Remember the tag line from the closing credits of the TV series: Frasier has left the building? If Kelsey Grammer has any sense, he won’t be back.
It must be crushing for a talented actor with his skills in comic timing and the meticulous sardonic putdown to strain at the crease trying to bat this butt-numbing script and leaden score out of the park night after night.
Nothing can disguise the fact this is a vanity project of insufferable proportions which carries with it the question of which came first for the Grade/Linnit company — the misguided desire to mount an epic scale production of Man of La Mancha, a musical which hasn’t been produced in London since 1968 for very good reason, or the need to find a project for Grammer?
If the latter, they should have revived My Fair Lady — ‘Dr Crane’ would have had an easy transition to a superlative Professor Higgins, the singing load is light, and he could have deployed his impeccable comic timing. Man of La Mancha is so dustily humourless he’s left with nothing but bluster, clumsy physical comedy and flat aphorisms either as the imprisoned poet Miguel Cervantes or his imaginary knight Don Quixote.
It’s too easy a pun, but he really is the Ham of La Mancha.
Almost everything in Lonny Price’s production is wrong — from the overdone polystyrene cave set that doesn’t fill the proscenium (and the worst staircase since Sunset Boulevard’s exhausting fire escape) to the officers of the Spanish Inquisition as threatening as the ones in the Monty Python sketch.
Despite the different gender politics of 17th century Spain, there’s seat-shiftingly uncomfortable treatment of the rape scene: over-lit and over-long when it should be covered in shade, and a couple of bizarrely anomalous elements when the Duke looks like a cloned Lucius Malfoy, and the mirror knight does a sort of camp Darth Vader.
Hedging their bets in the ‘him off the telly casting’ with a star from this side of the pond, producers engaged Nicholas Lyndhurst — perpetually dubbed ‘Rodney’ from Only Fools and Horses despite being a much more varied and flexible actor. Here he’s tasked with a prison warden obliged to play a Thénardier-style innkeeper in a state of permanent inebriation which he manages to infuse with a touch of that campest of commandants, Herr Flick.
There’s a big loud band — but it also emphasises how weak and tedious is the score, and how often the one known tune repeats and repeats in your ear.
Sometimes, the impossible dream really is impossible.
Man of La Mancha, London Coliseum, St Martin’s Lane, WC2. Tickets £20-150, until 8 June 2019.