Blitz!

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Blitz!
Bart Blitz Album.jpg
Original Cast Album
Music Lionel Bart
Lyrics Lionel Bart
Book Lionel Bart
Joan Maitland
Productions 1962 West End
1990 West End revival
1990 UK Tour
2000 West End revival

Blitz! is a musical by Lionel Bart. The musical, described by Steven Suskin as "massive", was set in the East End of London during the Blitz (the aerial bombings during World War II). The story drew on Bart's childhood memories of London's Jewish East End during the Blitz and, like most musicals, centred on a romance between a young couple, in this case a Jewish woman and a Cockney man, although the largest role and main point-of-view character is that of Mrs. Blitztein, the young woman's mother.[1] Steven Suskin describes it as "Abie's Irish Rose set against the burning of Atlanta."[2] Bart himself described the play as "…three human stories inside an epic canvas; the major human conflict—the major plot—personifies the spirit of London and how that spirit developed during the period of the piece."[3]

Production history[edit]

Blitz! opened in London 8 May 1962 at the Adelphi Theatre, while Bart's enormous West End success Oliver! was still running at the New Theatre; at that time Oliver! had not yet been produced on Broadway. Blitz ran for 568 performances.[1] It never ran on Broadway: between its scale and the fact that New Yorkers could hardly be expected to share Londoners' nostalgia for the period, it proved "unexportable". Bart wrote the music and lyrics, and had directed the original London production himself; Joan Maitland contributed to the libretto. Sean Kenny designed the elaborate sets, which included representations of Victoria Station, Petticoat Lane, and the Bank underground station, not to mention London on fire during an air raid. Four revolving house units and an enormous, mobile overhead bridge carried on two shifting towers made it, at the time, the most expensive West End musical ever produced. Noël Coward called it "twice as loud and twice as long as the real thing."[4]

The song "The Day After Tomorrow" was specially written by Bart for Vera Lynn. Lynn had been a star at the time of the German bombing attacks; in the play, the characters listen to Lynn sing it on the radio while they shelter underground. Lynn did not actually appear onstage during the production, but she recorded the song for it, and the production used her recording on the "radio".[4] The play also makes use of a recording of a Winston Churchill radio speech.[5]

The role of Mrs. Blitztein was played by Amelia Bayntun in the original cast; it was her only role in a stage musical.[4] The cast included a large number of children. There is a scene in which the children are to be evacuated from London; they cheerfully sing "We’re Going To The Country", while their mothers try to put on a cheerful face.[5] The children's chorus "Mums and Dads" was a "showstopper"[6] that drew much radio play.

The musical was never seen for many years, largely because the original scores went missing during Bart's turbulent years. It was reassembled in Australia by 19-year-old Andrew Jarrett, a Bart devotee, with orchestrations by Kevin Hocking, Jack Westmore and Stephen Smith. So impressed was Bart, that he came out of obscurity and travelled to Australia for Jarrett's triumphant production in 1985. The Royal Shakespeare Company's intended 1990 revival (for the fiftieth anniversary of the Blitz) never happened, although the National Youth Theatre did revive it in London's West End at the Playhouse Theatre in September 1990 with Jarrett imported as Music Director. This production was directed by Edward Wilson and choreographed by David Toguri, with the role of Mrs. Blitzstein played by Jessica Stephenson (now Hynes), (now an established UK screen actor). According to the review in The Guardian "Edward Wilson's production for the NYT is necessarily more modest and contains some beautiful, slate-grey designs from Brian Lee: his backdrop of a soaring-arched Victorian railway terminus is stunning. David Toguri's musical staging shows his customary flair, camouflaging the cast's vocal weaknesses by bringing out their physical athleticism. And Jessica Stevenson as the mob-capped Mrs Blitzstein admirably conveys truculent working-class defiance."[7] Benedict Nightingale wrote in his review: "But the strongest performance comes from Jessica Stevenson as a Jewish matriarch able to sing a silly song about baking cakes being the answer to all ills, yet remain quietly dignified throughout. Here is an apprentice actress to encourage."[8] This production became the basis for a touring Northern Stage Company revival starring Diane Langton as Mrs. Blitztein.[4]

A revival production of Blitz was put on at the Queens Theatre in Hornchurch in 2000 including members of the Queens Theatre's own youth groups playing many characters alongside the resident cast.

Plot[edit]

The story focuses on two families, the Jewish Blitzteins and the Cockney Lockes. Mrs. Blitztein and Alfie Locke have adjacent stalls on Petticoat Lane: she sells herring, he sells fruit; they do not like each other. Their children, Georgie Locke and Carol Blitztein, are in love with one another.

