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The Guardian 1/03/02
I Can Get It for You Wholesale
Arcola, London
Lyn Gardner


Let's face it: Jerome Weidman and Harold Rome's rag trade musical, which surfaced for 300 performances on Broadway in 1962 and made stars and newly-weds of leading man Elliot Gould and unknown Barbra Streisand, is by no means a classic. It makes Fiddler on the Roof seem both musically memorable, socially incisive and dramatically tough. None the less, there is something about Mehmet Ergen and William Galinsky's large-scale production that lifts the spirits and sends you out into the night with a smile on your face.

Even though the hero is an out-and-out louse - a two-timing, strike-breaking, crooked louse. Part of the appeal is the perfect matching of subject to venue, formerly an abandoned clothing-industry sweatshop. The old cutting tables provided the rostrum for the seating. There is a sense of ghosts walking in the production. It makes brilliant, fluid use of every inch of the vast Arcola space to tell the story of Harry Bogen, a Jewish Bronx boy working in New York's garment industry during the Depression years, who decides to claw his way to the top by fair means or foul.

Fundamentally this is a straight choice between the values of his good but plain (and plain boring) childhood sweetheart, Ruthie, or those of the gold-digging minx and showgirl Martha, who knows that diamonds are a girl's only friend. Put it another way: will he go for the sensible bob or the sausage-curl perm? It is no contest for Bogen, who betrays trust, friends and colleagues, but still comes up smelling of roses due to the love of a good woman, the cooking of a good Jewish momma, and the general consensus that a man with such a capacity to screw his friends has the makings of a brilliant businessman. Somebody should have revived this show during the 1980s.

As it is, this is an evening that - like pickled herring and gefilte fish - starts by repulsing you and ends up becoming an acquired and appreciated taste. Not least because of the energy of the cast and the adventurous spirit of the production, which has the daredevil self-confidence of the BAC Christmas musicals.