There’s always room in the calendar for a swanky revival of a glitzy old musical, and Music & Lyrics’ co-production with Venue Cymru of Cole Porter’s High Society certainly does the trick. The original musical was based on the play of The Philadelphia Story, and then a revival in 1998 souped it up with some additional lyrics by Susan Birkenhead, ditched a few less well-known songs and replaced them some favourite numbers from other Porter musicals; which makes a bit of a hotch-potch if you’re a Porter purist, but a real crowd-pleaser if you’re not bothered.
It’s an amusing story of rich socialite Tracy Lord preparing for her umpteenth wedding to a dreary stick-in-the-mud and the attempts to undermine it by her still-in-love ex, Dexter Haven. Add to the mix a pair of journalists wanting to get a scoop on covering the wedding, a lascivious uncle, a precocious younger sister and a chorus of maids and footmen, and it’s a recipe for a lot of fun.
It looks pretty ravishing; Francis O’Connor’s sets are classy, with just the right level of Art Deco to be convincing for the late 1930s; his costumes are smart and colourful; Andrew Wright’s choreography is snappy, funny and extremely well executed (we particularly liked the Stomp-inspired routine for “Well Did You Evah”); and the band under the direction of Michael Haslam create seriously fabulous music.
It’s a great, experienced cast and they all put in a lot of work to make the evening go with a swing. Tracy Lord is played by Sophie Bould, and she’s perfect for the part. She looks beautiful, she sings with great expression, she has excellent comic timing and she got a great round of applause. We saw her understudying Maria in the Palladium’s Sound of Music a few years ago and she was great in that too.
She is matched by Michael Praed’s Dexter Haven, who looks as American Socialite Sophisticated as you could possibly imagine, and has an incredibly rich depth to his voice that carries off the romantic numbers perfectly. Daniel Boys, who wanted to be Joseph back in 2007, and who has enjoyed loads of theatre parts since, is brilliant as the frustrated writer Mike Connor, with another superb voice and great stage presence. Alex Young, who plays Liz, his colleague who is hopelessly and unrequitedly in love with Mike, gives a terrific all-round performance of musical comedy; and she’s rather cute too. It must be very difficult to take such a well-known song as “Who Wants to be a Millionaire” and make it sound fresh and new, but Mr Boys and Miss Young did a brilliant job.
Always delighted to see another of my favourite performers, the larger than life Teddy Kempner, this time embracing the role of Uncle Willie, chasing after Liz in a really funny but never grotesque way, and giving his all in “She’s Got That Thing” like a man half his age (and size). I’ve always enjoyed Mr Kempner’s performances ever since I saw him as Snoopy thirty years ago.
I also very much liked Keiron Crook as Tracy’s appalling fiancé George Kittredge, all bluster and control freak, conveying a character with a complete lack of sense of humour to great comic effect. Marilyn Cutts and Craig Pinder, as Tracy’s parents, give great support and seventeen year old Katie Lee as Dinah, with a performance of considerable confidence and expertise, is obviously going to be a star of the future. The chorus of attendants, maids, waiters and so on were terrific, and gave a performance as good as any that you’d see in the West End.
There were a few tiny problems with the set on its first night in Northampton – there was a too-long pause between the end of the final scene and the curtain call which I’m guessing was because they were struggling to fix the staircase in position; when the curtain finally opened a stagehand was still fiddling with it and rushed off in something of despair. As a result, the staircase wasn’t properly secured, and the final dance sequence that takes place on it caused it to sway perilously from side to side. We had our hands over our mouths fearing some health and safety catastrophe – which fortunately didn’t happen! Well done to the cast for keeping going. I also wondered if there should have been some other mechanism to prevent us seeing cast members walk off stage once they had left the main acting area; they leave the set through the back doors, but then you see them traipse off in either direction. It didn’t look right; but perhaps this isn’t an issue at other theatres.
But that’s not even a miniscule quibble. It’s a super production, very much appreciated by the full audience, ticking all the lively and colourful boxes, full of feelgoodness, and certainly recommended. It’s touring until July throughout the country – go and see it!