Gentlemen Prefer Blondes
Music by Jule Styne, lyrics by Leo Robins, book by Joseph Fields and Anita Loos.
The Union Theatre, 225 Union Street, London SE1 0LR to 26 October 2019.
Tues – Sat 7.30pm. Mat Say & Sun 2.30pm.
Runs 2hr One interval.
TICKETS: 020 7261 9876.
Review: William Russell 7 October.
Lavishly staged with lovely costumes by Penn O’Gara and a large cast working strenuously Sasha Regan’s production of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes reveals that actually this 1949 musical has one of Jule Styne’s worst scores and the book by Fields and Loos based on her novel about Lorelei Lee and her friend Dorothy is muddled and packed with irrelevant characters. There are three great songs – A Litttle Girl from Little Rock, Bye Bye Baby and Diamonds are a Girl’s Best Friend – but the rest are just so much musical wallpaper, totally forgettable. Hollywood sometimes make a mess of stage musicals but Howard Hawk’s 1953 version worked wonders, introduced the story by turning the Little Rock number, here a solo for Lorelei, into a duet for his stars whereas the show opens with something called It’s A High Time for the chorus which even a provincial pantomime would discard. In fact it has only five songs, the three great ones from the show, and two by Hoagy Carmichael – Aint There Anyone for Love given to Jane Russell as Lorelei’s friend Dorothy Shaw to sing with the Olympic team, replacing an inferior one along the same lines in the show also sung with athletes, and another duet for the stars – When Love Goes Wrong, also a stunningly good song.
The trouble with the show is it demands a Lorelei who is funny and sexy and a Dorothy who is cool and sardonic as can be and while Abigayle Honeywill and Eleanor Lakin do their best neither manages to achieve what is required. Honeywell seems to be channelling Judy Holiday in her Born Yesterday persona rather than Marilyn Monroe, which is commendable but her accent is atrocious, lines get swallowed and nothing remotely funny comes across, while Lakin as Dorothy does bold and brassy but is never the amused at the foibles of her friend the show demands and heaven knows where she found that accent. The large chorus gets lets of dancing to do and dances rather well, but the choreography by Zac Nemorin, while undeniably athletic – if a boy can raise a girl above his head so she can wave her legs around and do the splits mid air they do at every opportunity – is repetitive and tedious. As for the plot, which involves a tiara belonging to an English lady which Lorelei acquires and refuses to give up it goes nowhere. They are all on board ship sailing to France, Lorelei having planned to sail with her boyfriend Gus, son of a button king, but he cannot go along and en voyage she gets interested in a tiara Lady Beekman, wife of a dirty old man, wants to sell.
But so badly is it constructed that one never quite knows at what point they end up in France – the comic French policemen are a big mistake – and as to the romance between Dorothy and the wealthy Mr Spofford, who has a drunk for a mother, it never takes flight. Nor is it at all clear when they actually get off the boat and then the plot gets even less clear as to where they are. Mr Spofford is pleasantly done by Freddie King, a kind of mix of the young James Fox and the Young Tommy Steel doing their juvenile lead stuff, and there is a neat speciality turn by Ashlee Young, a passenger in steerage, which occurs just at the point you want Lorelei to come up with something. And to dress Lorelei in purple echoing the iconic Monroe dress is a bad idea.
There is talent aplenty on view, but the show is dated, and has too many minor and unnecessary characters. It was a hit when first staged with Carol Channing as Lorelei, but she was a very funny lady. When it finally came to London in 1962, although it had Dora Bryan, a comedienne of resource in the role, it did not exactly run and run. Sadly the sole reason for reviving it is the film which has nothing to do with the show and memories of which might pull the punters in.
Sasha Regan has directed it with panache, her cast toil bravely and well, it looks very good and the score gets superb treatment from Henry Brennan, the musical director, at the piano backed by an un-named drummer. Mr Brennan is the best thing around, Regan having finally accepted that the Union habit of placing the band beneath the stairs stage right is a mistake. Tucked into that cubby hole the sound gets distorted. Out in the open stage left it comes across crystal clear.
Collectors of old musicals, and they abound, may enjoy this revival but the truth is they would be better enjoying the three good songs on their own – either that or getting the dvd of the movie.
As for the programme, the less said the better.
Lorelei Lee: Abigayle Honeywill.
Dorothy Shaw: Eleanor Lakin.
Henry Spofford: Freddie King.
Josephus Gage: George Lennan.
Ella Spofford: Virge Gilchrist.
Sir Francis Beekman/Gus Esmond Sr: Tom Murphy.
Gus Esmond Jr: Aaron Bannister-Davies.
Lady Beekman: Maria Mosquera.
Gloria Stark: Ashlee Young.
Ensemble: Liam Dean; Patrick Cook; Lewis Rimmer; Arran Bell; Esme Bacalla-Hayes; Jo Bird; Stephen Loriot; Jasmine Davis; Florence Beaumont.
Director: Sasha Regan.
Choreographer: Zak Nemorin.
Musical Director: Henry Brennan.
Set Designer: Justin Williams.
Costume Designer: Penn O’Gara.
Lighting Designer: Hector Murray.
Production Photographs:Mark Senior,