BABES IN ARMS
music by Richard Rodgers lyrics by Lorenz Hart book by George Oppenheimer.
Union Theatre 204 Union Street SE1 0LX To 12 May 2012.
Tue–Sat 7.30pm Sun 2pm & 6pm.
Runs 1hr 55min One interval.
TICKETS: 0207 261 9876.
Review: William Russell 21 April.
Keen young talent playing keen young talent in show that’s undergone some changes.
Originally staged on Broadway in 1937 Babes in Arms, about kids working for an out-of-town company rehearsing a musical revue in their spare time, has undergone all sorts of plot changes. The Union version is similar to one staged a few years back at Chichester, though that was tailored to let Lorna Luft – the terrible mother of the one time baby film-star who has come to appear in a play at the theatre – sing. In the thirties songs were shoehorned in regardless – and while the score has no duds, almost all of them could be sung by pretty well any of the leads and it wouldn’t matter.
Some, like ‘My Funny Valentine’ or ‘Where or When’, subsequently became standards and once you have heard Ella or Frank, Judy or Dean warble them everybody else is second best.
As well as great tunes, it has superb lyrics. Take ‘My Funny Valentine’. It sounds like a 14 February ballad, romantic and wistful, but is actually sung by Susie the soubrette reflecting with amused exasperation on her dopey boyfriend Valentine White, who has written the revue (the names have all been changed since 1937).
It is efficiently staged by David Batt, with two standout performances – Jenny Perry as Bunny, downtrodden part-owner of the playhouse, who gets the superb cod ‘Way Out West On Western Avenue’, ‘Johnny One Note’ and ‘The Lady Is a Tramp’, and proves she can do raunch with the best, and Ben Redfern, a latter day Mickey Rooney with a mischievous grin, as Gus, one half of the squabbling comedy second leads, who gets ‘I Wish I Were In Love Again’ and dances the lead in the second act ballet (by Balanchine originally).
James Lacey is plumply pleasant as Valentine, Catriona Mackenzie a sparky Susie. Carly Thoms sings sweetly as Jennifer, otherwise Baby Rose, one time child-star and Anna McGarahan sizzles as Gus’s partner.
Hollywood bought the title, ditched all but two of the songs and all the plot. Why does Bunny, a comedy character at best, get the closing number? But that is show business.
Valentine White: James Lacey.
Lee Calhoun: Stuart Pattenden.
Gus Field: Ben Redfern.
Steve Edwards: Peter Dukes.
Seymour Fleming: Paddy Crawley.
Terry Thompson: Anna McGarahan.
Susie Ward: Catriona Mackenzie.
Bunny Byron: Jenny Perry.
Jennifer Owen: Carly Thoms.
Phyllis Owen: Pip Mayo.
Ann: Michelle Andrews.
Nancy: Leonie Heath.
Don: Daniel Bartlett.
Bob: Josh Byrne.
Peter: Andrew Ahenr.
Jerry: Ryan Bowes.
Betty: Samantha Harrison.
Director: David Ball.
Designer/Costume: Katinka Taylor.
Lighting: Steve Miller.
Musical Supervisor: Richard Bates.
Musical Director: Sam Cable.
Choreographer: Lizzi Gee.
Dance Captain: Daniel Bartlett.