Jerry Herman’s Dear World finally receives its London premiere over 40 years after its short-lived Broadway run and time seems to have caught up with it at last. This madcap musical fable, a whimsical political satire, sees Herman trying something rather different from his better known works. Based on Giraudoux’s play The Madwoman of Chaillot, the story is set in post Occupation Paris in 1945 and centres around the eccentric Countess Aurelia, who attempts to stop three local businessmen from destroying the Parisian neighbourhood of Chaillot by drilling for oil under her cafe. Gillian Lynne’s inventive new production of Dear World, currently playing at the Charing Cross Theatre, restores the intimacy and charm of the piece, reinstating previously cut numbers and tightening the book to create the chamber musical that Herman always envisaged.

Herman’s melodic score for Dear World contains some beautiful numbers, which have been reorchestrated for this production by Sarah Travis (played by an eight piece band under the direction of Ian Townsend). This transforms them from the over-orchestrated showstoppers of the Broadway production to grow organically and take life with the characters who sing them. As Aurelia, Betty Buckley imbues her solos with truth and poignancy and gives a beguiling performance, dressed colourfully in a costume that truly reflects her character’s wacky personality. Aurelia’s mantra to a life of happiness and positivity, ‘I Don’t Want To Know’, quietly builds from an almost spoken introduction, gaining momentum as further texture and meaning is added, and her song remembering a long-ago youth and the lost love of her life, ‘And I Was Beautiful’, is sung with honesty and truth, Buckley’s eyes gradually filling with tears throughout. The charming ‘Kiss Her Now’ is also full of poignancy as Aurelia urges a young couple (Katy Treharne and Stuart Matthew Price) to reveal their love for each other, before a lifetime passes by all too quickly.

The supporting characters in Dear World are interesting too, and endearing in their own different ways. Annabel Leventon and Rebecca Lock play two barmy friends of Aurelia – Leventon wry as the world weary Constance and Lock hilarious as the virginal Gabrielle, who takes her invisible dog Dickie with her wherever she goes! Their trio number at a mad tea party, sung in counterpoint, takes Herman to more complicated musical territory than usual too. Some of Dear World’s themes maybe have more relevance today – Paul Nicholas is a kind-natured Sewerman with an environmental message, and the three villainous businessmen (played tongue-in-cheek by Peter Land, Robert Meadmore and Jack Rebaldi and encouraged by Anthony Barclay’s Prospector) want to make money at no expense (bankers anyone?). Gillian Lynne’s production moves the story along swiftly throughout, even if the dance sequences of the prologue and epilogue appear a little at odds with the rest of the piece. A mock courtroom scene in Act Two takes Dear World into even dottier territory, staged in Aurelia’s apartment (nicely conveyed in Matt Kinley’s Parisian themed set). But for all its inherent and extravagant whimsy, the charming central story of Dear World, its melodic score and Buckley’s multi-layered performance, make it more than worth the 40 year wait.