Churchill Theatre, Bromley/touring
Opened 8 March, 2005

“Direct from the West End!” say the posters. Well, apart from an eight-month break and a largely new cast.  But that’s par for the course when West End hits transfer to touring mode.  So Donna Steele is promoted from the supporting company to succeed Amanda Holden in the title role, Grace Kennedy takes over from Sheila Ferguson as the diva, and Maureen Lipman’s sinister landlady is replaced by Lesley Joseph.

This show feels like a classic, not on grounds of quality but because it seems so familiar. However, the stage musical version is only a few years old: what we actually recall is the 1967 movie.  And the story – small-town girl arrives in jazz-age New York hoping to marry a millionaire – is hardly ultra-fresh.  So, no great innovations or challenges; we can sit back and drink in the period feelgood, certain of a happy ending.

There is the occasional outbreak of postmodern fun, such as when Joseph and her two Chinese henchmen sing “Mammy” in Cantonese, with English surtitles.  But mostly this is straightforward jazz-age pastiche, and it’s perfectly serviceable if unexceptional as such.  Donna Steele has all the requisite gee-whizzery as Millie, though her singing accent is a bit twangy. Grace Kennedy enjoys playing the extravagant Muzzy.

I know Lesley Joseph is cast for star-name box-office pull, and we all know it’s her really, but she could try a bit more. When she drops the Mile End comedy-Chinese voice she actually manages to sound even less American.  She also points much of her acting straight out to the audience. But then, so do most of the cast. I think it’s meant as camp, but it’s a bad decision.  It just looks like bad stagecraft.

“All the glitz and glamour of the 1920s,” promises the announcement before curtain up, adding, “Back then they didn’t have mobile phones...”  They didn’t have synthesizers in the orchestra pit or a cast miked up even for ordinary dialogue then, either. So much for recreating that ’20s spirit.  Ultimately, though, tours like this aren’t meant as high art, just to milk a few more quid out of the franchise.

Written for Teletext.

Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.

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