PETULA Clark proved last night at the world premiere of Someone Like You that she can still work wonders both on stage and in the tough real world of showbusiness.
In this brand new musical, as in Goodbye Mr Chips, she plays a kind of good fairy who brings sunshine and smiles wherever she goes--even in the terrible aftermath of the American Civil War--and gets her wings badly singed in the process.
But she could not have pulled off this major coup without the aid of Dave Willetts, former Phantom of the Opera star and without doubt the most powerful presence in a musical that now seems sure to do well in the West End.
It was a big night for the Arts Theatre and it was largely thanks to the inventive set of Tim Goodhild that it never seemed out of place in the relatively small setting. By bringing out the scenery and props as far as possible at each side and providing a frequently used well to add another dimension, it gave an illusion of much more space. The only time it was brought down to size was when Dave Willetts hurled himself into the stronger numbers, including the title song. By the time this point was reached, Petula Clark, too was giving her best, after what she admitted afterwards was a rather shaky start.
And all of them deserved the standing ovation and flowers that followed.
The story is set in West Virginia where the major (Willetts) is struggling without morphine, chloroform or clean linen to keep sick and wounded soldiers alive, after the carnage of the civil war.
Everyone is at their lowest ebb when Petula (as Abigail) arrives with equally bright and breezy Andy (Lewis Rae.) They have been wandering around looking for her preacher husband Kane (Clive Carter) who turns out to be a bit of a rat. But are they downhearted? No siree. . ..
Upon these rather sandy foundations is built a solid musical play, which grows in stature as it progresses.
Although she is the predictable goody two-shoes at the beginning, we find that she does have a dark secret. And in one song, I Am What You Need, it becomes clear that she has been quite a sexpot in her time.
A powerful and unpredictable story develops, dashed with just enough comic relief.
It is directed with great style by Robin Midgley, who has so faithfully kept his promise that the Cambridge Theatre Company will always open their shows in their home town.
The music and choreography were also excellent and my only criticism would be that it loses momentum occasionally between songs.
Joanne Campbell does a fine job as the recently freed negro maidservant. Michael Seraphim is a nimble and amusing Moonshine boy and Jane Arden is suitably spoiled as the Southern belle married to the Major who would rather be almost anywhere else.
Yes, the Major is a married man, and you will find that is not the only twist to this powerful love story.
--On Stage, Alan Kersey at the Arts Theatre