Twang!!

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Twang!!
TWANG (2).jpg
London Cast Album cover
Music Lionel Bart
Lyrics Lionel Bart
Book Lionel Bart & Harvey Orkin
Basis The Robin Hood legend
Productions 1965 West End

Twang!! is a musical with music and lyrics written by Lionel Bart and a book by Bart and Harvey Orkin, with assistance from Burt Shevelove. The piece was a spoof of the character and legend of the outlaw Robin Hood. It was a disastrous box-office failure and cost Bart his personal fortune.

After a preview in Manchester, Twang opened at the Shaftesbury Theatre in London's West End on 20 December 1965 and closed on 29 January 1966 after just 43 performances, receiving scathing reviews and playing to mostly empty houses.[1] Bart produced it with Bernard Delfont and John Bryan, and Joan Littlewood directed but quit before it opened. She was replaced by Shevelove and Bart.[2] Twang!! is remembered as "the most expensive flop" in West End history up to that time.[3]

Synopsis[edit]

Robin Hood and his Merry Men attempt to break into Nottingham Castle, in a variety of preposterous disguises, in order to prevent a marriage between the nymphomaniac "court tart" Delphina and the hairy Scots laird Roger the Ugly, arranged for the purpose of securing the loan of Scottish troops for bad Prince John.[4]

Roles and principal cast[edit]

  • Alan-a-Dale – Elric Hooper
  • Sir Guy of Gisborne – Howard Goorney
  • Mystery Voice in "Unseen Hands" – Long John Baldry
  • Mutch – Kent Baker
  • Robin Hood – James Booth
  • Little John – Bernard Bresslaw
  • Will Scarlett – Ronnie Corbett
  • Friar Tuck – Will Stampe
  • Sheriff of Nottingham – Bob Grant
  • Maid Marian – Toni Eden
  • Prince John – Maxwell Shaw
  • Delphina – Barbara Windsor
  • Roger the Ugly – Philip Newman

Production[edit]

The cast included the strongest players from Littlewood's Theatre Workshop, including Ronnie Corbett, Barbara Windsor and James Booth. But Twang!! ran into difficulty from the start. The script was weak, especially the part of Robin Hood, which was badly underwritten.[5] When Booth expressed his concerns, he was repeatedly assured that the part would be expanded to a starring role.[5] Littlewood demanded a rewrite, but constant, confusing revisions failed to improve the script. Littlewood, the choreographer Paddy Stone, the designer Oliver Messel, and the writers failed to work together.[3] Rehearsals were disorganised and fraught with tension; Bart was drinking; Littlewood threatened to walk out. At a rehearsal, Littlewood accused Bart of failing to fulfill his creative responsibilities because he was too strung-out on LSD.[6] Bart, in turn, accused Littlewood of ruining the piece.[7]

A Birmingham tryout was scheduled and cancelled. A Manchester preview opened on 3 November 1965 at the Palace Theatre with a script that was unfinished. Word of the disaster leaked to the tabloids.[3] Littlewood quit the company, and a script doctor, American Burt Shevelove, was brought in to fix the script and score, leading to more confusing changes, but nothing helped.[6] The scenes had no relation to the songs, and Twang!! transferred to London preceded by continued bad press.[8] The show opened in disarray at London's Shaftesbury Theatre on 20 December 1965. Still, Bart thought he could save the show.[3] On opening night, the musical director, Ken Moule, collapsed of exhaustion and still had failed to orchestrate the second act. Two songs were cut in the hours before the curtain rose, and the piece was played for camp, even adding some transvestism.[9] The house lights kept going up and down throughout the performance, and vicious arguments were overheard backstage.[10] Twang!! garnered scornful and derisive reviews. The critics noted the lack of heroics and the pseudo-pantomime delivery,[11] although there were some effective musical sequences, including a scene around a gallows that became a morris dance around a maypole.[12] Windsor also came in for some praise.[7]

The show had been intended as a romp that poked fun at the Crusades, the attitude of the Church and the human flaw of wanting to turn an outlaw into a hero.[2] Orkin believed the show failed because they failed to establish the exact butt of that satire; it was too vague and inconsequential.[4] Bart lost his personal fortune in Twang!!. He was devastated by the failure of the show.[13] So was Booth, who made no money for a year while preparing for Twang!!.[14] For Ronnie Corbett, however, the failure of Twang!! was a lucky break – it meant he was free to participate in The Frost Report, his breakthrough in television.[15]

Songs[edit]

A cast album was recorded and released in 1966 on the United Artists Records label on LP (no. ULP 1116). It was re-released in 1987 the TER label (no. 1055) on LP and cassette. A CD-R pressing was sold in the U.S. exclusively through the online reseller Footlight in 2011. The recording includes a track called "Twang!!" at the beginning of side B.

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Roper, p. 98
  2. ^ a b Roper, p. 84
  3. ^ a b c d Feiner, Michael. "Bart's Twang!! – Most Expensive Flop in London", The Montreal Gazette, 2 April 1966
  4. ^ a b Roper, p. 93
  5. ^ a b Roper, p. 86
  6. ^ a b Roper, p. 88
  7. ^ a b Twang, 1965 shows, Over the Footlights, accessed 25 December 2012
  8. ^ Roper, p. 89
  9. ^ Roper, p. 92
  10. ^ Roper, p. 94
  11. ^ Roper, pp. 94–95,
  12. ^ Parker, 1979
  13. ^ Roper, pp. 88–89
  14. ^ Blackwell, Diana. Bio, JamesBooth.org, 2005, accessed 5 January 2013
  15. ^ Corbett, pp. 6–9
  16. ^ Shaftesbury Theatre programme, December 1965

References[edit]

  • Roper, David (1994). Bart! The Unauthorized Life & Times, Ins and Outs, Ups and Downs of Lionel Bart, Pavilion Books Ltd.
  • Corbett, Ronnie; David Nobbs (2006). And it's goodnight from him... The Autobiography of The Two Ronnies. London: Penguin. ISBN 0-7181-4964-5.
  • Parker, Derek & Julia (1979). The Story & The Song. Chappell & Co.

External links[edit]

  • Twang!! at the Guide to Musical Theatre