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.