Moby Dick (musical)
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 £25,000 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 1993, Longdon directed the American premier at Massachusetts Rep in New Bedford, MA, starring Ed Dixon as headmistress/Ahab, Terri White as Ahab's Wife and Cindy Marchionda as Ishmael and Ellen D. Williams who played recurring character, Patrice, in How I Met Your Mother, was an ensemble member in the cast. 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.
- Elijah: As Elijah, a wacky, one-armed crew member of the Pequod who is a gossipmonger spreading rumors. Doubles as Pierre and Janitor.
- Esta: A boy-crazy hussy and the smart aleck of the group. Doubles as Ahab's wife.
- Father Mapple / Flask: As Mapple, a flamboyant, revival-type preacher. As Flask, a crew member on the Pequod who tries to steal Queequeg's money.
- Gardiner / Dagoo: As Gardiner, Captain of the Rachel with a penchant for classical comedy. Doubles as Dagoo.
- Headmistress / Captain Ahab: The Headmistress is a stern and uptight ruler over the academy, played in drag with fearless confidence. Doubles as Captain Ahab.
- Ishmael: The story's narrator, she is a goody two-shoes who everyone picks on. An earnest, but nerdy, musician and student.
- Pip: The school's puny security guard and cabin boy aboard the Pequod. He is smaller and weaker than the others.
- Queequeg: The mystical, strange, savage harpooner who is tender and kind underneath it all. A cannibal of sorts.
- Starbuck: The stern and strong girl that the others look up to. She is very Christian, upright and fair.
The Ensemble play Sailors, Shrunken Heads, Wives, Heathens and Ghosts.
Original song list
2003 song list
- Caught by the Tale - a foreword to the Moby Dick cast recording (DICKCD1)
- Hey, Mr. Producer! The Musical World of Cameron Mackintosh by Sheridan Morley and Ruth Leon, published in the UK by Weidenfeld & Nicolson and in the US by Back Stage Books, 1998
- Moby Dick! The Musical at the Music Theatre International website