Captain's Blog

 

quote from book “Mr Producer” by Sheridan Morley

January 17th, 2007
Moby Dick is a musical with a book by Robert Longden, and music and lyrics by Longden and Hereward Kaye. A mixture of high camp, music hall-style smut, and wild anachronism overflowing with double entendres, the show focuses on the anarchic and nubile girls of St. Godley’s Academy for Young Ladies who, determined to save the institution from bankruptcy, decide to stage Herman Melville's classic novel in the school's swimming pool.

Having become involved with the restoration of Oxford's Old Fire Station Theatre, producer Cameron Mackintosh sought a new musical to inaugurate its re-opening. Impressed by an audio tape sent him by Longden, Mackintosh offered him Ł25,000 to stage what was then called Moby Dick: A Whale of a Tale. Originally an intimate piece with a cast of twelve performing with an upright piano, it became a greatly expanded version featuring a troupe of thirty and a six-piece band.

The end result was a madcap romp, with veteran cabaret star Tony Monopoly playing the headmistress/Captain Ahab in drag, that immediately developed a cult following among the university students. One of its first venues was aboard Ki Longfellow's Old Profanity Showboat where after a slow start, it quickly became sold out.

Against the advice of his staff, Mackintosh decided the show was suited for a full-fledged West End production, and in March 1992 he transferred it to the cavernous Piccadilly Theatre, where it opened to almost universally scathing reviews. Despite an increasingly appreciative audience and nightly ovations the musical failed to find its audience quickly enough and the economics of the large venue forced it to close after 4 months. Such was its public appeal, Cameron later recalled, that the announcement of closure sent audience reaction into orbit and it barnstormed out of the West End as if it were one of the greatest hits of all time.

Over the years, the show, alternately titled Moby Dick! The Musical or Moby!, has proven to be a popular choice with regional theatre groups. In 2003 an Americanized version deleted all the unfamiliar British references and played down many of the burlesque aspects. No matter where it's produced, the tradition of having the headmistress portrayed by a male continues to be upheld.

  1. Larry Shackley Says:

    Something reminded me of your musical this morning and I was delighted to find your website. I happened to be in London during the Piccadilly run and caught the show a week before the cast album was recorded (which I now own, to my great joy). What a phenomenally fun evening at the theatre, with catchy tunes, loads of good jokes, and beautiful girls (I mean the REAL girls). I can’t believe it didn’t run forever. Blast the critics! My only regret was that I didn’t get a pair of 3-D glasses during the interval, so I missed all the optical effects. Thanks for your wit and creativity!

     

  2. Jonas Bjerkén Says:

    What a thrill to be the first guy in Scandinavia to both wear high heels and rise a harpoon on an Opening Night of this crazy, happy-ending tragedy! Moby Dick are heading for Sweden, Lund: on March 2 he finally will flap his tail to Glory!

    Very welcome if you´re coming nearby…….!

    ..and I´ll promise you: it will be in drag!

    Jonas B: Headmiss & Ahab

     

  3. Robert McGovern Says:

    Glad to see this website. I caught a song from this show when I was quite young on Children in Need one year and thought it was great. I’m sure the school girls in St Trinians style gear probably helped but I also loved musicals.

    Unfortuantly I lived in Northern Ireland and so never got a chance to see the show. Many years later I came across the CD by chance in HMV and bought it immediattly. It is now one of my most prized CD’s.

    Hopefully one day this show will makes a reapperance on the West End and I can get a chance to see it in all its glory.

     

  4. Richard Steers Says:

    i saw this show back in April 1992 at the Piccadilly theatre, and re-booked to see it immediately, i ended up going back on the last night and took my whole family with me. the show was great and the last night performances fantatstic. it is a shame that sylvia’s impressions were cut from the CD when she first appeared on stage, but i can still see her clearly in my mind. 15 years later i still search the theatre news in the hope that Moby will be back in London to delight us all again.

    AMAZON.COM reviews of the music and CD

     
    5.0 out of 5 stars Belongs in every serious Musical collection, March 29, 2008
    By  RonAnnArbor (Ann Arbor, MI United States) - See all my reviews
    (TOP 500 REVIEWER)   
    This live recording of MOBY DICK THE MUSICAL belongs in every serious musical collectors library. Recorded originally for the cast, it captures a live recording of the show, complete with audience howls and reactions. You can't see the dancing seals, or the 3-D rocks being hurled at the audience...but you can hear the reaction!

    The music is pop-rock, and the story actually follows the book in general plot development. I am so fortunate to have seen this musical (twice) in London, as it is a live-theatre experience I will never forget.

    But if you are not familiar with the show, this CD belongs in your collection. It has become a rare collectors piece.
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    5.0 out of 5 stars Impossible to classify: a real musical extravaganza, May 20, 2007
    After listening to this incredible utterly impossible-to-classify musical, one wonders what it is that makes such mediocre scores like "Wicked" a complete success and what makes a brilliant hilarious musical experience different from anything you've heard before in the genre a failure. It seems that this work is getting known little by little ironically for having been a complete flop after a short life on stage. In a recent interview Spanish director Pedro Almodóvar stated that children from a very early age usually dream of becoming astronauts, doctors, football players or writers but that if any child would tell his parents: "I'd like to become a critic in the future", the urgent thing to do would be to take this child to the psychiatrist. My personal piece of advice is never trust critics when their negative reviews are so extremely harsh as they were with this musical. And who knows, maybe one day it will be back on stage for the pleasure of the audience and the bewilderment of the vocational critics.
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    1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
    5.0 out of 5 stars Best Comedy Musical Ever!!, June 29, 2004
    By  Phil Eadie (London, UK) - See all my reviews
    One of the worst travesties in London theatrical history occurred when this show closed after its short run at the Piccadilly Theatre Savaged by the critics (well most of them) but loved by the audiences this enthralling musical lampoon of Melvilles epic as staged by a "St Trinians" school clone never fails to please. From the opening "Parents Day" which explains the staging of the musical through the wonderful "Forbidden Seas", "Gypsy Dancer" and the fantastically vocal "Man Happens" the lyrics at times bring tears to you eyes for all the right reasons. The only regret is that all the visual gags and mock amateur staging that accompany the songs has been lost. Men playing schoolgirls playing sailors.... hmmm I can see why the snooty critics saw it as a soft target but 12 years on the legend endures. Hopefully Mr Mackintosh will have enough faith in his creation to restage it at some point in the future and until then we at least have a fitting memorial in this recording.
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    5.0 out of 5 stars A Happy Theatrical Momento, May 20, 2004
    By A Customer
     
