Archive for June, 2010

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MOBY DICK: A WHALE OF A MUSICAL

June 7, 2010

This weekend I was going through my CDs, thinning out the ones that I hadn’t listened to, or simply didn’t want anymore.  I happened across the double CD of MOBY DICK: THE MUSICAL, which was a live recording from 1991.  What?  You’ve never HEARD of MOBY DICK THE MUSICAL?  Truthfully, I’m not surprised.  It was far from a blockbuster hit.

MOBY DICK was the brainchild of  songwriters Robert Longden and Hereward Kaye, and was produced by impresario Cameron Mackintosh.  Now don’t let the title fool you.  This was not another effects-laden emotionally heavy show.  This was the total opposite end of the scale.  It’s actually a show-within-a-show musical about a girls’ school  that needs to raise funds to pay their electricity bill, which, in the words of the headmistress is “larger than Harrod’s”.  This leads to a mercilessly bouncy opener in which the schoolgirls and staff bounce ideas for raising money in time for “Parents Day”.  Ideas in this song range from making gin, to kidnapping canine star Rin Tin Tin, to stealing the World Cup trophy.  Enter student Fifi Clampwell, authoress of the musical within the musical.  It’s decided….Moby dick will be the presentation for Parents Day, with Fifi as Ishmael and the headmistress as Ahab.

Yes, you did read that right.  The headmistress is actually actor/singer Tony Monopoly in drag, and reverse drag when he goes from headmistress to Ahab.  Just go with it, it makes life a lot easier.  Anyway, despite Fifi’s insistence on a straight telling of the story, the jokes and asides keep coming.  The jokes range from bawdy to just plain corny.  I really don’t want to go into too much detail, because I’d run the risk of some major spoilers being ruined.  You’ll just have to find a copy and hear for yourself.

The score by Longden and Kaye, though is really well-crafted.  We get a range of styles from gospel to sea shanty to big band jazz to pop.  It’s not unusual to hear the audience get caught up in it more than once.  My personal favorite tracks include “At Sea One Day”, “Primitive”, “Heave Away”, and “A Whale of a Tale”, not to mention “Parents Day” discussed earlier.

Listening to the CD, and the fun score, combined with the enthusiastic reaction of the audience, and the backing of Cameron Mackintosh, you’d have thought that this would be a welcome breath of fresh air in 1991 West End London.  Like I said, this was the total opposite of MISS SAIGON, LES MISERABLES, and PHANTOM.  Sadly, this was not the case.  The critics HATED MOBY DICK.  They unanimously declared that the novel was not being given the proper respect and treatment it deserved.  My reaction to this is “Did you not SEE the first 15 minutes?  It’s not REALY about Moby Dick, it’s about a school trying to pay the bills by doing something almost totally impossible, and impractical.  Not to mention the fact that it’s billed as a musical COMEDY!  Sheesh!”.  Seriously, those critics needed to get over themselves for 5 minutes.  Poor Cameron just couldn’t seem to win for trying by this point.  He made the live recording mainly for cast and friends, but people who saw it kept asking for the album.  Hence the live recording.

I had seen it in the stores a few times in the mid 1990’s, and left it there, until one day in 1996, when I finally decided to buy it.  If you’ve read this far.  I guess you know how I feel about it.  With the current trend in modern musical comedy to acknowledge and involve the audience, maybe this whale can be saved.  If I find YouTube video, I’ll post it here, so you can see and hear for yourself.

Here’s a great song “PEQUOD” from Act 1: