umble but nonetheless feisty Putney woman superbly and her character’s arc from being a predatory widow in search of husband no. 2, to lovingly besotted wife is cleverly drawn. Buxom, grinning and cuddly, Secombe's Challis is a carefully concocted hybrid that bares more than a passing resemblance to Sondheim's Mrs Lovett and Lionel Bart's Nancy. She is a delight to observe throughout, even if occasionally she is caught out, singing beyond the limits of her most comfortable range.
As wealthy patron Lady Vale, Rebecca Caine’s performance is a treat. Much like a (significantly younger) Maggie Smith, Caine's pouting poise and presence, with a delightful mastery of the raised eyebrow where necessary, ensure that every barbed nuance of her character's ignorant and impressionable landed lady is to be savoured . Suffering from laryngitis on press night her songs were ably sung by Olivia Maffett.
Mention too for Matthew Rowland, who this reviewer saw not long back as Boy George in Taboo. The lad only has a modest supporting role, but his talent and presence are outstanding. Recently graduated, this remarkable young man is one to watch and he adds another dimension of quality to the show. Also in the company, Secombe's older brother Andy mops up a handful of minor characters, including a delightfully dotty judge. His face, voice and movement are a comic joy and both siblings are a credit to their legendary father Harry.
Ultimately the show is (yet another) quaint American view of England in the early 20th century, albeit written with a touch more panache than some and one that will keep you smiling throughout and guffawing occasionally. Matt Flint choreographs imaginatively around the Union’s iron girders whilst Inga Davis-Rutter leads her 4 piece band with flair. Like a long lost painting found in the attic, Darling Of The Day is a newly discovered treasure that will be enjoyed by all who savour imaginative musical theatre.
Runs to 20th April 2013