Chichester Festival Theatre
Opened 24 July, 2001

Loveday Ingram is a versatile as well as an intelligent director. Last year, her Chichester Minerva productions of both David Hare's The Blue Room and the musical Pal Joey traded up (the first to the West End, the second to Chichester's main Festival Theatre), and this summer in the main house she follows the Gershwin musical My One And Only with Brian Friel's version of Three Sisters. The George and Ira show is likely to do honourable business in London later this year, but on the basis of its current Chichester showing it won't set the city alight.

This is largely the fault of the show rather than Ingram's production. My One And Only stands in the same relationship to the Gershwin brothers' Funny Face as Crazy For You does to their Girl Crazy: the numbers from the original show are put together with some other ones from the same writers and an altogether new book, which tries to combine golden-age musical fantasy with a sharper post-modern edge. Thus, Peter Stone and Timothy S. Mayer's book here classic boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy gets girl, except that boy is a would-be Lindbergh and girl is the star of a synchronised swimming show includes on the one hand a repeated, knowing gag in the line "We don't get too many white, tap-dancing aviators in here", and on the other, a similarly repeated use of the disparaging term "shit-for-brains", which shocks not because it is a mild expletive but because it is so horrendously misjudged in a Gershwin-song world.

Watching Tim Flavin and Janie Dee onstage is like seeing the movie Julie Andrews and Dennis Quaid never made together: he has the rumbustious, down-home grinning charm, she the poise and the modulated vowels. Yet watch closely and it is Dee who is more truly, vibrantly alive: in their first duet, "He Loves & She Loves", Flavin hits his facial marks, so to speak, pulling the right expressions at the right moments, but Dee is responding naturally at every instant, never turning off even for a second.

Lez Brotherston's design manages to overlay locations ranging from Grand Central Station to a swimming pool on the basic set of an Art Deco picture house; at one point a silent-movie pastiche is projected, in which Hilton McRae proves more visually recognisable than in his stage role as the villainous Prince Nikki. Craig Revel Horwood's choreography is lively but limited by the dancers' abilities: the point of tap is that you hear each click, so when ensemble numbers diffuse into a not quite synchronised, imperfectly syncopated rolling thunder it rather dulls the impact. Most of all, Stone and Mayer's book always feels like the artificial construction it is: all the right bits are there, but you can see the bolts that hold them together.

Written for the Financial Times.

Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.

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