Words by Phil Park and Music by Franz Lehar
Southampton Guildhall,
March 1996
Director: David Rayner
Cast List
St. Brioche
Baron Zeta

Notes on this performance

84. The Merry Widow          

Enter the Chippendales…

Considering the Society had now been performing for 72 years, it is rather strange that it had not embarked on a production of Franz Lehar’s The Merry Widow before, but that omission was about to be rectified. David Rayner was eager to direct again and, after the artistic success of Ruddigore, the Committee was keen to have him at the helm. Alan and Lorraine Morgan introduced a fellow native of Wales, Robert Venn, as the latest SOS MD and he was a very demanding musician! The more gifted singers welcomed his quest for perfection but the less able suffered a bit of a culture shock. He did, however, make a big improvement in the standard of singing! 

David hoped to appear in his own show but the Committee denied this request – a pity because, once the principals were ‘removed’ the chorus was left with only 15 men. However, he did get involved by introducing the members of the audience when they arrived, as if they were going to a ball (aided by Philip de Grouchy). David also took over as Business Manager and soon the company had a ‘Business Package’ to implement and a costume levy of £10 to pay (refunded if ticket selling-targets were met). Ironically he also chose to set the show in modern times so that more of the company could provide their own clothing and thus save money.

The Echo reviewer approved of the setting and seems to have enjoyed the show, ‘Set in 1995, David Rayner’s innovative production introduced the Chippendales supporting the Widow’s entry and Anna and Danilo riding in the park on his mean motorbike. Under Roger Venn the orchestra and cast sounded outstanding.

Alison Vincent (Valencienne) and Richard Wilkin (Camille) sang and worked wonderfully well together, but Janet Green (Anna) stole the singing credits. Richard Steel (Danilo), Colin Sly (Zeta) and David Jupp (Njegus) all played their parts to perfection, as did the minor principals. The movement and use of chorus was effective but it was the ensemble numbers - the men’s “Women, Women” and the Grisettes Can-Can which brought the house down.’ The high kicking and cart-wheeling Grisettes were played by Christina Smith, Jo Short, Margaret Amey, Pauline Cryne, Anita James and Wendy Dalton and they were, indeed, highly accomplished. 

Even Robert Venn, who travelled from West London for rehearsals, was pleased with the quality achieved and reported, ‘The chorus music was of a very high standard. There was a very good line up of principals who were keen and responded well. I was delighted with the orchestra – all players attended at least one rehearsal – no real deputising.’ David Rayner was also happy with the end product and wrote, ‘It was a bright, colourful and energetic show in which the chorus worked well and all of the principals – in what was a strong line up – were excellent.’

Tickets sold very well, possibly due to £1650 of a £2800 grant from National Heritage being added to the publicity budget, and, helped by another grant from North Guild (£1000), The Merry Widow showed a welcome profit of £574.

Terry O'Farrell

Photo of Motorbike

Richard Steel (Danilo) with Janet Green (Anna)

Photo of Trio

Richard Wilkin (Camille), Janet Green (Anna), Richard Steel (Danilo)

Photo of Men

L-R: Richard Steel (Danilo), Reg Bath (St. Brioche), Alan Morgan (Kromov), Paul Webb (Cassava), Tony Austin (Bogdanovitsch), Kim Hill (Pritsch), Colin Sly (Baron Zeta)

Photo of Girls

Valencienne with the Grisettes: Margaret Amey, Jo Short (Dodo), Christina Smith (Lolo), Alison Vincent (Valenciennes), Wendy Dalton (Margot), Anita James (Clo-Clo)