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A CurtainUp London Review
The first big change is the show's opening from pianist Theo Jamieson who invites the audience to call out tunes and then, ignoring those that aren't a planned part of his repertoire, plays a musical medley. After quite a long musical interlude which undoubtedly shows his prowess, I was left wondering whether one of the cast had been delayed and they were filling time.
The black and white dressed servants enter and busy themselves with household preparations. This first scene, now set in 1958, underlines the class divide in the Land of the Free as the moneyed Lords lead their spoilt lives in Oyster Bay on the Long Island shore instead of Philadelphia. The staff sing "Behold the rich of Oyster Bay, on this their daughter's wedding day," from Susan Birkenhead's lyrics for "High Society" written for the 1998 production.
Tracy Lord (Kate Fleetwood) enters wearing two pheasants and carrying a shotgun. She personifies assertive American womanhood: here intelligent, wealthy and underemployed. The house is tastefully decorated with thin statues by Giacometti and a Faberge egg. We meet the Lord family, Jeff Rawle as Uncle Willie and Barbara Flynn as Mother Lord and the effervescent Ellie Bamber as Tracy's younger sister Dinah.
Tracy's ex-husband CK Dexter Haven (a handsome Rupert Young) and Dinah sing "Little One" as they renew their acquaintance. The arrival of Jamie Parker's photographer and journalist Liz (Annabel Scholey) pretending to be relatives cues "Who Wants to be a Millionnaire?" contrasting the life styles of the rich and famous with their own.
Dinah and Tracy sing "I Love Paris" one of the inserted songs and it doesn't really fit well even with Dinah singing it as a parody with a deep voice and a part of the pretence for the gate crashing press. The bridegroom George Kittredge (Richard Grieve) in reply to Dexter's "Once Upon a Time" sings "I Worship You" before Tracy responds with "Once Upon A Time" and Dexter and Tracy end Act One on the overly romantic "True Love".
The too loud sound, both for singing voices and spoken word may be a casualty of the reconfigured Old Vic. If there is one place when you need the full width of the stage it's in a musical with full choreography. The small intimate circle didn't do it for me, especially as, in the first half, the centre of the stage is largely taken up by a lake for the True Love boat to sail on in the closing number. The other problem sitting on the aisle was being blinded as a member of the cast made their entrance with a full spotlight but behind me so I couldn't see who was entering and was dazzled by the lighting spill.
After the interval, Theo Jamieson and Joe Stilgoe compete on twin grand pianos. The party gets going with brilliant choreography from Nathan M Wright for "Well, Did You Evah?" as each character shows their mettle. Dexter is charm and sex appeal. The staff have metamorphosed into wedding guests but despite the grosgrain and net frocks, the closeness allows us to recognize the servants in new garb which destroys the illusion of class divide.
Dinah dances a balletic turn and has fun on the piano but Omari Douglas' tap dance on the piano is stellar. The music segues into "Let's Misbehave" and the choreography gets more and more loose and wild in this long dance number.
Mike Connor makes a play for Tracy who is worse the wear for alcohol and Jamie Parker delights in a singing role. The next morning Kate Fleetwood is superb as the hung over stumbling bride as she shows her skill at comic acting. In casting actors instead of musical specialists, Friedman scores with great, believable performances from actors who can sing.
We hear that it was booze which broke up Dexter and Tracy's marriage. "Just One of Those Things" is inserted to be sung by Dexter and Joe, a lovely soulful ballad but not of the storyline here. Dexter sings "Samantha" explained as Tracy's second name before the reprise of "True Love" and there's a happily ever after ending except for poor old George Kittredge. .
For Elyse Sommer's review of the 1998 production in New York go here.
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