Reviewer – Mark Clegg
In 1953 Sandy Wilson scored a massive hit with his pastiche of 1920s musicals, The Boy Friend. Still performed today, this musical comedy is an affectionate and warmly amusing love letter to the works of the likes of Rogers &Hart. Wilson would prove to be rather a one-hit-wonder but despite this, collected on this newly released CD are the original cast recordings of two of his lesser known works – a ‘serious’ pantomime and musical about a man tricked into marrying a chimp. Yes, you read that right.
His Monkey Wife from 1971 is based on John Collier’s 1930 book of the same name. The plot begins as a farce and ends in melodrama as an explorer brings a female chimp from Africa to London, unaware that she is desperately in love with him. After tricking him into marrying her, the chimp finds fame and fortune on the stage while he becomes a penniless drunk. It’s A Star is Born by way of Curious George. The Kong and I perhaps?
In the hands of another, this musical could easily (and perhaps rightly) be a commentary on society’s attitude towards interracial relationships. However Wilson’s lightness of touch is very much apparent here, and there are no hints of anything so controversial – at least not in the score. The music and lyrics here have The Boy Friend’s froth with none of the fun and the entire score suffers from being rather twee and forgettable. The cast of eight all give spirited performances even if they are not always pleasant to listen to.
The second half of the CD is taken up with Wilson’s Aladdin. In 1979 the Lyric Theatre, Hammersmith approached Wilson to write their Christmas pantomime. As Wilson knew nothing of panto, he decided instead to write a musical adaptation of Aladdin from the original Arabian Nights tale that was still aimed at a family audience. The result is an interesting hybrid that has elements of both panto and musical theatre and is a lot more successful as a standalone score than His Monkey Wife. Hated by critics at the time, Wilson’s version of Aladdin is ripe for reassessment with both music and lyrics showing him at his most playful. Apart from a few ballads, most of the songs are fun music hall style pieces that are very ably handled by the talented cast. In particular Tuang Kee Po and Life in the Laundry sung by Joe Melia as the dame and Wicked which gives Aubrey Woods a wonderful chance to chew some scenery as Abanazar.
It’s said that everyone has at least one masterpiece in them. Wilson’s was undoubtedly The Boy Friend, but this CD shows that he came close a second time – you will just need to skip past all of the songs about a monkey to get to it.
Available from Stage Door Records