The Four Musketeers
As I mentioned a couple weeks ago, my favorite performer is Harry Secombe -- best known for radio's The Goon Show and the movie Oliver!, as well as the musical Pickwick. This is another musical he starred in, The Four Musketeers!I, again a big hit in London running for 462 performances, though it never came to the United States.
I thought it would fun to play a song from the show, since not only have few people in the U.S. likely ever heard it (let alone heard of it), but also it has a very interesting pedigree. The show was extremely entertaining, with its tongue firmly in cheek, largely a vaudevilian version of the story (what else could it be with comic clown Sir Harry playing D'Artagnan), though it did follow the story reasonably, had its share of drama, a great deal of swashbuckling and a very lively score, with several beautiful ballads.
The witty lyrics were by Herbert Kretzmer, who 20 years later would adapt Les Miserables. (Clearly, he has an affection for the French revolution. For all I know, his work on this show is what brought him to the attention of Cameron Macintosh/) The music is by a fellow named Laurie Johnson, who early had written a charming musical, Lock Up Your Daughters, based on a novel by Henry Fielding, but he's best known for his TV themes and movie scores, among them The Avengers and Dr. Strangelove. And it was all directed by Peter Coe who came to fame directing the original London production and Broadway version of Oliver!
This is the show I refer to in my earlier piece, where I met Harry Secombe before a performance, and he told me to interview him, when I asked if he'd just say, "Hello," into my tape recorder. One question I asked was whether the musical would come to the United States. Even at that point, he said that there no plans for it. The reason, he said was that the set -- designed by Sean Kenney, who like Coe also became known from Oliver!, designing the famous "revolving stage" -- was so massive that the only two theaters that could probably handle it were one in Dallas and the Music Center in Los Angeles. It's a shame, since the show was really quite enjoyable.
This is the opening number, as D'Artagnan makes his way to Paris. My recollection is that this version of the song wasn't performed the night I saw the show, though a reprise is performed later. It may have been cut after the opening, to trim for time -- but it also might have been that before the curtain it was announced that Sir Harry was in the midst of a chronic cold and would lip-sync the two big ballads (something, reaching back to his vaudeville days, and which fit the tone of the production, he made hilarious), and perhaps this was an additional easy cut until he was better. I always have liked this full version, that sets up the show wonderfully.
2/19/2014 06:54:46 pm
Hi - I have just been playing some of the tracks from my copy of this record and must have seen the show (aged 17) at The Theatre Royal London about the same time; as Harry had a problem with his voice and clowned about when supposed to be miming to the big numbers! The current BBC TV version of the Musketeers reminded me of my soundtrack copy of this light hearted show which sadly only ran for a year; perhaps as you say because the set was too complex to transfer to another stage - maybe someone will stage it again with the help of modern technology,but who could play Harry's role?
2/20/2014 12:42:39 am
Thanks for your note. Nice to hear from someone else who saw the show, I think if there was a revival, they'd likely build a smaller set to make it easier to travel. I don't see it getting re-done on a grand scale, but it would be interesting to see smaller productions done that local theaters or schools could do. It is, after all, so lighthearted and charming.
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Robert J. Elisberg is a political commentator, screenwriter, novelist, tech writer and also some other things that I just tend to keep forgetting.
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