(seen at the afternoon performance on 16th February 2020)
On the French Riviera, young ladies at Madame Dubonnet’s Finishing School mean to have, scheme to have, that certain thing called “The Boyfriend.” Millionaire’s daughter Polly Browne (Amara Okereke) pretends that she does... and indeed acquires one soon after. The rest of the sub-plots are as simple as the times they were written in – and none the worse for it.
This is a slice of nostalgia as tempting as a hair-band (Paul Farnsworth) dreams up for the final scene. Simple latticework sets the scene – the French go in for beach pianos, apparently – and Matthew White and Bill Deamer bring all their period expertise to bear to keep the show as sweet as the day it was first seen back in 1952.
Leading lady Amara Okereke doesn’t quite radiate the sweet innocence her character requires, but that makes it easier for her to harden her heart when mysterious Tony (Dylan Mason) proves twice not to be whom she thought. For his part, Mason is the perfect gentleman lover in hiding in a rounded performance.
Best of all are lovers Maisie (Gabrielle Lewis-Dodson) and Bobby Van Husen (Jack Butterworth). “Won’t You Charleston With Me?” is the showstopper of showstopping dance routines, Butterworth probably the best dancer the monkey will see this year, Lewis-Dodson just keeping pace with him but using eyelashes envied by the lady beside the monkey to keep his feet firmly on the ground at other times.
There’s nice work too from Tiffany Graves as school assistant and gossip Hortense – a little dusting and piano don’t hurt, while employer Madame Dubonnet (Janie Dee) is her usual expressive self, in a lovely “Poor Little Pierrette” with love-lorn Polly.
A little note for the orchestra under Simon Beck, who create an authentic 20s sound with a little added pace and fullness to suit the modern ear. The songs come up fresh for the cast to deliver with gusto in the ensemble numbers, and they do, carrying the energy over for the light comedy between classic songs.
Sure, the plot resolution is a trifle quick and a tiny bit insipid, and the show feels a little too padded with reprises at times – there’s 2 hours at most here – but it was balm to the monkey after a particularly hard week. It truly is nicer, much nicer in Nice – and London Bridge isn’t quite so far to go, either.
4 stars – 5 with a standing ovation for Jack Butterworth and Gabrielle Lewis-Dodson’s routine alone.