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The Tailor-Made Man Judi Herman at a musical that tells an unusual Hollywood tale
By Judi Herman

Judi Herman is a freelance writer, broadcaster and producer, working mainly for BBC Radio World Service and the BBC’s main UK speech network, [Radio 4]. She specialises in making radio features on arts and entertainment, religion, education, travel and human-interest stories. Among programmes to which she contributes regularly are the World Service Arts and Entertainment MagazineThe Strand, the World Service Heart and Soul Series and Radio Four’s flagship magazine programme Woman’s Hour. She also writes regular theatre reviews for the influential UK theatre website Whatsonstage.com and is a guest performing arts lecturer at Middlesex University Judi has written several stage shows, including How the West End Was Won, a show celebrating Jewish life in the West End of London, commissioned to accompany the London Jewish Museum's exhibition Living Up West; and Stones of Kolin, a play with music, charting six hundred years of Jewish life in a small Czech town, performed in both London and Kolin in the Czech Republic. She’s also worked in Public Relations, including theatre PR, so she reckons she knows the theatre business from more sides than most! Judi lives near London with Steve, her husband of thirty four years. They have a newly-married son and a daughter – and the family is completed by a Bedlington Terrier called Bertie! E-mail: judi_herman@hotmail.com  

In the so-called golden days of Hollywood, movie moguls ruled their studios as if they were the sovereigns of small kingdoms and perhaps none more so than Louis B. Mayer, head and co-founder of MGM Studios. His subjects, according to the studio’s famous boast, included “more stars than there are in heaven”. And although stars might lead rackety lives and get involved in all sorts of mayhem, there were lines that couldn’t be crossed (as proved by the dismissal of rival Paramount Studio’s big star Fatty Arbuckle over the scandal and disgrace involving the death of a rape victim).

So it’s not surprising to learn that Mayer was quick to dismiss William Haines, a heartthrob to rival Valentino, when he not only refused to marry another star to give the lie to rumours that he was gay, but actually “came out”.

And now, in these days of civil contracts and the lively debate over gay marriage, along comes a musical telling the story of this silent movie star who refused to keep silent about his long-term relationship with another man, Jimmy Shields. And although Haines also enjoyed “extra-marital” flings, their fifty plus years together were dubbed in retrospect the happiest and longest-lived marriage in Hollywood, ended only by Haines’ death. What is more, even though Mayer unmade Haines into a non star and consigned his ex-star’s films to the vaults (some to be rediscovered later), the story has a happy ending. Haines and Shields built up a hugely successful and prosperous Hollywood business as interior designers to the stars!

So this is the story that playwright Amy Rosenthal has chosen for her first musical, writing the book together with Claudio Macor from his original play of the same name. She says she was attracted not just to the true-life tale, but also to the music and lyrics of Duncan Walsh Atkins and Adam Meggido, who certainly come up with the goods and have a great line in wittily accurate pastiche.

Together they tell the story in flashback, narrated by Shields, in mourning for Haines, to a perky young girl reporter. So there’s a nice contrast between Shields’ calm apartment and the febrile glamour of the studio and all those after parties; and a nice chance for Clive Ward to put in a sympathetic performance as older Jimmy.

Back in the studio’s back lot, Mayer is rather wonderfully embodied as the villain of the piece by American comedy star Mike McShane, proving once again that he has a great voice and a larger-than-life personality. But of course Haines must rise before he can fall and his rise as winner of a sort of 1920s forerunner of today’s reality TV shows is certainly tailor-made! It’s fun to watch him enjoying his stardom on and off screen and falling in love with handsome set painter Jimmy Shields – handsome enough to become his stand in(hugely sympathetic Bradley Clarkson, who has a beautiful singing voice). Dylan Turner certainly has the requisite winning looks and personality – and the voice he’ll need to make the transition to talkies! And he has a great delivery for the sort of wisecracks that are bound to get him into trouble, reminiscent of the young Alan Alda in the TV series MASH. For Haines has a wicked tongue which he refuses to curb - and that penchant for sailors.

Haines of course refuses to get himself off the hook by marrying exotic starlet Pola Negri (wonderfully smouldering Kay Murphy), a move which Mayer hopes might boost her faltering career. Nonetheless there is often room for three in the Haines/ Shields ménage. Haines and Shields are often pretty well inseparable from starlet Marion Davies (who married newspaper magnate William Hearst), played with warmth and glamour by delicious Faye Tozer. Together they withstand an unpleasant gay-bashing incident at the boys' beach house – and hit upon that winning idea of starting an interior design business.

When I interviewed Amy Rosenthal (see end of review), I asked almost jokingly whether there was a song all about interior decoration – and of course there is. It’s appropriately called Design and it’s the climax of a show, which if it might be described as “off the wall”, is off a very snazzily designed wall indeed!
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The Tailor-Made Man runs at The Arts Theatre, London to 6 April. For full details www.thetailormademanlondon.com  Facebook: Tailor Made Man; Twitter: @TailorMadeManUK . Hear writer Amy Rosenthal’s chat with Judi at www.jewishrenaissance.org.uk  (click on JR OutLoud)
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  • Judi Herman

    Amy Rosenthal

    Mike McShane as Louis B. Mayer

    Dylan Turner as William Haines and Bradley Clarkson as Jimmy Sheilds

    Bradley Clarkson, Faye Tozer and Dylan Turner ,photos are by by Alastair Muir

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