(seen at the afternoon performance on 9th October 2021)
Fifth time lucky for the monkey as it completes finally its collection of the “big musicals” which opened this past season. There’s a reason it tries to see shows in the early weeks of their run, and sadly, this one proved why it has the rule under normal circumstances.
Howard Panter’s Trafalgar Theatre Productions and associates have done a smart producing job. While proving rather that the Barbican Theatre cannot really cope with a proscenium arch (if you are on the ends of rows in the stalls, go at least row J back to see the edges of the stage – and not A30 and 31 for legroom), Derek McLane can give us an impressive ship almost the scale of the real thing.
Jon Morrell could earn a fortune designing evening gowns, and every other outfit is executed to perfection. Hugh Vanstone’s lighting shows them all off to advantage and demonstrates a little wit at times too. Only Jonathan Dean’s sound is weak, failing to reach the front corner of the stalls when actors are upstage.
Equipment sorted, what about the merry crew and all that is asked of them? This is the iceberg for the show 3 months after opening. Kathleen Marshall is an impressive choreographer. Several of the larger dance sequences are inspired, fast moving and considerably more intricate than they may appear. Sadly, like the acting and singing between, they use a considerable amount of cast energy – and therein lies the problem.
With up to 8 shows a week (pinging permitting) the cast have learned to pace themselves and the show has become slick. The trouble is, it needs a little roughness, exertion and tongue-in-cheek to really fly. From what the monkey could see, all that was probably there at the start – there was clearly room for it – but most of the fizzy creative discovery is now absent.
Sutton Foster as nightclub siren Reno Sweeney sang every note as written, danced every step as set and shared an excruciating “Friendship” with gangster Moonface Martin (Robert Lindsay on form that must have him play Sid James at some point). Ms Foster put the bravest face on for the show, but it was clear tomorrow will be her final performance as there were flickers of exhaustion.
Gary Wilmot as Elisha Whitney is in better condition, panto mode no doubt kicking in. Fun when on stage, but sadly without enough to really showcase his talent. Felicity Kendal (Mrs Evangeline Harcourt) as mother of desirable Hope (nicely done by Nicole-Lily Baisden) suffers a similar fate. Still, wonderful that these experienced actors were cast after so long being unable to work.
In for the absent Samuel Edwards, Jack Wilcox acquits himself with rare skill as Billy Crocker, lover of Hope, ineffective stowaway and ineffectual stockbroker, a highlight of the production. Quick note too for the entertaining (in every way) Carly Mercedes Dyer as Erma, sidekick and good-time girl extraordinaire.
Mark Aspinel’s musical direction keeps the tale of mistaken identities and lovers finding each other lively, and we get a good run at the Cole Porter songbook. The title number closes act one with a thrill, and there’s a nice “You’re The Top” at the top of the show too.
Thing is, the show falls apart in the short second act. The plot pretty much evaporates, and the seven numbers delivered are stretched to breaking point for no apparent reason. The jokes (earlier pretty good, the skeet shooting is a hoot, so are the seagulls) evaporate, and the whole thing is wrapped up in a scene which should have come at least twenty minutes sooner to the monkey mind.
No doubt the early performances had a different energy, and the largely elderly audience were crazy for the whole thing today. For the monkey it was a little less exciting. Quality for sure, the show oozes it from every performer, but not quite the joyous release it expected and could well very recently have gained from such a well-conceived event.