In praise of jollity

A conversation about the musical Honk!(which won the Olivier award a few years ago, much to everyone’s surprise) today reminded me of the love I have for its authors.  Composer George Stiles and lyricist (sometimes librettist as well) Anthony Drewe have been working together for over twenty years, and I find that all their work, together or with other collaborators, leaves me with a smile in my face and a song in my heart.  ‘Jolly’ certainly describes a lot of their output, and much as I love the beauty of Rodgers and Hammerstein, the bite of Kander and Ebb or the complexity of Stephen Sondheim, there really is nothing wrong with jolly.  They can take on other moods as well, but sometimes jolly is what you need after a hard day at work!

My favourite of their shows is Honk!, a musical retelling of the Ugly Duckling story.  The characters are all animals, mostly birds, and the whole show is stuffed with puns and amusing bits of anthropomorphism.  It has an emotional heart, in the love that Ugly’s mother has for her somewhat odd child, and it’s very inventive – I saw this staged a few years ago and was left with a contented grin for quite some time afterwards.  How can you fail to love a show with a military squadron of geese, a petrified turkey and a frog who is sure that someone will love Ugly ‘Warts and All’ before too long.  I also love to sing the ballad ‘Now I’ve Seen You’, where Ugly compares all the beauty he’s seen (sunsets, leaves, waterfalls etc.) to his first glimpse of Penny, a female swan.  It’s heart-warming.

They’re very funny as well, when they want to be.  One of their earlyish songs was a contribution to The Challenge, a musical about Theseus and the Minotaur written by a couple of dozen up-and-coming writers in the early 1990s.  A duet for Pasiphae and the Bull (the Minotaur’s soon-to-be parents), ‘Bull Inside My China Shop’ really has to be heard to be believed.  Deliciously naughty!

The recent West End hit version of Mary Poppins has brought them to greater attention, as they wrote the new songs and adapted the existing Sherman Brothers numbers for the stage.  ‘Supercali…’ is thrilling in its new setting, and their talents get a good workout with the uplifting ‘Anything Can Happen’, the scary ‘Temper Temper’ and the perky ‘Practically Perfect’.  I certainly hope that this can lead to greater things for them, as their words and music deserve wider attention.

It’s well worth visiting their website, as they have clips and demo versions of many of their songs available. is their on-line home.  Be prepared for simple pleasures, but be prepared also to appreciate just how much work has evidently been put in to achieve the apparent simplicity.  Melody, wit and charm – practically perfect!

Other recommendations for musical jollity would include Snoopy!!!, complete with its three exclamation marks, the Princess/Pea tale Once Upon a Mattress and Andrew Lloyd Webber’s only out-and-out comedy, By Jeeves.

  1. I’ve just listened to all of the musical clips from “Honk!”, and really enjoyed it. It’s good that they also give you the lyrics so you know what’s being sung – some of them are very funny!

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