Just as every year we treat ourselves to one BBC Prom Concert, we also treat ourselves to one Lost Musical. For many years now, Ian Marshall Fisher has been tirelessly reviving old American musicals that otherwise would never see the light of day, and mounting them as concert performances with actors in evening dress seated around the stage, scripts in hand, and with a man on the Joanna. It works wonderfully well as a sophisticated, informative entertainment. Interest in this venture has grown to the extent that now they actually do three Lost Musicals a year; but less is more, so we choose just one to attend. This year, we chose Mexican Hayride, a 1944 confection from the piano keys of Cole Porter and the pens of Herbert and Dorothy Fields. And my guess is this year we made the wrong choice, because, basically, it’s a pretty weak musical. In a sense though that doesn’t matter. Without the opportunity to revisit an old show like this, who would have thought that a Cole Porter musical from 1944 that ran for 481 performances on Broadway would actually be a load of old tosh?
The plot as such concerns a lady bullfighter in Mexico mistakenly believed to be involved in a lottery-fixing racket but whose real perpetrator is an American gangster type guy on the run. Once the story gets going, the only real progression is towards the gangster’s inevitable capture. For sure, there are some amusing characters and entertaining songs, but it really has little to say to a 21st century British audience, and the humour is disappointingly based on that rather now outdated practice of poking fun at foreign-sounding foreigners.
Nevertheless, I still enjoyed it. The endearing cast perform with such heart-warming joie de vivre that any other reaction would simply be churlish. Michael Roberts reprised his gangster role from a couple of years ago, which he does with panache and amazing self-confidence. Louise Gold gave the character of Montana, the bullfighter, some warmth and personality that might not appear obvious from the text alone. Stewart Permutt, frequent Lost Musicals star, was as usual outrageously and delightfully over the top in his campery, and Wendy Ferguson, currently in Phantom, added a real star quality to the character of Lolita the night-club singer.
I’m not remotely concerned that the show wasn’t up to much. The very fact that a show that was the contemporary of Oklahoma! today looks so dated and humdrum by comparison is interesting in itself. Porter and the Fieldses are long gone, and there’s no way that this show could ever merit a proper revival. So it’s a fascinating glimpse into the past, to try to get a feeling of why the show was a success. I look forward to next year’s offerings!