Theatre: Paradise Found (or at least something to pass the time on a warm night)

On Friday evening when it was warm and too nice to be indoors, Gio and I were indoors taking in a very early preview of the new show Paradise Found at the Menier Chocolate Factory. The audience consisted of Americans, the elderly, homosexuals or a combination of these. Given that it was a full house and the chocolate factory has only bench seating, you had no choice but get very acquainted and slightly sweaty with your neighbours.

We knew nothing about the show and only the poster and programme art suggested it was going to be some warm loving sex show... Possibly set to music. What I did know was that it had a great cast of talented people in it... A cast that includes Mandy Patinkin, Nancy Opel, Judy Kaye, Shuler Hensley and John McMartin. It is directed by Hal Prince and Susan Stroman, and has music arrangements by Jonathan Tunick. You would think it is surely is worth a shot.

As the show got underway, the story is about the Shah (John McMartin) and his trip to Vienna to find new women. Patinkin plays the Shah's chief eunuch. While in Vienna he meets a Baron and his whore, and discovers the Austrians are really into wife swapping in a big way. At a state ceremony the Shah takes a fancy to the Empress of Austria and gets an erection and demands that he see her for sexual gratification. To avoid a scandal they fool the Shah into thinking the whore is the Empress as she sort of looks a bit like her when the lights are a little low. It is all set to the music of Strauss, including a song about masturbation. And all that was just the first act. You could be forgiven for thinking it is an odd sort of show. Yet amongst all this there were some inspired moments and some pretty good singing too...

By interval I couldn't make up my mind what to think of the show. Then Gio turned to me and said, "It's an operetta." It then all made sense. I could forgive the nonsensical plot and take the show as a slightly bawdy (perhaps yet to develop its full comic potential) operetta. Producing an operetta is probably not the objective of the creative team (the programme notes refer to Prince saying he didn't want to do an operetta), but it certainly felt more like an operetta than a musical theatre piece or music theatre piece... A wife swapping operetta may not have been the first thing I was expecting out of my Friday evening but I could live with it. New musical works that are funny, creative or interesting have been rare of late so maybe it is time to go back to the origins of music theatre for some creative inspiration... Or at least to pass the time... Although if we are going to revive the operetta as an art form it could do with a composer and original music...

Things took a darker turn in the second act,  but there was a warmth to the show that couldn't just be the result of the underpowered air conditioning... There were a set of characters and show there, it just wasn't always there... Maybe with an original score, a faster comic pace and more than just a few choice cuts it . It is still worth catching for its curio-factor / stunt casting. It has a great cast performing something new that could develop into something more interesting... Plus the fact that leading lady Kate Baldwin has an amazing set of legs and breasts... Enhanced by great costumes and great costume tape... It will have you wondering how it all stays there without popping out for most of the first act... As for the rest of the show, it runs until 26 June...

Of course the show probably isn't to everyone's taste... Walking out of the theatre, I heard the phrase "what a load of garbage" a fair bit (and it wasn't about how clean the streets are in Southwark)... But you could say that about most things at the theatre... Our post show bewildered boo impressions were a little more measured...
Listen!

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