Sunday, 5 August 2007

A Lacklustre Gershwin Matinee

The state of the Open Air Theatre, Regent’s Park production of Gershwin’s Lady be Good can best be indicated if I say that during the first half I derived more entertainment from watching the steady procession of audience members succumbing to the heat and being escorted out of the auditorium than I did from what was going on on-stage.

It has first of all to be admitted that this is clearly a “problem” musical for revival purposes. We are firmly in Rhode Island high society, such that I kept expecting the chorus to break into Anna Russell’s anthem “We are the great Four Hundred, if you want to know who we are.” Names like Josephine Vanderwater and Watty Watkins make it rather difficult to take the characters seriously. In sum, its all very light and frothy and the trouble with the first half of this production is that it lacks the essential sparkle.

A lot of this, to my considerable surprise, could be attributed to the dull, repetitive choreography. I say surprise, because the choreographer in question (Bill Deamer) has just done a magnificently inventive Babes in Arms at Chichester. But here, it looked untidy and uninspired. The nature of the ensemble may have contributed. Contrary to the usual problem of ensembles, there seemed to be a distinct lack of women. Three couples, plus the principals, would have been more than sufficient, but there always seemed to be about half a dozen other men messing about at the back of the group. There was also an increasingly irritating tendency, whenever a song began between two of the principals, for a passing ensemble to roll on stage. This can be done imaginatively so that there is at least some rationale for their presence – here they just tended to wander on, do a few turns, and wander off again. The orchestra had caught, or perhaps initiated the pervading mood, and seemed also to be half asleep. Everything seemed to go at the same tempo, and Fascinating Rhythm just wasn’t. More troubling, the diction and volume of the ensembles were poor considering the number of people on stage.

After this highly lucklustre first half, things did improve in the second. Kate Nelson disguises herself as a Mexican widow, and we finally get a sparkling number in the shape of Just Another Rhumba. We were also allowed to have a more simply staged number in the shape of Little Jazz Bird, beautifully sung by Rachel Jerram. Credit also goes to Paul Grunert, as the wily lawyer. The second half still could not get past the problem that this is a very silly show, but it seemed to have grasped the solution that to get it even close to working you have to sparkle, you have to have snap, both qualities lacking in the first half.

Not the greatest of Gershwin’s shows then, but if the cast and orchestra could inhale their interview pick-me-ups before curtain up it might be much improved.

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