‘Dear World’ is one of those problem musicals, beloved by its creator Jerry Herman but, like his other sickly child ‘Mack and Mabel’, never quite taking off. This despite multiple tinkerings with the book and additions and subtractions to the score. The reason is simple. Within it there is a clash between two worlds, that of the original dramatist of the source material (Jean Giraudoux’s ‘The Madwoman of Chaillot’) and that of Herman, the Broadway Boulevardier par excellence.

‘Madwoman’ is the work of a dying dramatist living under a Nazi occupation which showed no sign of ever ending. As such it’s an assertion of ‘French’ values epitomised by the little corner café which is home not only to Countess Aurelia but an assortment of street people, each in his own way a misfit. These values are individualistic, idealistic, fantastic. Against them are ranged the forces of corrupt capitalism plotting to get their hands on the vast oil wealth supposedly under the café, and turn Paris into a vast oil field. Aurelia and her equally ‘mad’ friends put them to a fantasy trial in which a Sewerman stands in as the Accused and mounts a spirited defence of greed. Having been condemned, the capitalists are consigned to the Sewers of Hell and the old order is restored. The original is full of whimsical surrealism, baggy of plot but beautifully poetic and brimming with ideas about the virtues of fantasy vs reality, madness vs sanity, conformity vs individualism, modernism vs tradition. Postwar, the villains became the Americans, ubiquitous in Paris during the mid to late 40s, as France succumbed to a fear of being swamped by transatlantic values. As such it’s very much a work of its time, and finds echoes in the work of Jean Anouilh, Tati’s ‘Mon Oncle’, or the chansons of Boris Vian and Georges Brassens.

This delicate fabric is ripped to shreds when Herman gets his hands on it. Silk turns to nylon. While he has always insisted that this was a chamber work wrecked by over-lavish Broadway production values, in truth the wrecking ball was just as much in his own hands. Because, however much he may want to, he can’t help being himself. ‘Dear World’ is full of standard Herman ingredients – the flagwaving march (‘One Person’), the personal manifesto (‘I Don’t Want to Know’), the aching lament for lost youth and love (‘And I Was Beautiful’), the bitchy number between old friends à la ‘Bosom Buddies’ in ‘Mame’. Aurelia isn’t a thousand miles away from Auntie Mame or Dolly – an independent eccentric woman of a certain age who is both guru and fixer. There’s even a matchmaking scene (‘Kiss Her Now’). Sublety is lost in a Broadway hymn to the individual dream: if it’s big enough, it can see off the forces of capitalism. We wish.

Gillian Lynne’s production goes with Herman rather than Giraudoux. Intimacy is lost through over-miking and sending the star, Betty Buckley, down to the footlights to belt out her numbers direct to the audience. Sorry, Gillian, but the panto season is over. Choreographically it has all Lynne’s usual fingerprints – if you’ve got elbows, flaunt them. She is, however, good at creating routines for non-dancers, and the trios for the Capitalists are a highlight. Their songs are witty too: “There’s a sweet taste in the air/Of industrial waste in the air.” The audience perks up every time they appear, but the effect is misplaced, because they are far too much fun to be remotely threatening.

Reviews by Peter Scott-Presland

Charing Cross Theatre

Jacques Brel is Alive and Living in Paris

★★★
Jermyn Street Theatre

Return of the Soldier

★★★
Southwark Playhouse

Eye of a Needle

★★★★
Rosemary Branch Theatre

The Trial of the Jew Shylock

★★★
Southwark Playhouse

In The Heights

★★★★

Since you’re here…

… we have a small favour to ask. We don't want your money to support a hack's bar bill at Abattoir, but if you have a pound or two spare, we really encourage you to support a good cause. If this review has either helped you discover a gem or avoid a turkey, consider doing some good that will really make a difference.

You can donate to the charity of your choice, but if you're looking for inspiration, there are three charities we really like.

Mama Biashara
Kate Copstick’s charity, Mama Biashara, works with the poorest and most marginalised people in Kenya. They give grants to set up small, sustainable businesses that bring financial independence and security. That five quid you spend on a large glass of House White? They can save someone’s life with that. And the money for a pair of Air Jordans? Will take four women and their fifteen children away from a man who is raping them and into a new life with a moneymaking business for Mum and happiness for the kids.
Donate to Mama Biashara now

Theatre MAD
The Make A Difference Trust fights HIV & AIDS one stage at a time. Their UK and International grant-making strategy is based on five criteria that raise awareness, educate, and provide care and support for the most vulnerable in society. A host of fundraising events, including Bucket Collections, Late Night Cabarets, West End Eurovision, West End Bares and A West End Christmas continue to raise funds for projects both in the UK and Sub-Saharan Africa.
Donate to Theatre MAD now

Acting For Others
Acting for Others provides financial and emotional support to all theatre workers in times of need through the 14 member charities. During the COVID-19 crisis Acting for Others have raised over £1.7m to support theatre workers affected by the pandemic.
Donate to Acting For Others now

The Blurb

The Charing Cross Theatre presents the British première of Jerry Herman's DEAR WORLD. The show premièred on Broadway in 1969 starring Angela Lansbury and Milo O’Shea, but this will be the first production ever to be staged outside of the United States.

Set in post-war Paris in 1945, this musical fable of Good versus Evil is a tale for our times, with only a madwoman and her odd collection of acquaintances to save the city from corporate greed.

Most Popular See More

Grease the Musical

From £20.00

More Info

Find Tickets

Pretty Woman: The Musical

From £24.00

More Info

Find Tickets

The Play That Goes Wrong

From £15.00

More Info

Find Tickets

The Phantom of the Opera

From £27.00

More Info

Find Tickets

Come From Away

From £24.00

More Info

Find Tickets

The Lion King

From £25.00

More Info

Find Tickets