I had missed this production at the Open Air Theatre this summer so when an opportunity to see this at the wonderfully grand Novello Theatre presented itself, I jumped at it. I don’t think you can get a more festive treat than this in the run up to Christmas this year. Just like Stepping Out, it’s the perfect pick-me-up for the dark evenings and the gloomy news and events that bombard our daily lives.
Set in the Depression years, the plot is incredulous but you forgive this shortcoming in this physical and energetic production. Bobby Child is a banker in New York who yearns for a life on stage. He auditions a tap dancing number in front of theatre impresario, Bela Zangler, but gets nowhere. His domineering mother packs him off to Deadrock in Nevada to see to the closure of a struggling business that doubles up as a theatre and a post office. He arrives, falls in love with the theatre owner’s feisty daughter, Polly, and plots to save the dilapidated theatre from ruin. He disguises himself as Zangler, convinces Polly and the cowboys into putting on a show and sends for Zangler’s choir girls. Everything comes along fine until Bobby’s fiancee and the real Zangler arrive, leading to confusion and resulting in cracking comedy, even if some of it is slapstick in nature.
The large troupe gives us a sleek and polished musical where the comic timings are absolutely precise. The casting for this show is spot on. Sean Palmer’s Bobby Childs is well meaning, likeable, indefatigable and fleet footed. We get an equally polished performance from Clare Foster whose Polly is sprightly and tough but also sensitive. Both David Burt, whose Zangler provides much of the comic focus, and Kim Medcalf, who plays Bobby’s increasingly impatient fiancee, deserve a special mention for their striking efforts.
Ultimately, it is the choir girls, the choreography and the Gershwin hits which make this musical memorable. The choir girls in this production are a constant source of mirth and merriment and they are a joy to watch from start to finish. They bring colour and comedy along with their high kicks and tap dancing skills to the show. Stephen Mear’s outstanding choreography, which is balletic at times, and the Gershwin songs are a marriage made in heaven. There is one dance sequence in this production that will remind Indian dance aficionados of the Kuchipudi dance; it is great to see musical choreography taking inspiration from elsewhere.
You can’t go wrong with this much loved musical and it has a particularly acute resonance with today’s contemporary audience. No matter what sort of day you’ve had, you will leave the theatre feeling uplifted.
Until 28 July 2012.
Performance time: 2 hours 45 minutes with an interval.
Directed by Timothy Sheader.
Music and lyrics by George Gershwin and Ira Gershwin.