ACT 1

The action opens on Bank underground station where the residents of Petticoat Lane are sheltering from yet another air raid. (Our Hotel)Amongst them are the two prominent families of the street, the Blitztein's led by their patriarchal mother and the Lockes led by father Alfred. The two welcome home their sons Georgie Locke and Harry Blitztein who are home on embarkation leave of a week before shipping out to fight. Harry has a new girlfriend in tow, Joyce who is not only not Jewish but married much to his mother's horror. Georgie meanwhile has caught sight of Mrs Blitztein's daughter Carol who has grown into a beautiful young woman during his absence and Georgie is instantly smitten.

Carol likewise is rather struck by the young soldier and they quickly hit it off before their parents interfere and spark of their usual round of bickering which never involves them actually speaking to each other but through other people (Tell Him Tell Her)with the argument settled down Georgie pulls Harry to one side informs him that he is in love... with Carol. Whilst Harry is not against such a union he advises against it as he knows there could be trouble (I Wanna Whisper Something). The wireless is put on so the residents can listen to the news which includes a speech by Churchill and then they listen to Vera Lynn (The Day After Tomorrow) Ernie Nearmiss, Alf's best friend arrives to inform them that the Blackwell's house has been destroyed by a bomb and Mr and Mrs Blackwell were still inside at the time having refused to go down the shelter.

Their son Tommy, who is in the shelter with the Blitzteins, is thankfully asleep and doesn't hear but Mrs Blitztein decides that tomorrow she will send Tommy and her son Siddy into the country for safety. The next day the children of the street apart from Franie Locke, Georgie's sister are assembled to be evacuated and are waved goodbye by their mums (We're Going to The Country). No sooner have the children gone than the bombings get worse; the firemen and ARP are kept very busy and every morning the residents of Petticoat Lane emerge from the shelter not knowing what to expect but they are determined not to let it get them down (Another Morning) on this particular morning they emerge to find the gas mains have been hit and they are not allowed into their houses. Also Princlet Street has been completely destroyed leaving several families homeless including the Murphey's and Sen's. Alf takes the Murphey's in whilst Mrs Blitztein takes the Sen's. Mrs Blitztein is very frustrated and begins to have a long rant about Hitler which is soon joined by others (Who's This Geezer Hitler?) Harry re-appears after a week's disappearance and he is immediately put to work by his mother as punishment for not telling her where he was.

Carol and Georgie manage to get a minute to themselves and it is revealed that they have been spending a lot of time together over the last week. Georgie who is off to fight tomorrow asks Carol if she'll wait for him but before she can answer their parents appear again. Mrs Blitztein is in full flow about her children and how they have disappointed her, Carol by breaking off her relationship with a Jewish boy because of Georgie and now Harry by going off with a married woman.(She's At It Again). An official appears on the scene to do a census of all the people in the area who have foreign sounding names to find out how many of them there are and how long they've been in the area etc. Whilst this is going on Alf and Ernie have a patriotic rant (As Long As This Is England). That night Carol and Georgie sneak out together to spend one last night together before Georgie goes abroad.

Their parents look for them but in vain. Carol and Georgie have a laugh at both their parents and their stubborn ways and reflect on how the fact they are from such different backgrounds actually make them more suited (Opposites). They are interrupted by the air raid siren but rather than going down to the shelter they take cover in a doorway (Magic Doorway) Mrs Blitztein looking for Harry discovers them instead and is not happy. Georgie volunteers to go to Joyce's and see if Harry is there. Carol meanwhile goes off to find Harry herself leaving Mrs Blitztein alone with her cake tin ("Bake a Cake"). She then overhears some men in the process of stealing lead pipes and is shocked to discover Harry amongst them. Harry announces to his mother he's not going back to the army as he's had enough. Mrs Blitztein is about to go after him when a bomb goes off nearby followed by a scream from Carol.

The next day at Victoria Georgie is waiting for Carol to see him off and for Harry to report for duty. When Harry doesn't show, Elsie, his former girlfriend who is still rather taken with him tries to buy him time by distracting the Sgt Major. (Leave It To The Ladies) Mrs Blitztein arrives after having been at the hospital with Carol all night, she is upset that Harry has not turned up and informs Georgie that Carol couldn't come to see him off. Georgie informs Mrs Blitztein of love for Carol and his intention to marry her when he returns and is surprised when she agrees and seems more gentle towards him than before. The soldiers depart and Mrs Blitztein is left alone.

