BERNADETTE, "the people's musical" at the Dominion Theatre, is an enjoyable night out. However, be forewarned it is neither an in-depth study of the story of Lourdes, nor serious high brow opera.
It's a light almost cabaret style show, an evening out which touches on the pathos and cruelty of life but where love reigns supreme. The singing is modern, jazzy, the lyrics simple and the spunky dance scenes are of the West Side Story type.
Lourdes is presented in many different shades. At times there is a faint hint of a French connection, other moments paint a picture of Victorian living rooms, and Cockney pubs embellished with characters from Dickens!
Romance is in the air with a sub-plot which is all too obvious. The story of a cruel father and his daughter unable to be with her handsome kindly prince mirrors the cruelty of the villagers to Bernadette and her repeated visions. More characterisation, more feeling would, I think, have brought these elements in the plot closer together. However, there were several moments when cruelty seemed to win out over love, and looking around there were few dry eyes in the house.
The young Bernadette is played by Natalie Wright who is certainly destined for stardom. In the central role she never faltered once.
I yearned for some real dialogue between her and the Virgin. The scene at the grotto looked exactly like the popular images, except for the smokey crevice where Our Lady talked to her little companion. I wanted some sort of evidence of this vision, some sense of this special relationship.
Were the producers worried that actually portraying Our Lady would have put off disbelieving punters? Perhaps, but they opted for an alternative which misses a central part of the story.
Bernadette's mother, Nikki Ankara, a fine singer I feel, was too young for her part and because of this was not quite credible as the mature, tired, poverty-stricken mother of four. Both herself and Camille, the unfortunate young woman suffering from parental disapproval of her love, were obviously instructed to use their voices and sing out. At times I felt that this might have been much better tempered by the advice of "feeling what they are singing".
The might of the church is well represented in Bernadette, particularly in the second scene where there is a formidable recreation of vespers.
The suggestion that the villagers might make a tidy sum out of private enterprise if they cashed in on the pilgrims to the grotto succeeded in portraying the development of Lourdes into the over-commercialised place it is today.
But this was not a serious night, and these more ominous moments quickly faded as love conquered all.
If the director Ernest Maxin had wanted a spunkier show with guts and passion, he would surely have chosen a more realistic setting with lyrics which reflected true emotions. As it was he opted for a show that makes for a pleasant if effortless night out. Rita Wall