Musical (1960)

Musique: Anthony Hopkins
Paroles: Peter Powell
Livret: Peter Powell

One of the most fascinating of 'real-life' British musicals, JOHNNY THE PRIEST told the story of a young vicar's attempt to improve the lives of teenagers living in a run-down London dockland. Acknowledged as one of the most innovative and inventive scores of the period, this terrific score with its superb big band arrangements by Gordon Langford emerges refreshened in Alan Bunting's immaculate sound restoration. Antony Hopkins' remarkable score catapulted the British musical into new territory, offering not only the best songs ever about ping-pong and wallpaper, but moments of great beauty.

Astonishing, This Curtain Up On A Real Musical

Is nothing sacred? A new British musical called Johnny the Priest ought, by all the rules of the game, to be about a razor-king thus nicknamed, and the curtain should go up on a brothel.

Imagine my astonishment, therefore, when the curtain went up on a churchyard, with a real, live church in the background, and there presently entered a priest, carrying a pile of hymn-books.

What is more, when you get over the shock, Johnny the Priest turns out to be not nearly as bad as you might think from the lame, over-solemn, flat lyrics of Peter Powell and the damp little story by Mr R. C. Sheriff from which it has been adapted.

… Now considered as Britain's answer to West Side Story - with which there are some uncanny parallels - Johnny the Priest is a hopeless failure…

But taken for what it is, Johnny the Priest is musically more interesting than any such show for a very long time. This is because the music is by a 'real' composer (I am sorry about these distinctions, but it is the world that makes them, not I) Antony Hopkins.

Mr Hopkins's musical thinking is very close indeed to that of Mr Benjamin Britten - there is the same clean lyricism, the same ingenuity, the same handling of recitative.

The result is that whenever Mr Hopkins is trying to write conventional musical comedy tunes he is weak; but when he takes the minor key between his teeth and writes what is in effect opera he is strong.

He has thrown a bridge across the absurd and arbitrary gulf that divides one kind of art from another, and for that, at least, he deserves praise.
- Bernard Levin

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