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The Card: review

Like all great fairytales, from Cinderella to My Fair Lady, The Card is about someone going to a ball: in this case it is Denry Machin, the local boy making good who is the Card of the title of Arnold Bennett’s original and classic novel. what we have now is one of the most joyous musicals of regional Brisitsh life since Half a Sixpence, and not since Tommy Steels opened that show in the West End more than 30 years ago has there been a more engaging, more energetic, star debut than that of Peter Duncan who plays the lead in this Regent’s Park Open Air staging.

The shows have a good deal in common: both come from bestselling authors of the early century (Bennet and HG Wells), both afford a likely -lad hero surviving a rigid class oppression to turn the tables on their Victorian elders and betters. Denry is a lovable kind of pioneer yuppie: his morals may be a little shaky, his methods a little suspect, but precisely because he is about to overturn a century of snobbery-with-violence, we side with him anyway.

And of course he’s been around a bit; way back in 1949 The Card as a film confirmed the wayward, understated comic genius of Alex Guiness as this Everyman. A full 20 years ago the very first version of this musical established the West End stardom of Jim dale, Millicent Martin and Marti Webb.

What this version did not have was box office success, despite some glowing reviews (and some that glowed a little less brightly). But one of the definitions, it seems to me, of a great producer is that he stays with a project he believes in long after most others involved have moved on to other shows and other scores. This is the case with Cameron Mackintosh and The Card; he has now commissioned a whole new set of lyrics from Anthony Drewe, had the original Tony Hatch/Jackie trent score drastically revised, and persuaded the original book-of-the-book writers (Keith Waterhouse and Willis Hall) to rethink their contribution.

This revised version first surfaced at the Watermill in Newbury in 1993 and has just enjoyed a sold-out season at the Park before embarking on a worldwide tour which took in Moscow, where Denry’s catch-me-quick capatalist opportunism presumably found a response that would have been a little less politically correct before the fall of communism in the old USSR.

The show contains showstopper after showstopper. This lilting, lyrical score soars over any dramatic obstacles. Not only Mr Duncan, a new star on stage but also Jessica Martin and Jenna Russell as his girlfriends and Hayley Mills as his saviour-socialite, are wonderfully in tune with a period piece which stunningly reasserts the supremacy of the small-scale, book-based musical which replaces special effects with the human heart and spirit in triumph over the odds.

Sheridan Morley
International, Herald Tribune

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