Opening on Broadway in 1955, Rodgers and Hammerstein’s little-known musical, based on two novels by Pulitzer Prize-winner John Steinbeck, was a flop and, despite being nominated for nine Tony awards, never made it to London. Sasha Regan and her formidable team at the tiny Union Theatre have endeavoured to bring it to these shores for the first time.
Part of the original problem was having a prostitute, Suzy, as the leading lady. Steinbeck’s novels follow a group of deadbeats and fallen women, who are all stuck doing nothing in Depression-era America. At the musical’s heart is a love story between Suzy and the brainy Doc, a marine biologist. But Rodgers and Hammerstein erred on the side of decorum and dressed down her scandalous employment.
Thankfully, Regan is far from worried about shocking London audiences. Her whorehouse is just that, scantily clad women, dancing, gyrating and giving us all the eye.
But this overt display of sexuality from the rest of the ladies doesn’t help smooth out the clumsily veiled references to Suzy’s employment in the script.
When she meets Doc for the first time, for example, it’s confusing why he’s so hesitant to address his feelings for her. Presumably it’s because she’s a loose lady, but the only obvious mention of that comes from bordello mistress Fauna (a wonderfully sassy Virge Gilchrist), who says Suzy’s ‘no good’ at doing what the rest of the girls do and asks an initially unwilling Doc to take her out on a date. For most of the play the two of them hesitate, which eventually becomes frustrating because there's no clear reason why they shouldn't be an item.
Tricky book issues aside, it’s undeniable that there are some fabulous songs in this show, performed with great soul and heart by an excellent cast, especially Kiran Brown as Doc and Charlotte Scott as Suzy. Regan’s direction is smart and fluid and it’s because of this that ‘Pipe Dream’ is still wholly enjoyable.
By Daisy Bowie-Sell