Story: Her Serene Highness Princess Philomel of Pomania, together with Barbara Duchesne, her lady-in-waiting, is visiting London and enjoying the Races, and even a boxing match, where she falls in love with Bartholomew Brain, a handsome, poetry-writing and music-loving pugilist. Away from the elegant but stuffy Pomanian Court, she manages to persuade Barbara to swap identities for a while. For dynastic reasons back home Philomel cannot consider a marriage to a British boxer - she is already promised to Count Victor of Plush, ferociously Prussian and pompous, but quite a decent chap at heart. The problem is Barbara really fancies the Count while her mistress doesn’t. Other characters in the story are Baron Theodore du Plat, the Pomanian Prime Minister, Valentine, his private secretary and Princess Selina, the Queen Mother. The English contingent includes Miss Mervin, Philomel’s English Governess and Charles Lupin of the British Foreign Office.
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Even more operatically inclined than either Bless the Bride or Big Ben, the new piece - originally to be called Kiss in the Ring - had a boxer (George Tozzi) who falls in love with a princess (Maria D'Attili); she spurns him in favour of a politically important marriage. The Princess was originally intended for Lizbeth Webb. In the event, D'Attili brought a continental glamour to the role, but her English was negligible, and too much of Herbert's work got lost among the musical notes. Nevertheless, there is something thrilling about this stranger to British shores, especially when she sings the sweetest song of the score, 'England Is A Lovely Place'. This is Herbert and Ellis at their very finest, united by a shining love of their mother country, and - cleverly - the sentiment seems more acceptable when it comes from the lips of a foreigner. D'Attili does it radiantly here, and also joins her leading man in a complete version of the show's major duet, 'I Wish I Could Sing', a number that did not deserve to die with the production. There are no reservations about Tozzi, who is rock-solid and makes the boxer sound a decent sort of chap, even making us care when he explains just before the final curtain that 'This Is Not The End'. The rest of this recording is given over to a set of vocal gems, expertly melded into an arrangement that gives an ample impression of the breadth of this forgotten work, with first-class vocal and orchestral work from the company. Brian Reece, a friendly performer who had played Thomas Trout in Bless the Bride, gets to do some nincompoop-ish comedy in 'Blood and Iron' and in the ingenuous admission that he is 'Really A Rather Nice Man'. The only remembered legacy of Tough at the Top has been Herbert's descriptive title, creating a phrase that has gone into the English language, but the show's score is ripe for reappraisal. In an ideal world, we would be able to hear a complete edition of the songs, recreated for the gramophone by historians and musicologists who have not only the knowledge but the adoration for this sort of music. Sadly, the British have no real care of the luminaries of their musical theatre, and we don't stand a hope of it.
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