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Metropolis, it might be said, is going for the Starlight Express and Les Miserables markets at one and the same time, which as far as I am concerned demonstrates the down side of marketing. Far better, one might have thought, to go for good songs with lyrics which do not sound as if they were written by bright but impressionable 16-year-olds, and in this respect I am a little dismayed to find that Dusty Hughes, whom some of us are inclined to think of as one of our own, is partly responsible.

Here we have the "concept" musical in full flower, the basis being the over 60-year-old film in which the German director Fritz Lang and his then wife gave their terrifying vision of a future in which the workers were condemned to live and work underground tending the machines which enabled the elitists to live high off the hog a long way nearer the stars, in the penthouses atop the skyscrapers. The fact that this was all unlikely nonsense took second place to the design and feel of the movie, which is again what happens here.

So the hero is again the designer, in this case the brilliant Ralph Koltai, who gives us a machine room which covers the stage from left to right, top to bottom, populated by proles who do nothing but turn wheels and handles "to keep up the pressure", overseen by a brutish foreman and watched over by the evil boss of the whole city, John Freeman, and his creepy henchman Jeremiah. Down below a young woman, Maria, attempts to educate and rally the workers, loved by Freeman's son Steven, who changes places with handle-turner George, the latter being hounded by the elitists as soon as he reaches penthouse level, access to which is obtained by one of the glass lifts - such as are found today in all the best shopping precincts - which maintain a frequent service throughout the show.

There is also a conscience-stricken scientist, Warner, the city's technical mastermind, who gives his robot creation Maria's face and body and calls her Futura. She is fortunately hurled by the workers into the furnace when she tries to overthrow the real Maria's vaguely socialist teachings, and I say "vaguely because the original Metropolis managed to appeal to both the Nazis and the Communists.

"Sung-through", in the modern fashion, which means virtually no dialogue, Metropolis is stuffed with songs that are as indeterminate as they are interminable - the composer, Joseph Brooks, wrote You Light Up My Life - but they do introduce a new star to the West End in Broadway's Judy Kuhn, supported by Graham Bickley, Paul Keown, Jonathan Adams and the nicely menacing Brian Blessed. But the honours, such as they are, must go to the hi-tech master Koltai and the director, Jerome Savary, who ensure that this dehumanised spectacle will be talked about, though hardly whistled in the streets.

Lording it up, Brian Blessed in Metropolis

Peter Hepple


Copyright © 2002 M. Kniestedt. All rights reserved.