'Dear World' review or 'Can we count on the Countess?'
'Dear World', Music and Lyrics by Jerry Herman
Charing Cross Theatre, Wednesday 13th February 2013
Written for Time Out
Ever hear the one about the mad old lady who saved Paris from a gang of evil, oil-grabbing corporate bods? No? That's because Jerry Herman's 'Dear World', which premiered on Broadway in 1969, has never played in Europe. There's a reason for this absence: the book is a shambles.
'Dear World' is billed as a 'fable' but that's a get-out clause; a loose term for a show too lost to be labelled. The setting is post-war Paris and the musical hints at the importance of individual gumption over deadening conformity. But the structure is too shaky to allow the sub-themes to sing.
Despite these flaws, director Gillian Lynne has lent a sophisticated sheen to this messy show. The quirky set, assured singing and witty choreography are all top class. The music is decent too, with Herman's bolshy melodies just about making up for his lacklustre lyrics.
Broadway legend Betty Buckley is ferociously powerful as the mad-hatter, Countess Aurelia, although her voice occasionally batters us in this modest space. She's also a little too straight-laced for this bonkers role. It is with the show's one moving (rather than mental) number, 'And I Was Beautiful', that Buckley's voice finally wraps around us.