I’ve thought more about one of the questions on the meme I did earlier on wishing something was more well know. Well one has just struck me, although it’s a musical rather than film or television. To be perfectly honest had I not browsed an article on worst musicals ever and then youtubed stuff from the aforementioned musicals I’d never have heard of it myself. I’m paraphrasing a post I made on my livejournal years ago.
It’s called the fields of ambrosia. You’ve probably seen me reblog tunes from it from hipstermusicals. It’s a musical adaptation of a black comedy from the 70s called “the travelling executioner.”
The plot is thus: It’s 1918. Jonas Candide is an ex. con man who now works as a travelling executioner known for his unorthodox approach to the job, in that he’s really compassionate the people he’s meant to execute, using his skills as a conman to spin them a tale that they’re going onto the great fields of ambrosia where it’s always sunny, you don’t need to work unless you want to, plenty of nectar of the gods etc.
Anyhoo, Jonas falls in love with Gretchen (Gundred in the film), the first woman he’s meant to execute, and decides to do all he can to stall the execution (such as trash the chair), all the while trying to come up with money to bribe a corrupt doctor to declare her dead (after only jolting her enough to knock her out). Hijinks ensure
What I like about the stage version, other than its dark sense of humour, is how much it fleshes out Gretchen (played by the wonderful Christine Andreas, who married Martin Silverstri, the composer). In the film she doesn’t really do much other than be ogled, have sex with Jonas and get threatened by the prisoners and guards (one part they thankfully don’t play for laughs although egads is it uncomfortable.) In this show she’s a lot more gutsy, and well, it feels like there’s an actual romance between her and Jonas. (Played by the director and co-writer Joel Higgins of silver spoons fame.) There’s some great duets between them like “who are you” as I posted, a heart wrenching one called “too bad” where they realise they’re actually in love rather than it just being a fling, and one called “continental sunday” where they daydream about taking a trip to New Orleans.
And well, the music is fantastic, full of instantly catchy tunes. Other than the duets between Jonas and Gretchen I really enjoy one called ‘step right up’ Jonas does as he explains his back story and his pitches in general. There is one dud track called ‘Alone’ which having not seen it live (being only 7 when the show had its brief west end run and going on audio only from bootlegs and the original soundtrack cd) comes across as maudalin and naff- maybe it’s one of those ones where it is intentionally done so for laughs but it’s hard to tell
But the biggest change I like *spoilers ahead* is how it changes the ending. Now, in both versions there is a botched escape attempt towards the end Jonas makes after his attempt at getting money from a bank through legitimate means ends up with him robbing the place instead. In the movie, Gundred ditches Jonas in the dirt and he realises too late he’s been played for a sucker. In the show, he accidentally shoots Gretchen during a ruckus with the guards, then he gets caught as a result of him cradling her in his arms while she dies. In both versions then Jonas end up getting executed in his own chair, during which as a final screw you he tricks his apprentice into overloading the chair to blow up the prison too. (Mainly by distracting him and others by reciting his fields of ambrosia speech again). What’s different is what follows: In the movie, Gundred then goes another prison, but gets life instead and it’s kind of an anti-climax. In the play, Jonas then much to his own shock finds himself in the fields of ambrosia, where Gretchen is waiting for him and the two waltz into the afterlife together. It’s a heartwarming and twisted way to end a heartwarming yet twisted love story.
I can understand to a degree why it flopped. A dark musical comedy about the death penalty based on a really obscure 70s movie doesn’t scream box office smash. But I don’t think it deserved the mauling by the critics it got in the UK (Although again I am surprised after the big success it seemed to be in previews in the states why it didn’t play to Broadway or off Broadway first.) You can track it down on CD (Both amazon.co.uk and .com have it) usually for a reasonable price, so I would recommend it.
So, long-winded answer, but that’s something I wish had a bigger audience. Mind you, I didn’t expect carrie the musical to ever get a revival so fingers and toes crossed someday this gets another chance.