ACT 2

Act Two opens six months later with Carol, now blind alone on Petticoat Lane thinking of Georgie whom she hasn't seen at all in that time (Far Away). The Sunday market is slowly beginning to set up and people are discussing Carol and how the bombing seems to have calmed down at last. Alf is pleased as he's had a letter from Georgie to say he's coming home for good after losing a kidney, even better he doesn't want Carol or her mother to know he's coming so Alf thinks he's going to finish with Carol.

The market is soon in full swing (Petticoat Lane) and the children return from the country (We've Been to See The Country). With the children back the market continues with Elsie commenting on the variety of people you meet at the Petticoat Lane market (Down the Lane). Carol who is helping out on her Mum's Pickled Herring stall asks if what Franie has told her about Georgie coming home is true. Mrs Blitztein is forced to admit it is. Carol is confused as to why Georgie didn't tell her he was coming home and worries that he has gone off her because she is blind. Mrs Blitztein tries to reassure here daughter but is secretly thinking the same thing. Military Police arrive to enquire about Harry who is still on the run from the army followed by Joyce who hasn't seen Harry herself in ages. Mrs Blitztein is in despair, her daughter is blind and unhappy and her son is a crook on the run. In a moment of desperation she offers up a prayer to her late husband Jack pleading for guidance (So Tell me Jack).

That evening the adults are assembling in the pub leaving the children outside to amuse themselves with a game of Mum's and Dad's (Mum's and Dad's) after the others are scared off by Tommy Blackwell and his horror book Georgie emerges from the pub very drunk and depressed. Feeling a failure as a soldier, a son and a boyfriend he is drowning his sorrows. He is approached by Harry who reveals that he has spent the last 6 months working on the black market and hiding from the military but has come back to see Carol having only just heard about it. Georgie confesses that he too is yet to see Carol and it's clear whilst on one side he wants to see her he's too scared to. He makes out that Harry had the right idea running off and missing out on the fighting and death. Harry on the other hand seems to be fed up with life on the run and is clearly beginning to wish he'd just faced his duty. The two agree to meet up later as its too public where they are.

Georgie now alone goes into a drunken rant (Who Wants To Settle Down) Mrs Blitztein is next to discover him, she welcomes him home and tries to sound him out about Carol. Georgie admits the army was too much for him and all the killing and violence has altered his view on life and Carol probably wouldn't like the new him. Mrs Blitztein rubbishes the whole thing telling him that they've all had to put up with the same thing at home and it hasn't changed them. She tells Georgie that she's very proud of him for going to fight for them and facing up to his responsibilities, unlike Harry, whom she is very ashamed of. She admits she misjudged Georgie because of her dislike of his father but tells him that she would be proud to have Georgie in her family. Georgie admits he still loves Carol as much as he ever did if not more so but he doesn't think he's good enough for her. Mrs Blitztein informs him that in Carol's eyes no one else apart from him would be good enough. She goes to fetch Carol whilst Georgie is reunited with his father and Franie.

Carol is brought to Georgie and two enjoy an emotional reunion where Georgie proposes. (Is This Gonna Be A Wedding) At the wedding Alf is still not happy about his son marrying a Blitztein but he resigns himself to it but not without a few snide remarks. Harry then appears to congratulate Georgie and Carol and announce he's going back to the army (Duty Calls). The wedding party depart and Mrs Blitztein is left alone when a bomb hits. She is rescued by Alf but neither are very gracious either in thanking or receiving that thanks and they leave arguing but in a huge step forward they are with each other directly and not through other people. Harry goes back to the Army.[9]

Characters[edit]