    The only problem with this recording is that the listener can't see the energy and wonderful enthusiasm of the cast along with the incredibly imaginative staging. I had the pleasure of seeing this production three times in its far too short life at the Piccadilly Theatre, and I was enthralled each time. Yes, this is a live recording, and some of the production values aren't as good as they were in the five song CD "single" released early in the run, but it's a wonderful tribute to a show that was extremely unfairly savaged by the stuffy London critics who couldn't stand Melville's dirge being lampooned. I particularly love "Elija's Prophecy" in which he states that the Pequod will sink done as a horn pipe. The show was done with tongue firmly implanted in cheek, and there was plenty of cheek there. It's also a shame that listeners can't see the opening of the second act which was a 3-D extravaganza. What joy! The cast is young, except for Tony Monoply as the head mistress, and vibrant. The music is excellent and wonderfully well performed.
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    1 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
    5.0 out of 5 stars Moby Dick -a whale of a show, November 28, 2001
    By  Richard Steers (Southend, England) - See all my reviews
    This CD brings back great memories, i saw the show twice and was there on the night of the recording.One reviewer called the show "Carry on St Trinians the Musical" and that just about sums it up, a saucy, joyous, funny show with an infectious score and a young attractive and very talented cast. It is a shame you don't get to hear all of Sylvia's wickedly accurate impressions (Bette Davis,Katherine Hepburn,to name but two)but the sheer vibrancy of the evening can be gauged by the enthusiastic cast and response of the audience.This show outstrips, Les Miz, Cats , Phantom - the lot, 10 years on I still wish i could book a ticket and see the whole thing live, until then i shall keep playing the CD.
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    1 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
    5.0 out of 5 stars Spit take in progress . . ., August 30, 2001
    By  M. Tobin "bookworm" (somewhere in Boston) - See all my reviews
    This album is just too funny. I can't help laughing at lines such
    as "OBSESSION ISN'T JUST A PERFUME!" and "I know you were SO looking forward to raising a family, but my LEG! EVERYthing!" It's a great album. I love it. And to those four brave critics who stuck with this show as well as Les Miz, way to go and KEEP UP THE GOOD WORK!
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    5 of 7 people found the following review helpful:
    5.0 out of 5 stars Too Funny - Too Strange - Two Copies Are Not Enough, November 22, 1999
    By A Customer
     
    Buy it for yourself, buy it for a friend, just buy it. Rarely is musical theatre so silly and so delightful. I bought it because I couldn't imagine Moby Dick as a musical. I listened to it and I still can't. This is a play within a play. Songs range from silly, to fun, to serious, to depressing. It's so contagious, you will find yourself humming in the car on the way to work. Don't expect a somber Les Miz, but more of a light hearted romp in the pool during your high school reunion. Live on the wild side and get it! You won't be sorry.
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    5 of 6 people found the following review helpful:
    5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliantly imaginative musical, June 10, 1999
    By A Customer
     
    Brief overview: Cash-strapped British Public School for Girls puts on musical version of Moby Dick. It's such a great shame the live version of this show collapsed under extremely harsh critical reviews when it premiered in London. Taken for what it is, an outrageous blend of St Trinians and Rocky Horror with not a small amount of Monty Python thrown in for good measure, you cannot fail to be hooked by the infectious tunes and sheer enthusiasm the performers put into each and every song. This recording is taken from the last week that the show ran and really captures the atmosphere of being in the auditorium; something we can only dream about now it is no longer running. The main male lead plays the headmistress who in turn plays Ahab; double cross-dressing, who else would think of it? Please don't expect a serious piece of music or you'll be disappointed; though that's not to say that the music isn't well written, it certainly is. If you listen to this and it doesn't get your foot tapping, I'll be amazed. The finale is outstanding, and this musical through and through deserves a higher profile and a live revival.
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    1 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
    4.0 out of 5 stars A Whale Of A Tale, May 20, 1999
    By  Stephen Smith (Hampshire, England) - See all my reviews
    I am a collector of musicals on CD, and like to find unusual items. To say this is unusual is an understatement. Think St Trinians in a school play, and you've got the basic plot. It is a very funny musical, although if just the Moby Dick story was kept and changes made, it could stand as a serious show.
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    2 of 4 people found the following review helpful:
    4.0 out of 5 stars Rock and Roll Whale, November 1, 1998
    By A Customer
     
    I at first was a little timid to listen to the muscial. I could not see how anyone could take the story of Moby Dick and set it to music. To my suprise they did. From the first song I could tell it was going to be great. I really enjoyed the last song about saving the whale. My only regret is that there is not a video verson of this muscial


     

 

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