I have to admit that, tucked up in the Pacific Northwest corner of the USA, I tend to
ignore a lot of whatís happening in the wide world of musical theater. For example,
I thought I knew about most of Andrew Lloyd Webber's productions, from the early days
of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat through the mega productions of Evita,
Cats, Phantom, Sunset Boulevard, etc. So I was surprised not long ago to discover this
CD of a 1996 collaboration between Webber and Alan Ayckbourn, no less. Though it drew
solid reviews in Britain, it apparently played in only three venues, for a total of
about seven months, here in the U.S. -- in East Haddam, Connecticut, Los Angeles
and, finally, Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. Perhaps P.G. Wodehouseís farcical
comedies of 1920s British upper-class society just don't resonate over here. More's
the pity -- if this recording is any way representative of the stage product, it must
have been delightful.
The format -- revised, apparently, from a 1975 version -- is a flashback narrative in
which Jeeves (Malcolm Sinclair) relates to Bertie Wooster (Steven Pacey) the circumstances
of an intended banjo concert that came up short due to the lack of Bertie's banjo. The ensuing,
loosely strung scenario features the typically improbable machinations of Wooster and his
coterie of quirky-named friends and associates. The 26 cues are roughly split between songs
and dialogue -- the former showcasing Ayckbournís clever lyrics, the latter offering his take
on Wodehouse's memorably nuanced interplay between Jeeves and Wooster. No recitative here,
as in most of Webberís better known works. Instead, the composer's effort appears limited
to the songs, which are at least serviceable as narrative-advancers and at best (which,
happily, is more often than not) enjoyably hummable. These latter include 'Travel Hopefully,'
'That Was Nearly Us,' and 'Love's Mazes.'
While everyone here, from the haughty Sir Watkyn Bassett to the hapless Gussie Fink-Nottle,
is taken directly from the pages of Wodehouse's marvelous stories, there also appears to
be a touch of real-life inspiration. In 1905, at the age of 23, Wodehouse made a New Year's
resolution -- to learn to play the banjo. History does not record the outcome of that musical
undertaking, but it's good to have this recording of Ayckbourn's and Webber's .