Chichester Festival Theatre, W Sussex
Opened 20 May, 2004

This year’s Chichester season began with two openings on the same day. (The other was Gale Edwards’ gimmicky, circus-y anticlimax of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, about which no more need be said.)  Incredibly, this is the first British professional staging of Cole Porter’s 1950 musical in which Jupiter, helped by the other gods of Olympus and hindered by his wife Juno, chases a mortal woman.  Has it been worth the wait? I think so.

The score doesn’t contain any neglected Cole Porter masterpieces, but there are a lot of good, solid numbers in there.  "Cherry Pies Ought To Be You” is a list song that can almost stand comparison with “You’re The Top”, and Juno’s wail of sexual frustration “Nobody’s Chasing Me” is also a gem of its kind.  The problem may be that, being written for characters who are gods, these songs don’t transplant well out of the show.

The main reason why this show never caught on, though, was not the songs but the book. Despite several rewrites, it just wasn’t funny or memorable enough.  The version staged here combines lines from original drafts and from a 1979 rewrite, which reinvents the mortal characters as Hollywood stars.  There’s also some new material by Chitty Chitty stage adaptor Jeremy Sams, making for a fine confection of nudge-nudgery.

There are running gags about Jupiter turning himself into various animals for seductive purposes and about Apollo mincing around being (ahem) “artistic”.  Juno accidentally picks up a lesbian showbiz columnist, and Mercury sings of “Pandora, who let me open her box.”  All the best of the bisexual smut that was ordered excised by prudish ’50s censors seems to have been restored, and then some. It’s frankly delicious.

Director Martin Duncan enjoys being energetically wacky when it’s justified, and it’s certainly justified here.  Nicholas Colicos is a rampant Jupiter, Anne Reid a salacious Juno. Richard Dempsey is a hormonal teenager of a Mercury, and newcomer Clare Foster makes an impression as his chosen target.  All in all, not an undiscovered work of genius, but it’s nice to see it properly shown the light of day at last.

Written for Teletext.

Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.

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