  • Mrs Blitztien - Typical Jewish matriarch and self-confessed 'Queen of Petticoat Lane'. Mrs Blitztien has spent her entire life trying to bring up her seven children in the proper Jewish way and very disappointed at the fact that they have all in their own way rebelled. Her rival on the street is fruit & veg man Alf Locke with whom she has an explosive relationship and neither can ever resist making snide comments to the other when they get the chance. Her poor relationship with Alf clouds her judgement of Georgie as a potential husband for Carol but she soon realises she was wrong about him.
  • Carol Blitztien - Mrs Blitztien's youngest daughter. She clearly loves her mother very much but is not willing to let her run her life. She is in a sort of relationship with a Jewish boy early in the show but she breaks it off when she falls in love with Georgie Locke. Carol is blinded the night before Georgie goes off to fight whilst looking for her brother during an air raid. When Georgie doesn't tell her he's coming home, she worries he has gone off her but he ends up proposing and she marries him. It is implied at the end that her sight is coming back.
  • Harry Blitztien - Harry is the eldest son of Mrs Blitztien. He like all his siblings adores his mum but also finds her a pain and is not above rebellion even to the point of having Georgie Locke as his best friend. Harry is a typical Jack the Lad type and a huge hit with ladies, even the married ones. Harry's philandering ways disappoint his mother enough but he makes it worse when he deserts the army. He spends six months on the run working the black market but soon tires of it and wishes that like Georgie he had faced his duty. He ends up turning himself in.
  • Alf Locke - Alf owns the fruit & veg stall at the market and is Mrs Blitztien's nemesis. A World War I veteran he is now Chief ARP Warden and along with his mate Ernie Nearmiss he takes the job very seriously. He is father to Georgie and Franie who he tries to keep on a tight leash with little success. Alf has never been happy about Georgie's friendship with Harry and is less happy about his relationship with Carol. He reluctantly attends his son's wedding and resigns himself to the fact that Georgie has married a Blitztien but unlike Mrs Blitztien he is never entirely happy about it.
  • Georgie Locke - Eldest child and only son of Alf. Georgie is very different from his father, quiet and shy around people especially women. He joined the army at the start of the war and during basic training he made Lance Corporal. On returning home he found Carol Blitztien had grown from a girl into a beautiful young woman and he instantly fell for her and spent his weeks leave courting her. Georgie left for the front unaware that Carol had been blinded and was informed by his father in a letter. Georgie is injured in battle and loses one of his kidneys which means he is demobbed and sent home. Feeling a complete failure as a son, soldier and boyfriend he can't bring himself to face Carol and begins to think that Harry had the right idea running away. Mrs Blitztien tells him he's not a failure and she's proud of him for facing his duty unlike Harry. Georgie proposes to Carol and they marry.
  • Ernie Nearmiss - Alf's best mate and fellow Warden. He takes the job very seriously and he has a high level of self-importance as result. If he hears about any trouble nearby that requires ARP attention he will head off in a flash to investigate and take charge.
  • Elsie - Elsie is Mrs Blitztien's lodger and Harry's on/off girlfriend. Like Harry she is very popular with the opposite sex and has clearly had a string of boyfriends. When the Blackwells are killed in an air raid, Elsie seems to take on guardianship of their son Tommy.

Original cast[edit]

  • Mrs. Blitztein - Amelia Bayntun
  • Carol Blitztein - Grazina Frame
  • Harry Blitztein - Tom Kempinski
  • Siddy Blitztein - Kaplan Kaye
  • Rachel Blitztein - Rose Hiller
  • Cissy Blitztein - Julie Cohen
  • Alfred ("Alfie") Locke - Bob Grant
  • George Locke - Graham James
  • Frances Locke - Deborah Cranston
  • Ernie Nearmiss - Edward Caddick
  • Elsie - Toni Palmer
  • The voice of Vera Lynn - Vera Lynn

Source:[10] [11]

  • Impresario: Donald Albery,
  • Director: Lionel Bart
  • Designer: Sean Kenny
  • Costume designer: Bernard Sarron
  • Lighting designer: Richard Pilbrow
  • Musical director: Marcus Dods
  • General manager: Anne Jenkins
  • Stage manager: George Rowbottom

Source:[11]

Songs[edit]

Parenthetical names are individuals who sung the roles in the original cast, rather than character names.

"Far Away" was later a #24 UK hit for Shirley Bassey.[3]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ a b Suskin 2005, Mandelbaum 2005.
  2. ^ Suskin 2005.
  3. ^ a b Mandelbaum 2005
  4. ^ a b c d Mandelbaum 2005.
  5. ^ a b Guinness Stage Musicals
  6. ^ The Independent, Obituary. http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/obituary-lionel-bart-1085282.html
  7. ^ Billington, Michael. "Gimme shelter from this blitz - The Playhouse", The Guardian (London), September 12, 1990, no page number
  8. ^ Nightingale, Benedict. "Oh what an average war!", Blitz!, Playhouse, The Times, September 11, 1990, no page number
  9. ^ Mandelbaum 2005, Musical Heaven.
  10. ^ Kennedy & Muir 1998, p.48, provides information on the various Blitzteins, Lockes, and Ernie Nearmiss
  11. ^ a b Adelphi Programme

References[edit]