Bel-Ami White Bear 17 July


I had a friend once who advised me not to earn my living as a gigolo in Paris.  I took his advice.  He, on the other hand, got a job in corporate finance and married a Frenchwoman. ..He would have fitted in well in this musical adaptation of the novel by Guy de Maupassant.

The story of Bel-Ami is of an ambitious young lad from the provinces who rises to the top in the murky world of journalism through being of service to women.   I thought it worked well as a musical, and the music (by Joe Evans, who also played the keyboards) was a lot better than I expected; I also liked the way the other instrumental parts were played by members of the cast.

The cast were uniformly strong, though they hadn’t yet necessarily all quite mastered their lines.  Gary Tushaw had true naughty boy charm as Bel-Ami, while for me the best performance came from Penelope Dudley as the conflicted older woman Madame Walther who betrays her husband’s secrets to Bel-Ami and ends up pimping her daughter to him in an attempt to keep him.

The production was both imaginative and lucid, though given the constraints of the form the love intrigues came through more clearly than the political ones.  There was a nice elegant set that easily suggested a bar, the interior of rich people’s homes, and several other locales as well.

I’m not sure that the production quite decided on its approach to the story–a gay acceptance of “Fortune’s a whore, and so are we” would have been the natural thing in a musical, but there were traces of moralising.  The singing was of variable quality–in particular, there was a song that came round twice about SOMETHING being a bitch that poisoned the moonlight, but WHAT it was I still don’t know.  If you don’t trust yourself to say ‘Sharl’ in place of ‘Charles’, then say ‘Charles’–‘Sharlz’ is the worst of both worlds.

Englishwomen (even regrettably Englishwomen who work as actresses) tend to have an ineradicable well-scrubbed wholesome quality that only becomes more pronounced the more kit they take off, so having the female characters adopting basques and luscious kimono-style dressing-gowns as their indoor wear didn’t really do it for me in suggesting how corrupt and sinful they were.

But enough of these reservations!  This is a highly enjoyable show, and well worth seeing.

Update 25 July  Two commentators below who have been more recently say the show is rotten and well worth avoiding.

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8 Responses to “Bel-Ami White Bear 17 July”

  1. judy bliss Says:

    Did we see the same show? I see lots at the White Bear and this was by far the worst thing ive seen there, at least this year! The look of the show was shoddy, everyone looked embarrassed and uncomfortable with what they were doing, the music was dull and repetative and the choreography was worse. The director/adaptor has taken one of the greatest stories of french literature and killed it! Its a shame that after all the great shows that the white bear has given us this year that this has ruined its otherwise brilliant run with a theatrical abortion!

    • notesofanidealist Says:

      Let’s try to work this out. It looks like your expectations for something called ‘Bel-Ami’ and for the music in a musical may have been higher than mine. Likewise maybe I didn’t have great hopes for the choreography in a musical! But the set and costumes were very smart when I saw this show, and the cast didn’t look embarrassed either.

      I think if it had been as inept on that occasion as you say some of the audience would have expressed displeasure or disappeared during the interval. I don’t remember either of those happening. Maybe the performers had lost confidence in the material in the interim (not been paid or something…)

      Are you saying it was *worse* than ‘Hippolytus’ (May 2010)? That would be serious indeed…

  2. Alan Fitter Says:

    I’m totally with Judy Bliss. We go to a lot of fringe musicals (as well as many in the West End too) and I work with actors in my job but this was by far the worst thing I have EVER seen anywhere – much worse than most amateur productions I’ve seen. The book, music and lyrics were ordinary in the extreme but the performances were the pits. The acting was abysmal and the singing even worse. Every time a new actor started singing they were worse than the one who preceded them – I couldn’t believe how bad these professionals were. There’s an enormous pool of acting/singing talent out there – why weren’t they in this production? As for notesofanidealist’s comment about the audience leaving at the interval, for the first time in our 40 year theatre going history, we did just that, escaping from the misery of this production as soon as we could!!

    • notesofanidealist Says:

      Well, this was the first thing I’d been to in four attempts where I managed to persuade myself to stay past the interval! I’m happy to be corrected by people who know a great deal more about musicals than I do, but if someone wants to maintain that this was worse than ‘Hippolytus’ it will be clear that one of us has parted company with reality…

  3. Alan Fitter Says:

    I didn’t see “Hippolytus” but trust me this production is rotten! We’ve seen some great musicals in small, off-West End spaces and this wasn’t one of them. I wouldn’t normally think about posting my thoughts as I usually enjoy the shows we see but this was embarrassing for all concerned.

  4. judy bliss Says:

    i did see “Hippolytus” and although David Crooks’s adaptation was critised, the acting, direction and design was of west end standard compared to this! Several of the minute audience (there were about 9 of us in my night!) did fail to return after the interval and i wish i had done also, but i vainly hoped that it would improve and felt bad for the actors at having to face that! It didnt get better. it descended into the worst trite amdram possible. The fringe offers us so many exciting experiments, and just because it IS fring doesnt mean that you shouldnt have standards. This production had none!

  5. Linnie Reedman Says:

    Glad to say that despite the almost bitchy comments above , the show is selling out every night. I have been trying to address all criticism as I take everything on board in order to improve future shows but the above comments are so downright nasty that I can’t respond in any positive way. I usually take great care to explain choices and take things on the chin. Considering that the costumes and set were put together in a week after our designer abandoned us taking the budget as well, I think we performed miracles. And the actors are completely comfortable I can reassure you, even relish their roles. Thank God most people don’t feel the sameas you do Judith and Alan. Perhaps we can please you more next time around.

    Thank you Mr Idealist. Hope to see you at the transfer….. Here’s to Bel Ami the Musical!

  6. Alan Fitter Says:

    Hi Linnie, I didn’t set out to be bitchy – just honest (on reflection maybe too honest for an open forum). I go to a lot of fringe theatre (mainly musicals) and approach each show with a positive and optimistic attitude. It was just that I thought that “Bel Ami” looked under-rehearsed and as I said in my original post, poorly cast (and I personally know one of the cast although I didn’t know that before I went). I have no idea of how your casting process went but I know there’s a lot of tremedous talent out there and I’m afraid that wasn’t reflected in your cast. However, it’s just my opinion and if you’ve been playing to sell-out houses, then I’m in the minority and I sincerely hope the success continues and the show transfers to a bigger theatre.

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