Buxton Opera House
Several of André Messager’s operettas/ musical comedies were popular in this country around the turn of the 20th century but not this prime, delicious example from 1907 based on a de Musset farce.
English attitude towards French outlook on marital infidelity probably got in the way and it took nearly 100 years to cross the English Channel, Hampshire-based Grange Park Opera staging it with significant success in 2001 and the company’s revival of it 12 years later is pure delight. Daniel Slater’s gimmick-free, period-set, unashamedly simple production ideally complements the subtlety and finesse of the melodic masterpiece that is Messager’s score, conductor Toby Purser capturing its Debussy-like understatement.
Its charm and elegance, too, epitomised in Ilona Domnich’s gorgeously sung and acted performance as the Jacqueline, the young wife of an elderly lawyer who enters into an affair with a womanising soldier before finding true love with her husband’s innocent junior clerk, Fortunio, engagingly portrayed by Alex Veasey-Roberts, if occasionally a trifle stretched vocally. Sung in French, there are no nasty English consonant and vowel sounds to distort vocal lines, even if some accents are decidedly Anglo-Saxon.
Written and composed by Sheffield’s Matthew Bugg (who’s also an on-stage presence as band leader and pianist), this new musical tells the story of the rise to stardom of a wartime cabaret singer and a secret love affair between her producer and musical director in the days when homosexual activity was illegal. The show completes a UK tour is billed as Miss Nightingale the burlesque musical which may suggest cavorting in lace underwear but as a programme note points out traditional burlesque is not a stripshow but cabaret with a satirical agenda. The two hilarious opening numbers which are laden with innuendo - Let Me Play on Your Pipe and The Pussy Song - set the tone. Its strengths are a superb cast, a great sense of period and some pleasant songs. Amber Topaz, the burlesque star from Rotherham, shows unexpected versatility in the title role of the feisty Gracie Fields-style redhead, alongside Ilan Goodman as the phlegmatic but passionate Jewish Polish emigre and Tomm Coles as the posh impresario out of his depth.
It’s refreshing to see an original musical made in Sheffield and it deserves to go onwards and upwards.