Review: Marguerite (Theatre Royal Haymarket)

I went to see Marguerite at the Theatre Royal Haymarket last night. If you haven’t heard about the show yet (pretty unlikely if you follow musical theatre!), it’s a collaboration between Michel Legrand, the team behind Les Mis and Miss Saigon (Alain Boubil, Claude-Michel Schonberg and Herbert Kretzmer) and Jonathan Kent (who also directed the show).

Since the show opened a while back, I had already read most the reviews in the newspapers. Obviously I made up my own mind about the show and as if often the case, there was plenty that I didn’t agree with… so I’ve decided to write this post as a direct comparison of my views compared to the critics.

In summary (Coloured Lights)
In short, I loved the show. It might not be perfect, but then whay show is? Perhaps my expectations had been lowered by the critics, but I think Marguerite is an excellent new musical, which merits real praise.

In summary (The critics)
Rather surprisingly, there was quite a high level of consensus between the critics – no dreadful reviews, but no superb ones either. In fact, of the 5 newspapers that gave ratings to the show, all of them considered the show to be worth three stars. In case you’re wondering, the papers in question are the Sunday Times, Guardian, Independent reviewThe Times review and Evening standard.


The music (Coloured Lights)
I thought the music was good, clever and likeable, with a range of styles that demonstrates wriging versatility that is rare in today’s West End. Personally, I think it’s the jazzier numbers that Legrand does best.

If there’s a weakeness with the music, it’s that the show lacks any true ‘anthems’ that will have the audience singing as they leave the theatre. Whilst I’m not looking for everything to be boiled down to a catchy tune, the show would almost certainly have got better reviewers with a few more stand-out songs. Whilst the repeated use of ‘Day by Day’ was effective, as a stand-alone number it doesn’t have the same power as a song like ‘One Day More’ from Les Miserables.

The music (The critics)

  • Legrand’s eclectic score ranges from a pointillist Sondheim-style starter to forties jazz, romantic ballads, including the haunting China Doll, and rousing ensembles.” (Guardian)
  • “The music is listen-able, but only a couple of songs strike you as being truly catchy – you can’t help thinking of Verdi.” (Sunday Times)


Direction & design (Coloured Lights)
The show is visually beautiful, and takes full advantage of the amazing height and depth that makes this venue so special. Both the staging at the design felt somewhat opera-like, which shouldn’t come as a complete shock, given that both director and designer (Jonathan Kent and Paul Brown) have worked in opera.

The sheer scale of the setting occasionally made it hard to focus in on the more intimate one or two person scenes, perhaps not aided by my seat in the circle, but this is a minor gripe.

Direction & design (The critics)

  • “Kent’s fast-moving production also boasts a clever set by Paul Brown framing the action in a seductively mirrored salon.” (Guardian)
  • “Jonathan Kent’s fluent, strikingly designed production” (Independent)


The cast (Coloured Lights)
Ruthie Henshall might be the leading ‘name’ in this show, but it was Julian Ovenden who stood out. His voice is absolutely sensational – given his choral training as St Pauls, Eton and Oxford, not entirely surprising. He is also a mean jazz pianist – I honestly couldn’t tell if he was faking it or not, and it took a chance encounter with one of the show’s orchestra afterwards to discover that he is not faking it… apparently he is a brilliant pianist as well as singer.

Ovendun’s brilliance shouldn’t detract from Ruthie Henshall‘s performance though – it might not have been the best voice for her voice, which was really strained, she still gave an excellent acting performance. Despite what the critics might have said, I felt sympathy for her, which says more about her quality as an actress than it does the writing itself. Whilst I’m not convinced that her part lends itself perfectly to her voice, I’m still keen to go back and see the show again when she’s on slightly better form. I can only imagine how good she’ll be then if this was an off-night.

Alexander Hanson was a last-minute addition to the cast of The Sound of Music, after teething troubles with the original leading man, but I’m sure he’ll be getting more calls after this performance. The rest of the cast also deserve real praise – it’s one of the strongest choruses I have seen in a musical for a long time – there really are no obvious weak links.

The cast (The critics)

  • “Henshall and Ovenden are pretty impressive in both the acting and the singing departments. She can be haughty but also broken, forlorn, poignant. He manages to be intense without being sententious and rapturous without seeming wet.” (The Times)
  • “Ruthie Henshall’s worldly but vulnerable Marguerite is in ravishing voice. She eschews standard-issue belting and is all the more moving for the delicacy and range of colour of her delivery.” (Independent)
  • “Julian Ovenden is a charming and convincing Armand, doing an excellent mime job on the piano, too.” (Sunday Times)
  • “And I have rarely heard singing of such ardent, youthful rapture as that which pours from the ridiculously talented and handsome Julian Ovenden, who, as Armand, also plays a mean jazz piano.” (Independent)


In conclusion (Coloured Lights)
The more I think about the show, the more I want to see it again. Whilst the critics might have focused on whether they felt moved by the character of Marguerite, I’d rather focus on all the good things about the production: some beautiful music, particularly the jazz numbers; a stunning set; a brilliant leading trio, especially Julian Ovenden.

Most of all, Marguerite is an intelligent musical that actually requires a little thought on the part of the audience. At a time when increasing numbers of shows in the West End are ‘jukebox’ musicals or adaptations from film or TV, audiences and critics should be embracing truly new work.

Unfortunately, I think the critics were too quick to find fault, and I worry that audiences will contuinue to flock to Never Forget or Dirty Dancing, when they’d be far better off making a trip to the Theatre Royal Haymarket.

In conclusion (The critics)

  • “I found myself unmoved when Henshall’s Marguerite, by now as fragile and pale as any trad TB victim, leaves her pianist, her Paris and the planet.” (The Times)
  • “can you have a musical with a heroine you don’t learn to love?” (Guardian)
  • “this is a compelling, if flawed, new work” (Independent)
  • “a decent, enjoyable but not exactly thrilling show.” (The Times)
  • “Despite weaknesses, this is still a musical with real integrity, intent and substance.” (Sunday Times)


If you’d like to see what the critics wrote, then follow these links:
Sunday Times review – 3 stars
Guardian review – 3 stars
Independent review – 3 stars
The Times review – 3 stars
Evening standard review – 3 stars

For another blogger’s view, check out An American Look at London Theatre


1 Response to “Review: Marguerite (Theatre Royal Haymarket)”

  1. 1 webcowgirl July 27, 2008 at 4:18 pm

    You know, it was a well-produced show, with a great set, a decent original score and a fine chorus … but I just didn’t find it engaging!

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