Miss Nightingale: The Burlesque Musical With Very Little Burlesque

Amber Topaz as Maggie Brown in Miss Nightingale.

Amber Topaz as Maggie Brown in Miss Nightingale.

As part of its grand tour around the UK, Miss Nightingale has stopped off at the Leicester Square Theatre this week.

The show, subtitled “The Burlesque Musical”, tells the wartime story of Maggie Brown (real-life burlesquer Amber Topaz), a Northern singer whose career takes off when she moves south to the bright lights of London town and assumes the eponymous stage moniker.

Or does it? Much of the plot is taken up with the romance between Brown’s musical director George Nowodny and her producer Sir Frank Worthington-Blythe. Think of the musical as a tale of boy-meets-boy-boy-loses-boy-boy-only-gets-boy-back-after-almost-joining-up-and-going-to-fight-the-Hun and you’re mostway there.

While his accent is occasionally as peripatetic as Edward Snowden, Ilan Goodman as Nowodny turns in a star performance. The character is, arguably, the real focus of the production, whether developing his relationship with Worthington-Blythe, counselling Brown or fretting over interned homosexuals or his parents back in Poland. Curiously enough,  Goodman’s father (actor Henry Goodman, recently seen in The Winslow Boy) lends his voice to the radio broadcasts and his sister Carla is the stage designer. Whether Mother Goodman was involved in any way, we couldn’t say.

Redheaded pocket rocket Topaz nominally takes the title role but is too often sidelined by subplots, or found performing superfluous albeit hilarious song-and-dance routines in the musical-within-a-musical. There’s no doubt she is an excellent cabaret performer but there is too little meat here for her to get her acting teeth into as she spends much of the show dealing with more crises than a ‘stenders family gets through in a year — pregnancy, brother-on-the-warfront, missing-possibly-dead-brother-on-the-warfront, cheating boyfriend, gay husband — with hardly any being considered for any length of time before the next hits her.

Indeed, the musical sinks somewhat under the sheer number of social and moral issues thrown in during its hefty two-hour-plus running time. Anti-semitism, adultery, blackmail, police harassment, abortion and the treatment of gays in wartime as “the enemy within” are all worthy topics but they overly complicate an inner story so simple that Oscar Wilde could have written it on the back of a fag packet while lounging around in Reading Gaol. Writer and musical director Matthew Bugg can certainly churn out a snappy tune or seven but the script could do with some stripping down.

As could the show itself. It is billed as a burlesque musical and, while two out of three isn’t bad, there is very little here for fans of the honourable artform of ecdysiasm. A single strip routine — and that after two hours of musical — stands out if only for the glimmer of insight into Topaz’s talents in this field. Go for the songs, stay for the acting but if you’re after some honest-to-goodness burlesque action, we suggest getting your kicks elsewhere.

Miss Nightingale: The Burlesque Musical runs until 7 July at The Leicester Square Theatre with matinee performances on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Tickets cost £25 (£23.concessions) Visit teh official web page to find out more. Londonist saw this show on a complimentary review ticket.

Photo credit: Simon Annand

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