Shortly after I got out of college in the mid '80s, I took my first trip to London. It was my first time out of the country (unless you count my sixth-grade trip with the Boy Scouts to Montreal). Even then, I was a tad obsessive about musical theater, and in the six days we spent in London, we saw five shows.
The only reason we didn't see six shows was that, at the time, there were absolutely no shows that played on Sundays, and even now, there are only a handful. Of course, that number doesn't even begin to rival some of my more recent theatrical jaunts, at least in terms of daily dramatic density, but hey I was young, and short on funds.
Even so, we did get to see a fairly momentous array of shows, particularly in retrospect: Me and My Girl, Chess, Les Miserables, and Starlight Express. Yes, these shows all eventually made it to New York, but here's the important part: I saw them in London. And before anybody else I knew had even heard of most of them. At the time, that was very important to me, and I blush to admit it still holds a certain personal cachet.
We had lined up tickets to Les Miz, Chess, and Me and My Girl ahead of time, but then decided to take in Starlight Express upon arrival. Atrocious though that show may have been -- and still is -- I will never regret the night I spent at the Apollo Victoria Theatre, current home of the London production of Wicked. As I always say, as a teacher and student of musical theater, no night in the theater is ever a waste: I always learn something, even if it's what *not* to do. Starlight Distress, as I have dis-affectionately called the show ever since, taught me quite a lot about what makes bad musicals bad. Quite a lot.
It turns out that that particular trip to London also provided another opportunity to experience the instructive power of truly bad live theater, because we also decided to take in a performance of what was then a new musical called Mutiny!, based on the famed story of the mutiny on the Bounty. I'd like to think that my tastes in musical theater have refined over the decades, but even then, freshly out of college, I knew that Mutiny! was utterly dreadful.
I do have to say that the set to Mutiny!, designed by one William Dudley, was pretty frickin' amazing. Remember that this was the '80s, which was a time when Britain seemed to be coming into its own in musical theater, at least with respect to bloated blockbusters. It was a time of spectacle and excess, and Mutiny! was certainly no exception. The set for Mutiny! essentially comprised a scale replica of the good ship HMS Bounty, which rose on hydraulic lifts, spun around, and opened up to reveal the inner workings and compartments of the ship. When the boat opened up, the hull flattened out to form the playing space. It was an ingenious and impressive mechanical feat, one worthy of a much better show.
The music for Mutiny!, by David Essex, who also starred in the show as a would-be hunky Fletcher Christian, had a certain facile idiomatic flare, but the lyrics, by Essex and one Richard Crane, were utterly puerile and repetitive, sometimes both at the same time. One song, called "Friends," attempts to establish the relationship between Christian and Captain Bligh. Here's a sampling of the lyric:
You and I we, are friends
Friends right up to the end
We are friends
Once Bligh and Christian get to Tahiti, there's a song about breadfruit, which was the particular quarry and end-goal of the Bounty voyage. A sample lyric:
Food for the slaves
of the West Indies (with the stress on the last syllable: in-DEEZ)
But, why am I telling you all this? ("And you a...perfect stranger...") Well, because the Mutiny cast recording recently received its first CD release, and it gave me a chance to revisit the amateurish horror that was Mutiny!. I accidentally ordered an additional copy of the CD, and figured I'd offer it as a contest prize for one of my lucky readers.
"Um...wait, Chris. You just spent untold paragraphs trashing the show. Why would I want to win a copy of the CD?" A good question, my perspicacious reader. Because I know that many of you are just as obsessive as I am about musical theater, and equally fascinated with forgotten flops and turgid train wrecks.
So, here are some trivia questions directly and tangentially related to Mutiny! and its staff. I'll select a winner from the names of everyone who gets all of the following questions right, and that reader will become the proud owner of his or her very own Mutiny! CD. Sure to become a collectors item. And, heck, it's not *that* bad. As I said, some of the music is quite good, even if the lyrics are nearly unbearable. And don't tell me that you don't have a CD or two or some godawful shows that for some reason still fascinate you on some level.
[The contest is over. Thanks to everyone who participated. The winner has been notified. --C.C.]
So here goes. And best of luck.
1. David Essex had a fair amount of success as a pop singer in the '70s. What was his only Billboard Top 40 hit? ANSWER: "Rock On"
2. Which iconic historical role did Essex originate in the London production of a particular musical? And who will be playing that role in an upcoming Broadway revival of that show? ANSWER: I was going for Evita and Ricky Martin, but I would have accepted Godspell and Gavin Creel.
3. Name four Hollywood hunks who have played the character Fletcher Christian in movie versions of the Bounty mutiny. (Three are dead, and one might as well be.) ANSWER: Errol Flynn, Marlon Brando, Clark Gable and ::shudder:: Mel Gibson.
4. Mutiny! played London's Piccadilly Theatre. The next production at the Piccadilly will be the musical adaptation of what sentimental 1990 movie favorite? ANSWER: Ghost - The Musical
5. In the text above, I make the following veiled reference: "But, why am I telling you all this? ('And you a...perfect stranger...')" What 1980s musical am I alluding to here? ANSWER: "I Love a Film Cliche," from A Day in Hollywood/A Night in the Ukraine.
Please enter your answers as comments below. I will only publish the comments after I have selected the winner.