REVIEW: Maddie - Original London Cast (Deluxe Edition)

Recording CoverStage Door Records does terrific work unearthing lost curiosities. If not everything they release turns out to be a forgotten masterpiece, their catalogue of recordings includes some fascinating material. And so it proves here: based on Jack Finney’s 1973 novel ‘Marion’s Wall’, which also begat the Glenn Close movie ‘Maxie’, Maddie was a relatively swift flop at London’s Lyric Theatre in 1997. Save for one number – Knick Knacks, mercifully absent from this rerelease – the show was never exactly bad, but it was one of those productions (yes, I saw it) where the elements didn’t quite come together, and Summer Rognlie’s strident performance in the leading role didn’t help. The story – about a young woman in San Francisco who becomes possessed by the ghost of a long-dead aspiring actress, with predictably chaotic consequences for her career and marriage – needs a light touch, and didn’t get it, at least from the show’s star; because the central performance didn’t work, whatever charms the material itself might have had tended to remain hidden.

Having said that, this rerelease is an essential purchase for anyone interested in the process by which a new musical is put together. The bonus disc of this deluxe edition includes three new songs for a revised version of the show that is apparently currently in preparation, as well as a collection of more than twenty demos/unreleased recordings made while the original productions in Salisbury and London were being developed. The liner notes are very helpful in giving context to each of these tracks, and it’s fun to see how the material took shape, and to hear a stellar assortment of West End performers giving their all to material that never saw the light of day. It’s particularly lovely to hear the wonderful Angela Richards and the late, equally wonderful Mary Millar’s very different versions of If Not For Me; elsewhere, there’s delightful work from, among others, Jacqui Scott, Lorna Dallas, John Barr, John Barrowman and Matt Zimmerman.

Next to the bonus disc, the actual 1997 cast recording, I’m afraid, is a bit of a let-down – or at least, how much you like it will probably depend largely on how much you enjoy Summer Rognlie’s performance as Jan/Maddie. Stephen Keeling and Shaun McKenna’s score is never less than tuneful, but it’s also never more than predictable, and this is inherently a less interesting score, to my ears at least, than His Monkey Wife or Two Cities. The title character’s period-pastiche numbers – I’ll Find Time For You, Time of my Life, and Star – are hammered into the ground by Ms. Rognlie, whose great big high note at the end of the latter song could bring down a 747.

There are some compensations. Kevin Colson is always wonderful, and his Maddie Dancing is very lovely indeed. Graham Bickley gets the dullest material and sometimes rises above it, and he gives a suitably theatrical rendition of Afraid, his character’s big dramatic second-act ballad. In the end, though, you may well end up playing the bonus disc more often. In the theatre, as I said, ‘Maddie’ didn’t quite work; that bonus disc offers a tantalising glimpse of the show that might have been if the people involved had made different choices.


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