Finborough has been celebrating British musicals since 2006. Valley of Song is their third revival of an Ivor Novello musical. Novello (1893-1951), actor and composer, was hugely popular on stage and screen for thirty years, famous for his glamour and profile as well as for his songs (Keep the Home Fires Burning, We’ll Gather Lilacs in the Spring) and for his musicals (Glamorous Night, Crest of the Wave, Perchance to Dream, King’s Rhapsody).
His shows could fill large theatres such as Drury Lane and the Palace. Today, he is almost completely forgotten. He was in the middle of writing Valley of Song, when he died at the early age of 58. There were huge numbers at his funeral.
The musical, based on Welsh music and the National Eisteddfod, was completed by his long-time collaborator, Christopher Hassall, and adapted for the amateur stage by Phil Park and Ronald Hanmer. Park wrote the book. Ronald Hanmer adapted and arranged the music and composed additional material. Benji Sperring’s production is its first professional performance.
A young Welsh choirmaster (Linford Hydes) in 1913 is in love with a local girl (Katy Treharne), a soprano with a lovely voice who has ambitions to be a famous opera diva. She goes to Venice and is seduced by a slimy Italian imposter (Richard Mark) and loses her virginity and her voice. She returns to England and World War 1 breaks out.
The choirmaster enlists immediately. Will he survive the war and will they be reunited? Or will he come back paralysed from the waist down, due to war injuries, like Lord Chatterley? Which do you think is the most likely?
Valley of Song would have been old-fashioned even in the 1950s. Perhaps one way to revive Novello today might be in a lavish revue, a compilation of his best songs?
by Robert Tanitch, Mature Times theatre reviewer