Cameron Mackintosh hasn't lost his magic touch, and after 10 years without a new musical he's come up with Betty Blue Eyes which has delighted the critics. It's a musical about a pig, the animal kind, continuing Mackintosh's love of putting singing and dancing animals on stage: there was his first mega-hit, Cats, and then Moby Dick which sunk out of sight immediately, but was great fun while it lasted. Betty Blue Eyes looks as though it's here to stay.
Libby Purves for The Times doesn't hold back in her 5-star review:
Not for nothing is KEEP CALM AND CARRY ON currently plastered on every mouse-mat. The 1940s cheer us up no end: no sooner have we warmed to the camaraderie of 1941 in Flare Path than we get this romping musical version of 1947: in which two American writers, Ron Cowen and Daniel Lipman, adapt Alan Bennett's tale of snobbery, skulduggery and illegal pig-raising for “a private function” to mark the wedding of Princess Elizabeth. From this unlikely pedigree, with George Stiles's music and Anthony Drewe's lyrics, a new smash musical is born: witty, rude, lovable, warm, dramatic, hilarious.
Mark Shenton in The Stage is more reserved:
Richard Eyre's production provides plenty of background colour and texture, and Stephen Mears gives it propulsive movement that is never gratuitous but organic to the action. It is handsomely designed by Tim Hatley with a series of moving panels flying in and out to define different locations from the home of chiropodist Gilbert and his piano teacher wife Joyce to the local high street. But it's sadly no Billy Elliot, either.
He explains why:
And here's the central difference – while you root for the real boy, it's difficult to become quite so animated about an animatronic pig, however cute she first appears. Instead, you have to take it on trust that Jack Edwards' Henry Allardyce falls for her blue eyes and banishes his wife to the sofa – there are echoes of Edward Albee's The Goat here, minus the sex.
The Guardian‘s Michael Billington loves the fact that this is real musical theatre, and not opera-ish:
But the success of this show relies on the fact that the songs grow out of, and are always proportionate to, the situation. The opening chorus of Fair Shares For All instantly establishes the fragile optimism of austerity Britain. A seductive number, Magic Fingers, is a tribute to Gilbert's secret erotic power and a sly comment on the sexual frustration of many women in the 1940s. Best of all is the way the hidden aspirations of the Gestapo-like meat inspector are released in a song in which he reveals himself as a frustrated Picasso. My only quibble would be with the idea that inside Gilbert's vengeful wife there is a showbiz chanteuse longing to escape. But this is a rare show in several ways. It is a genuine “musical comedy” rather than a through-composed pseudo-opera.
Michael Coveney in The Independent underlined the contribution of the strong cast:
Joyce's mother, the incontinent 84-year-old who overhears plans of a murder and thinks her number's up, is played with a glum feistiness by Ann Emery. Reece Shearsmith and Sarah Lancashire are perfect casting as the Chilvers; he's charming, deft and moon-faced, while she translates her airs and graces into elegant dance lines and killer commands. Betty is their piggy in the muddle, all right.
In fact, Charles Spencer in The Telegraph is full of praise for Betty's performance:
The second ace is the pig, Betty Blue Eyes, who seems destined to provide the climactic supper. What a star she proves. Betty greets the audience with what looks like a huge and delighted grin, flutters her eyelashes with all the artful charm of a Hollywood chorus girl, and has an amazing repertoire of grunts squeaks and above all farts, the latter filling the stage with noxious green fumes.
It is quite impossible not to fall in love with her, and at the curtain call she even sings, in a voice eerily reminiscent of Kylie Minogue. Betty is a pig with style and heart, and you completely forget that what you are actually witnessing is a miraculous feat of animatronics.
With a such a pig-theme it was inevitable that almost all the reviewers would use an obvious, but fitting pun to conclude their piece:
With this superbly endearing and entertaining show, producer Cameron Mackintosh has once again brought home the bacon.
Novello, London, April 13-October 22
Authors: Ron Cowen, Daniel Lipman (book), George Stiles (music), Anthony Drewe (lyrics), Alan Bennett, Malcolm Mowbray (original story)
Director: Richard Eyre
Producer: Cameron Mackintosh
Cast includes: Sarah Lancashire, Reece Shearsmith, David Bamber, Jack Edwards, Ann Emery, Mark Meadows, Adrian Scarborough
Running time: 2hrs 35mins
Graham Spicer is a writer, director and photographer in Milan, blogging (under the name ‘Gramilano') about dance, opera, music and photography for people “who are a bit like me and like some of the things I like”. He was a regular columnist for Opera Now magazine and wrote for the BBC until transferring to Italy.
His scribblings have appeared in various publications from Woman's Weekly to Gay Times, and he wrote the ‘Danza in Italia' column for Dancing Times magazine.