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A CurtainUp London London Review
Imagine This

Imagine This
A shining statue in a bay
Imagine This
She's got a torch to guide the way
As your boat docks in the harbour
You see diamonds in the sand
You hear welcome music playing
Hey, it's Benny Goodman's band.
— Verse from title song "Imagine This"
Imagine This
Leila Benn Harris as Rebecca
(Photo: Tristram Kenton)
It's hard to imagine a more unlikely setting for a musical that the Warsaw Ghetto in the 1940s but this is indeed the scenario for Imagine This the new musical to go into the New London Theatre which saw the doomed Gone With the Wind close early after only 79 performances. It starts with the fairground ride, brightly painted gallopers and barley sugar poles on the last day of summer before the five year winter that is the Nazi occupation of Poland. It's a real shame that the current climate of economic gloom and doom may not be the season to launch a musical with such a weighty subject at a time when the public seem to be more interested in theatrical escapism like burlesque, cabaret and circus.

The story has been crafted to tell the tale of a company of entertainers led by actor-manager Daniel Warshowsky(Peter Polycarpou) who carry on their productions from inside the Warsaw Ghetto. The twentieth century story is paralleled and interspersed with scenes from an earlier act of resistance by a group of Jewish zealots who fled Jerusalem to a cliff top fortress, Masada, against the forces of the Roman Empire in 70 CE.

Daniel plays the leader of the Masdada rebellion, Eleazar and Daniel's daughter Rebecca (Leila Benn Harris) plays Eleazar's daughter Tamar who is the object of affection from the Roman General Silva (Simon Gleeson) played by Adam, a fugitive in the ghetto. As the situation inside the ghetto intensifies and the Nazis plan to train the Jewish population to Treblinka, Daniel's theatre company is asked to mount a play to keep things calm on the evening before everyone is due to embark on the trains to what few suspect will be the death camps. Daniel is offered free passage for himself and his family to Switzerland if he complies with the Nazi instruction.

The music is rather samey in the Les Miserables mould but not unpleasing. Love ballads and slow anthems about resistance but David Goldsmith's lyrics leave much to be desired. Michael Matus as Izzy in the ghetto and the slave Pompey in Masada, has the best of the comic songs and the best lyrics of the night in a jaunty number about the Roman deities, "Aphrodite was too flighty, Eros left me unfulfilled, Apollo's hard to follow and Poseidon's far too deep, I sat in front of Hypnos and he put me right to sleep. " Yes this is as good as Imagine This gets lyrically! There are a few set piece dance items nicely choreographed, one for Salome with interesting Egyptian style sand dance hand movements to the song, "Mothers please don't name your daughters Salome" and another of Roman soldiers. The fight sequences are impressive as Silva's arrest is ordered by fellow Roman, Rufus (Gary Milner).

The performances are uniformly very good with Leila Benn Harris' lovely pure voice a highlight of the show. Peter Polycarpou has considerable experience and is an all round actor and singer. The audience liked Michael Matus' comic roles and I shall always remember Cameron Leigh as Lola, the woman who didn't want to give up her fur coat. The set and costumes are accurate in the 1940s and parallels are made between the Nazi swastika red and black banners and those of the invading Roman army with the Imperial Eagle. The first entrance of the German soldiers is a crashing invasion of black suited storm troopers ordering the march to the ghetto in the snow. The set is like a fortress with broken windows at balcony level.

The programme explains that the historical act of resistance at Masada, the staging of which I found quite shockingly tragic, was actually an inspiration for those who continued to fight in the Warsaw ghetto until 1943. Their important and inspiring story needs to be told but I doubt this musical version of events will endure.

Imagine This
Book by Glenn Berenbeim
Music by Shuki Levy
Lyrics by David Goldsmith
Directed by Timothy Sheader

Starring: Peter Polycarpou, Leila Benn Harris, Sevan Stephan, Michael Matus, Sarah Ingram, Simon Gleeson, Gary Milner  
With: Bernard Lloyd, Cameron Leigh, Steven Serlin, Richard Cotton, Nathan Attard, Jamie Davis, Alexander Kalian, Marc Antolin, Rebecca Sutherland, Stuart Boother, Oliver Brenin, Bob Harms, Paul Iveson, Roy Litvin, Aoife Nally, Grant Neal, Vincent Pirillo, Carrie Sutton, Gemma Sutton, Lucy Thatcher, Rachael Archer, Emily Jane Boyle, Darragh O'Leary, Paul Smethurst, Philippa Stefani, Michael Patrick Watson
Set Designer: Eugene Lee
Costume Designer: Ann Hould-Ward
Music co-composed and directed:
Movement director and Choreographer: Liam Steel
Action Co-ordinator: Terry King
Musical Supervisor and Vocal Score: Phil Bateman
Orchestrator: Chris Walker
Lighting: Tim Mitchell
Sound: Terry Jardine and Nick Lidster for Autograph
Running time: Two hours 30 minutes with one interval
Box Office: 0844 412 4654
Booking to 28th February 2009
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge based on 20th November 2008 performance at The New London Theatre, Drury Lane, London WC2 (Tube: Holborn)
Musical Numbers
Act One
  • The Last Day of Summer/Rebecca, Daniel and Company
  • Imagine This/Daniel and Company
  • Masada Prologue/Rebels
  • Rufus's Letter to Caesar/Rufus
  • Free (Jerusalem Sequence)/The Rebels
  • When He Looked in my Eyes/ Tamar
  • Salome's Lament/Salome and the Slave Girls, Roman Soldiers
  • When I Looked in Her Eyes/Silva
  • No More/Pompey
  • Free (Reprise)/Rebels
  • Rebel's Prayer/Tamar, Naomi and Rebels
  • Masada/Eleazar, Tamar and Rebels
  • Hail/Silva, Tamar, Roman Soldiers
  • I Am the Dove/Naomi and Tamar
  • Hail (Reprise)/Silva
  • Far from Here, Far from Now/Silva, Tamar
Act Two
  • To Touch A Cloud/Daniel and Company
  • The Last Laugh/Daniel
  • Don't Mind Me/Pompey and Aaron
  • Writing on the Wall/Rufus and Roman Soldiers
  • I Surrender/Tamar, Silva, Eleazar
  • Far from Here, Far from Now (Reprise)/ Tamar
  • Passover Prayer/ Jeremiah and Rebels
  • The Choice/Eleazar, Tamar, Naomi and Rebels
  • To Touch A Cloud (Reprise)/ The Company
  • Imagine This (Finale)/The Company
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