Review: The Grand Tour (Finborough Theatre) JohnnyFox January 10, 2015 Musicals, Reviews When the cast of Spamalot sings lustily “You just won’t succeed on Broadway, If you don’t have any Jews!“ it makes you wonder why Jerry Herman’s 1979 The Grand Tour was such a massive flop since its constantly-on-stage hero is a decidedly bearded bacon-dodger. S L Jacobowsky has been serially fleeing the Nazi advance across Europe. In Paris on the brink of occupation he finds a reluctant companion in an aristocratic and roundly anti-semitic Colonel from his own home town who has ‘secret papers’ to ferry to Polish emigrés in London. They form a kind of No-Hope and Crosby double act, fall for the same girl, and conclude with some grudging mutual acceptance. Maybe deliberately, there are tropes from many more successful musicals: Sound-of-Music-eque hiding in a convent, Pippin-ish optimism, Fiddler obviously on the Roof and a glorious bit of Chicago’s razzle dazzle (some reviewers attributed the circus theme to Barnum, but Barnum didn’t open till a year later). For me it was mostly Candide: a maniacal caper across the continent with abrupt reversals of fortune and the protagonists obliged to do the most ridiculous things from being a rabbi at a Jewish wedding to walking the high wire in a big top. Some of the broadsheet critics, and an uncharacteristically severe Matt Trueman on Whatsonstage, savaged the show for not exploring the moral dilemmas and historical tensions in greater detail. Maybe I’m getting soft in my old age, or haven’t seen enough recently – apart from Carmina Burana at the Teatro Municipal in Santiago de Chile, this is my first performance in a month – but I really liked it. The intimate setting does it a huge favour, I can’t quite imagine you’d engage half so well with this random group of characters from twenty rows back in a 1700-seater in New York. The fold-out, pop-up, Sisley-like painterly set by Phil Lindley adds bucolic charm by the bucketful, as does the accompaniment on two offstage pianos echoing Rawicz and Landauer (although you’re all too young to remember the Polish/Viennese duo), Thom Southerland’s deft direction of deliberately overcrowded scenes like the railway carriage – a borrow from On The Twentieth Century maybe – and the slickly assembled and twice as slickly broken down first act tightrope climax. Musically, it’s quite reminiscent of La Cage Aux Folles because it’s strong on anthems and most of the tunes are handled by two men: it’s the elegance of the singing by Alastair Brookshaw as Jacobowsky that first makes you warm to what could otherwise be an unloveable schlemiel and relax into the piece, then admire the fine high tenor work of Nick Kyle’s Colonel. With Zoë Doano’s demure and likeable Marianne you have a trio which, even if they don’t hit you with the relentless attack of Don, Cosmo and Kathy in Singin’ In The Rain, provide a focus you really want to follow. As you expect from a Southerland/Tarento show, ensemble casting is excellent and singing of the highest standard. Returning to the reasons why it failed in ’79, maybe it’s because the score has no takeaway songs and you don’t hear them on the radio – not even Elaine Paige plays these wordy ballads – although ‘Marianne’ is one of the most delightful love songs Jerry Herman wrote, it was too contextual to become a classic. Seeing The Grand Tour on the day of the atrocities at the magazine headquarters in Paris gave its anthem to resilience I’ll Be Here Tomorrow a poignancy and relevance that crowned quite a lovely evening.