The title is a bit of misnomer; it should really have been headed THE STORY OF HOW British MUSICALS WERE REALLY NOTHING UNTIL TIM RICE AND ANDREW LLOYD WEBBER CAME ALONG. Most of the emphasis is on musicals post-Jesus Christ SUPERSTAR; the contribution of other artists of the past, notably David Heneker, Julian Slade, Frank Norman, Monty Norman and Ivor Novello is virtually ignored.
Let us get one thing straight; this is not a story of musicals, but a story of musicals in the postwar era. Hence the work of Noel Coward, Vivian Ellis, Clifford Grey and other titans of the prewar period can be conveniently ignored. The first episode contains some glaring inaccuracies: Ivor Novello was not passé as the narrative claims, on the contrary KING'S RHAPSODY (1949) ran for 800+ performances, and GAY'S THE WORD (1951) also enjoyed commercial success. The program ignores SALAD DAYS altogether (although it ran from 1954-59), and gives scant treatment to THE BOYFRIEND, which might have been changed substantially when it opened on Broadway, but gave a first major role to a young British singer called Julie Andrews.
One could go further in criticizing the program's cavalier treatment of musical history: we hear nothing of CHARLIE GIRL, another five- year runner that restored Dame Anna Neagle to the public gaze; nor do we hear of the work of Monty Norman that included MAKE ME AN OFFER and ESPRESSO BONGO, a late Fifties musical capitalizing on the Soho vogue for coffee bars at that time. The program gives due credit to the work of Lionel Bart (OLIVER!) but then curiously spends too much time analyzing HAIR!, which for all its notoriety was actually an American import.
For fans of Lloys Webber/ Rice, or for other long-running hits such as LES MIZ, CATS, STARLIGHT, PHANTOM and others, the series will have some attraction; but there are curious anomalies, even in later episodes. While ME AND MY GIRL was a hit in 1985, it was hardly a new musical, having already been a hit for Lupino Lane nearly half a century earlier. The fact that Stephen Fry co-revised the book doesn't render it a "new" text.
Nonetheless, the series does offer occasional incidental pleasures such as interviews with the late Sandy Wilson and the late Ron Moody, plus further reminiscences from Tommy Steele, Marti Webb, Sheila Hancock and the late Victor Spinetti (but no Barbara Windsor, although she was an important figure in Sixties musicals).
On the whole, however, we get the feeling that this is a distorted history slanted towards the contemporary era. Disappointing.
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