High Society – The Old Vic – July 22 2015 (matinee)

A dose of old fashioned romance, show tunes, a bit of piano improv, ensemble dance numbers:, feel-good and fancy, the requisite showbiz eyes and teeth, puffed out cavorting and enthusiasm, micced up crooning and singing all present and correct, so too some innovative staging using full advantage of Old Vic’s new in-the-round layout where pianos emerge from the stage, sink back down to become floor, any necessary props being brought on by an army of staff in service attire. The same staff are also present in the now de rigueur “hey, when you come in, we’re already onstage and acting!” which I find a bit twee, the poor devils, it must extend their call times by about 30 minutes, on matinée days adding an hour or more, but they evidently love it, they burst with pizzazz – thank god, cause for a show about rich socialites (the 1950’s 1%ers), it needs some sparkle.

Rather interestingly the show began with Joey Powell (here played by Joe Stilgoe) playing one of these pop-up pianos, fielding song requests (?!) from the audience. At first I thought this was staged, to launch into the first number from HS, but it seems not. Thus the oldies sung along to a snippet of “Some Enchanted Evening”, which morphed into the theme from “Ghostbusters” (?! – he asked for kids songs, then said that one hadn’t been invented yet) then tuned into the tune of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” sung to the tune of “Great Balls of Fire”, which turned into Beethoven’s 5th which then became a singalong to “Puff the Magic Dragon”, but no one knew the second verse. Chutzpah and wonder, the result ; “sensational”. and a well deserved storm of applause. Thus Joey left and the real evening began. Lucky Powell to be so talented but this is after all the west End and talent oozes from everyone. Lucky Joey too for getting to dandle Cindy the maid (Claire Doyle) on his knee before all these hijinks, Cindy herself proved perhaps the best girl in the ensemble but I’m biased. The dandling caught my eye and she held it.

I’m still not sure the show is best suited to the round, but everyone did a fantastic job of fluffing up the piece, not least the leading lady (Kate Fleetwood as Tracy Lord). Endearingly ditzy, delightfully flighty , perhaps the antithesis of a strong woman, and a bit of Bridget Jones before her time. No wonder all the guys fell for her.

Speaking of guys lets just say that this Mike Collins (Jamie Parker) can sing, can act can dance a lot. Shades of Sinatra but Parker’s Collins is his own. Annabel Scholey as (one of) his love interests, Liz the photographer,  was excellent too: in “Who Wants To Be a Milionaire” both did a great job. Special mention to Parker’s “Sensational”, which was just that his baritone possessing a warmth and and richness throughout his entire register: a real joy to hear. I would have liked to have heard a bit more of  Rupert Young‘s CK Dexter but the problem is that HS’s a bit unbalanced here. His love for Tracy only suggested mainly by Dinah (Ellie Bamber). He doesn’t have the time really to blossom.  Dinah herself was all teenagery (a novel idea at the time i think ) and sweetly voiced. Her routine with her sister, her silly ballet and the terrible French a lovely vinaigrette – er…vignette.

Everyone knows “Well, Did You Evah!” but the rendition of that part didn’t quite swell as much as I had hoped. Hard to follow in inimitable footsteps of the film version without appearing slavish. The party itself was swell, perhaps the highpoint of the whole afternoon: a piano duel, crazy jiving and dancing (even from Jeff Rawle as Uncle Willy!) petticoats all a-flutter, whoops and twirls and thrills and yes a tap dancing man (Omari Douglas as Godfrey). To judge by the applause, interrupted by yet more thrills, then even more applause, this was a job well done – showbiz at its best.

Musically the forces of Theo Jamieson‘s small big-band sound played with dash and glossy swagger, no mean feat when curiously staged as here: the band split in two on opposite balconies.

At the close of the piece, a sense of Shakespearean rightness – all couples neatly linked up – Added confetti, and showbiz waving sealed the deal. A rewarding afternoon out.

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