BABES IN ARMS to 7 August.
Music by Richard Rogers Lyrics by Lorenz Hart
Book by Rogers & Hart. Adapted by James Guare.
3 Stars ***
Ye Olde Rose & Crown Theatre to 07 August
53 Hoe Street, Walthamstow, London E17 4SA to 7August 2016.
Tues-Sun 7.30pm Mat Sun 2.30pm
Runs 2hr 10 mins One interval.
TICKETS: 020 8520 8674
Review: William Russell 24 July.
Brash, bouncy babes and great tunes
The interesting thing about this bright and cheerful revival is that director Brendan Matthew has more or less used the original 1937 book rather than the 1959 version, the one staged at Chichester when it was last revived in 1998. That transferred the action to a group of kids putting on a show in a barn to save the local summer stock company from ruin and added a gorgon mother for Baby Rose, the past her sell by date child film star, in the person of Lorna Luft who got two songs not in the score. It was jolly but slightly bland and had lost its political comment some critics complained.
The original may have had some social bite in 1937 but today it just seems daft and dated – the kids are having to work in summer camp under the direction of the local sheriff, parents, vaudevillians being away on tour. They put on a show helped by a visiting blonde nomad from California, impeded by the local nasty boy, for no very good reason other than to get some money. There are cracks about Nietzsche, Communism and the speciality act of the day, two black male dancers, allowed for some tackling racism scenes, daring at the time, as they get banned from the show by the nasty boy.
There is also a French aviator who has just crossed the Atlantic to land in their back yard as a deus ex machina.
None of it makes much sense and the cast clearly do not know what is going on either and rush about being cute. They are, however, full of energy, sing the songs well enough, although some songs simply do not fit the action – Hart’s sophistication seems oddly out of kilter with these hick kids – and some singers should relax and not place unnecessary emphasis on the words, thus rendering them meaningless. In part, however, this is also because some of the ballads have acquired a life of their own outside the show – Where or When and My Funny Valentine being the obvious examples.
The band under Aaron Clingham play beautifully but far too loudly – the acoustic here is always a problem, but not insurmountable. Songs have verses and Hart’s words matter just as much as Sondheim’s. To drown them out is both careless and to be regretted. A little less ff and more pp would work wonders. This is, even in the original book, the archetypal “lets put on a show right here” musical and it is undeniably worth staging the original because there was that feeling something had been lost with the Chichester version – the answer turns out to be not very much. Bland it might have been, but that could easily have been remedied. The best thing about the show is the dancing – choreographer Carole Todd has worked wonders, especially with the ballet numbers that are totally unnecessary but are what musicals then had – and it is to the credit of the theatre that it has attempted to bring it back from the grave as it were. There is life in it yet and better songs than in much of what pass for musicals today.
Valentine Lamar: Jack McCann.
Billie Smith: Ruth Betteridge.
Marshall Blackstone: Austin Garrett.
Baby Rise: Beth Bradley.
Gus Fielding: Dominic Owen.
Dolores Reynolds: Meg McCarthy.
Sheriff Reynolds: Andrew Truluck.
Peter: Joey Warne.
Irving de Quincy: Jaime Tait.
Ivor de Quincey: Alex Okoampa.
Lee Calhoun: Anthony Matteo.
Bo Calhoun: Paige Mackenzie.
Rene Flambeau/ Dan Lamar: Jordan Ginger.
McCabe/Maizie Lamar: Annabel Edwards.
Director & Musical Stager: Brendan Matthew.
Musical Director: Aaron Clingham.
Choreographer: Carole Todd.
Set & Costume Designer: Joana Dias.
Lighting Designer: Sky Bembury.