Musicals Review







The Life & Songs of Charles Strouse


Adapted by Barry Fantoni


Directed by Robert McWhir


Musical Director: Oliver-John Ruthven


Choreographer: Robbie O’Reilly


Lighting Design: Martin Terry


Landor Theatre


8 – 25 April 2009









A review by Barry Grantham for EXTRA! EXTRA!


‘Put on a Happy Face’ at the Landor Theatre tells the story of Charles Strouse, composer of ‘Annie’, ‘Bye Bye Birdie’ and ‘Applause’. The formula is similar to that of the countless bio-pics that came out of the Hollywood studios in the fifties and sixties, and the book by Barry Fantoni is very satisfactory, cleverly adapting Strouse’s  songs, to illuminate incidents in his none-too-interesting life.  The eight handed company work hard to present this as a work of group theatre, and this too, largely succeeds. There was, on this first night a tendency to work a little too hard and I’m sure the cast will soon realize that this is a very intimate theatre and there is no need to belt it across the imaginary footlights as if they were performing at Drury Lane. Two of the company take it in turn to provide the accompaniment on an electric piano; both are quite skilful, but again, too loud and strident for the venue.

I’ll take a moment out to talk about ‘Intimacy’. After the war a genre established itself in London and it was known as’ Intimate Revue’ and, apart from an intentional double entendre, perfected itself in a technique of performing music and sketches in  small theatres and fringe venues.  Artists who made their name in Intimate Revue include the two Hermiones - Gingold and Baddeley, Henry Kendall, Shani Wallis, Ron Moody, Beryl Reid, etc. The technique involved a great precision of diction, and of movement, and the realization that a laugh could be gained with no more than the raising of an eyebrow. A similar style was also developed in Greenwich Village in revue and small scale musicals which can still be appreciated in the Revisited records.  In fact, I first became aware of Charles Strouse on visits to New York, though I did see ‘Bye Bye Birdie’ in London and used ‘Put on a Happy Face’ in one of my own acts.

Although Strouse largely wrote show music, some of his slower numbers, like the beautiful ‘Once upon a time’  need a more elegant and stylish treatment than any of the cast here have yet given them.  There were, however, a couple of splendid male duos, and the chorus numbers were given with appropriate dash and verve.

You may have noticed that I have not singled out any names and the reason for this is that last night there were no programmes available. The management kindly found me an incomplete proof, but having about a third of the cast missing, I am loath to risk praising or damning the wrong persons. Here therefore, is the full compliment:
Alexander Bradford, Michael Chance, Peter Gerald, Sherene Hanley, Leanne Howell, Victoria Kempton, Paul Lawrence Thomas, Michael Scurfield.  They were after all a team and presented a show that was worth doing and worth seeing.



Landor Theatre
70 Landor Road, London, SW9 9PH

 (Tuesday to Saturday only)     

Evenings at 7.30 pm

Box Office: 0207 737 7276

Tickets:  £15  Concessions £12






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