Gone But Not Forgotten: Review: STOP THE WORLD-I WANT TO GET OFF!

by Lynn on June 13, 2015

in The Passionate Playgoer

Was at the Mady Centre for the Performing Arts, Barrie, Ont.

Book, Music and Lyrics by Anthony Newley and Leslie Bricusse
Adapted and Directed by Kate Brown
Musical Direction by Beau Dixon
Setting and Lights by Joe Pagnan
Costumes and Props by Lindsay Junkin
Starring: Daren Herbert.

A stylish, beautifully performed production of a really misogynistic, sexist musical.

Pre-Comment: I saw this show on the matinee of its last day because that was the only time I could see it. It’s closed but there is much that is worth commenting on, so I am.

The Story. This is the story of the life of Littlechap. He works his way up from lowly jobs, such as a tea-boy, to being chairman of the board of the company he initially worked for, to success in politics. He has a lot of help along the way. He marrys a woman named Evie and gets a job in her father’s factory. He works himself up the ladder. He and Evie have children—she seems to get pregnant often. He has affairs, especially when he travells for work. Those affairs usually result in more pregnancies. Talk about a ‘straight-shooter.’

Everything he touches in his working life seems to result in success. Yet in his personal life he is unhappy. He feels burdened with family responsibilities; a less than doting wife, many children, perhaps a sense of being stifled. His eye roves elsewhere, often. He sings about the ups and downs in his life.

When Evie dies and Littlechap is left alone, still successful, this time in politics, he says that he loved but one person in his whole life and that was himself. I think to myself, “You got that right, sailor.”

The Production. Stop the World -I Want to Get Off! is usually performed by only two people. A man plays Littlechap and others and a woman plays all the women’s parts. Arkady Spivak, the effervescent Artistic Producer of Talk is Free Theatre, wanted to showcase the enormous talents of Daren Herbert (The Wild Party, Floyd Collins) so he decided to program the show and have Hebert play all the parts, both men and women.

Kate Brown has assistant-directed many shows in Toronto (under the name Kate Stevenson—but for our purposes she’s Kate Brown). Here she shines as the adapter and director. The original work had among others a chorus and Littlechap’s two daughters. So for Brown to distill this down so one person could perform the whole thing but still be true to the piece, is rather Herculean in scope.

Rather than have a flurry of scenes in which Hebert changes costumes from Littlechap to Evie or any other character, designer Joe Pagnan has designed a large round screen-structure at the back of the set. Onto this are projected filmed moments of Herbert, usually as Evie in a dress, hat, and facial expression suggesting mild impatience or coyness. Herbert, dressed in a suit, stands in front of the screen facing us, and interacts with whoever is projected onto the screen behind him. Works a treat.

Littlechap enters at the top of the show to show us his charming, smiling self, and introduce us to his slinky moves. As Littlechap, Daren Herbert has that easy attitude, a gracefulness and confidence the leaves no doubt why Littlechap is so successful in business and with the ladies. He flirts. He charms. He knows the right things to say to a woman and to be persistent but not in a threatening way. To his boss/father-in-law, he is formally respectful, not obsequious but convincing. And Herbert can sing up a storm. His voice is strong, solid and his singing true. There is enthusiastic joy when he sings “Gonna Build a Mountain” about how he will succeed; and of course regret and a bit of despair when he sings “What Kind of Fool Am I?” when he confesses that the only person he ever loved was himself. Previously when things got too tough for him, Littlechap would shout out, “Stop the world….” (Implied was, “I want to get off.”)

Kate Brown also incorporated Music Director, Beau Dixon and his multi-talented band (Justin Hiscox, Mark Hiscox and Mike Skinner) into the action, and they occasionally commented to Littlechap. I am grateful that the band did not overpower the singing with blaring over-amplification.

Herbert’s performance is so winning and Brown’s direction so detailed in showing Littlechap as a multi-faceted man, that one almost ignores the fact that Stop the World – I Want to Get Off! is rarely done for a reason—it’s offensive.

Comment. Stop the World -I Want to Get Off! was first produced in 1961 in London, England. It was very successful there and in New York when it transferred. Anthony Newley starred in it in both places with Anna Quayle (who played all the women’s parts).

It certainly was a different time and attitudes that are odious now, seem to have been acceptable then; sexism, misogyny, and a flagrant gender preference for boy children. Even Carousel created in 1945, with its anti-hero, blustering Billy Bigelow, considered that while boy children are terrific, so are girls. Not so in Stop the World-I Want to Get Off! Littlechap wants only sons. He doesn’t ever mention wanting daughters at all. He is a text-book cheater. He cheats on his wife with other women, and he cheats on those other women too.

While Stop the World-I Want to Get Off! has songs that became stand-alone hits: “Gonna Build a Mountain.” “Once in a Lifetime,” it is “What Kind of Fool Am I” that gives me pause. Littlechap sings it after Evie dies, when he admits he never loved anyone but himself. By positioning the song at the end of the show it seems to suggest a realization that Littlechap longs for that human, emotional connection to someone—“Why can’t I fall in love, ‘till I don’t give a damn, then maybe then I’ll know what kind of fool I am.”


There is nothing before that song, either in behaviour or awareness, that supports it. Nothing. The song is ‘merely’ Anthony Newley and Leslie Bricusse’s efforts to write a hit. It has all the elements of a hit—it’s about love; it’s full of regret (Littlechap never regretted anything); it has redemption in it. And Newley was determined to make it a hit, trotting it out whenever he was a guest on talk shows. There he’d be, face serious, contorted in the high notes, consumed with (fake) emotion. Brings the house down. Ick.

In sum, I’m glad I did see this show for the splendid work of Daren Herbert and Kate Brown. Bravo to Arkady Spivak for giving them this challenge. But I never have to see it again.

Talk is Free Theatre presented:

Run: May 21-May 30, 2015
Cast: 1 talented man
Running Time: 95 minutes.

www.tift.ca for details on the 2015-16 season

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