Even the biggest fans of Stephen Sondheim’s work can’t pretend that this show, with its book by Arthur Laurents, was a popular or critical success when it opened on Broadway in 1964 – it promptly closed less than two weeks after the press night.
But although the plot doesn’t really hold up, several of the musical numbers have become perennial favourites.
Set in a fictional bankrupt town where everything, including the water, has run dry (or been siphoned off by Mayoress Cora Hoover Hooper and her trio of uniformed henchmen) it’s an absurdist story which owes something to Brecht in its dramatisation of the conflict between freedom and oppression.
In order to get the money flowing again, Comptroller Schub (a cool, scheming Alistair Robins) fakes a miracle which fools the impoverished townsfolk.
But his plan backfires when Nurse Fay Apple (who runs the full-to-the brim local asylum – the “Cookie” Jar) calls his bluff and falls for David Ricardo-Pearce’s freethinking Hapgood.
Tom Littler’s energetic production crams more people (plus their musical instruments) on the tiny stage than one would think possible.
Issy van Randwyck (vamping it up in increasingly military red and black outfits) makes a powerful Cora, and Rosalie Craig’s repressed Fay movingly captures the complexity of There Won’t Be Trumpets as well as the title song.
It certainly won’t be to everyone’s taste but, as Sondheim celebrates his 80th birthday, aficionados will welcome this chance to catch a rarely revived early work which paved the way for the gems to come.
Jermyn Street Theatre, Jermyn Street, SW1Y 6ST (020 7287 2875) Piccadilly Circus till 17th April (£18.50)