Originally published on CastAlbums.org.
Timing is not Ann Veronica’s strong point. She was first dreamed up by H. G. Wells for his 1909 novel, which was ahead of its time in its portrait of a young woman seeking to make her own way in the world untethered by the patriarchal restrictions of British society at the time. Consequently, the novel was denounced as a bad influence. Lyricist David Croft had the idea to adapt the novel for the musical stage in the mid-1960s (when literary shows such as Oliver! and Half a Sixpence were all the rage), but circumstances pushed the show’s debut off until 1969. By that time, the toe-tapping score and polite feminism of the story seemed quaint in the shadow of Hair, and the production closed quickly. The show has been subsequently forgotten, save for one 2005 concert staging and now, at long last, the debut of the cast recording on CD.
At the top of the show, Ann Veronica is a young woman studying biology in college, a rarity in her day. Chafing under her father’s restrictions – the last straw comes when he forbids her attendance at a fancy dress party – she gets involved with the suffragette movement to assert her independence. As various suitors attempt to woo her, Ann Veronica longs for romance that feels less transactional. Each negative courtship experience with men drives Ann Veronica deeper into suffragette activities, eventually landing in prison following a protest. Beaten down by the system, she nearly marries the man her father and aunt have chosen for her before making a last-minute escape to run away with her true love, one of her teachers who has separated from his wife.
Encountering the album without any foreknowledge, one would assume the show must have been a hit. The show features tuneful songs by Pickwick’s Cyril Ornadel, clever lyrics by Croft (who also directed the show and co-produced the album), and a book by Frank Wells (son of H.G.) and Ronald Gow (who had previously written a straight stage adaptation of the novel). The cast is made up of British television stars, including Mary Millar in the title role, and the musical-comedy powerhouse Hy Hazell as the feminist rabble-rouser Miss Miniver. Across the board, the leads sound like they were likely cast for reasons other than their singing ability, but they can all sell their songs, and they’re supported by a fantastic ensemble.
The score is memorable for its hummable odes to the suffragette movement interspersed with dance-ready demands that even radical activists want to be swept off their feet. The orchestrations by Ornadel and Bobby Richards omit a string section in favor of a horn-heavy arrangement (buoyed by harp) offering a unique sound that gives the protest numbers spirit without sacrificing the romantic atmosphere of the love songs.
Stage Door Records has put together a satisfying package (designed by Ray Leaning) with extensive notes by Stewart Nicholls (director of the 2005 concert), plot synopsis by librettist Gow, and 15 black & white production photos.
In our current political moment, Ann Veronica’s story of seeking balance between independence and romance, self-reliance and community seems remarkably timely. Perhaps after a century of poor timing, Ann Veronica’s time has finally arrived.