The Grand Tour

Theatre, Musicals
3 out of 5 stars

Time Out says

3 out of 5 stars

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From ‘Cabaret’ to ‘The Sound of Music’ and not to forget ‘The Producers’, Nazi Germany has a remarkably good track record when it comes to inspiring musical theatre. However, watching the belated UK premiere of Jerry Herman’s 1979 ‘The Grand Tour’, it does occur that perhaps there are dozens of terrible musicals about the era that have simply been mercifully obscured by the passage of time.

‘The Grand Tour’ is not good, a crudely sentimental romp that comes across like a sub-par Bing Crosby and Bob Hope road trip adventure that blithely tries to address the anti-Semitic tensions of mid-twentieth century Europe.

I’ll admit to not being particularly predisposed towards a show in which one of the main characters is a bungling, racist Pole – Colonel Stjerbinsky, trying to flee France to reach the government in exile in London. Nonetheless, the biggest problems with ‘The Grand Tour’ are its mawkish predictability – as Stjerbinsky’s pathologically ungrateful hide is saved again and again by itinerant Polish Jew Jacobowsky, until eventually they become BFFs – and a distinct dearth of catchy tunes.

However, there are caveats. Fringe director Thom Southerland is an expert at giving TLC to lost cause musicals, and he works his magic about as surely as he can within the confines of the material and the tiny Finborough Theatre. It’s a spirited, creative staging, and its beating heart is a terrific performance from Alastair Brookshaw as Jacobowsky – soulful, battered and charming, he gives charisma and gravitas to Herman’s doodle of a hero.

There are moments – particularly some business with a travelling circus – where it cries out for the flash and spectacle of Southerland’s larger shows at the Southwark Playhouse. But perhaps this chamber staging is an acknowledgement of the material’s limits. It’s a ropey curio, but done with love and care, and musical theatre nerds will probably find something here to warm them up on a cold January night.

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