Saturday 7th February 2015, matinée
Having promised ourselves another visit to Upstairs at the Gatehouse following their impressive Christmas show Singin’ in the rain, we were pleased to find another opportunity so soon – ‘The Goodbye Girl’, a musical based on the classic seventies film which was scripted by Neil Simon and helped Richard Dreyfus win an oscar, with music by Marvin Hamlisch and Lyrics by David Zippel.
The plot is spookily close to the last play we saw, Hello/Goodbye – a couple, thrown together in an apartment which both think they have a claim on, end up falling in love. Except that this version, nearly forty years old, seems to have worn much better. In New York, Paula McFadden is an ex-dancer who has to revive her career when her live-in lover abandons her and her twelve year old daughter for Spain, simultaneously sub-letting the apartment to his actor friend Elliot Garfield. When he turns up in the middle of the night, some quick negotiations result in compromise as both agree to live together to keep a roof over their heads.
The story is not exactly original, but it is well executed, with plenty of wit and characters who are both loveable and entertaining with their various foibles. Paula’s desperate attempts to get back into shape are genuinely painful to watch, while Elliot’s adventures in the world of experimental theatre, playing a new and ground-breaking version of Richard III are still highly entertaining – some things never change in the world of theatre!
As Paula, Rebecca Bainbridge was a curiously familiar face, until we realised that we had seen her many years ago in a production of ‘The Great Pretenders’ at the Gatehouse, where she played an ageing Marilyn Monroe impersonator making a final bid for success in her career and love life. She has a good-natured spikeyness about her, and brings just enough warmth amid the dizzying rollercoaster of bravado and self-doubt. Her reaction to Elliot’s request for her to ‘be nice’ to him (misinterpreted as something a little more intimate) is priceless. We last saw Paul Keating as the scarecrow in the ‘Wizard of Oz’, so his versatility as an actor is certainly not in question. It was nice to see him a bit more close-up, and to enjoy a charming and witty performance that pushes the boundaries of Elliot’s occasional pomposity just enough while showing us his vulnerable side, not least when he turns up after an evening of ‘sorrow drowning’ after the first (and last) night of his disastrous play. The chemistry between the two, whether verbally sparring or giving in to their feelings for each other, was a pleasure to see.
The chorus do a great job of creating the hothouse atmosphere of showbiz, whether playing out a version of Richard III that makes Propeller look tame, or putting on cheesy daytime TV fodder (a nice cameo from Tim Phelps). James Wolstenholme and Alex Green excel as the kind of male dancers who are exhausting just to watch.
You may be wondering, after five paragraphs, when we are going to get onto the subject of the music in this musical. The strange thing is that it was hard to see how the music adds much to this story. We wouldn’t be the first to comment on the propensity for successful films to be raided as material for musicals, but this one was first produced on Broadway just over twenty years ago, and the irony is that the book seems to have aged better than the music. There are some enjoyable musical moments, particularly Elliot’s song ‘I think I can play this part’, and Paula’s ‘A beat behind’, and the sharp and witty duet ‘My rules’, but for us there were no real stand-out numbers that felt like an essential part of the piece musically.