book by Arthur Kopit lyrics and music by Cole Porter additional lyrics by Susan Birkenhead based on The Philadelphia Story by Philip Barry and the Turner Entertainment Co. motion picture High Society
Old Vic Theatre The Cut SE1 8NB To 22 August 2015.
Mon-Sat 7.30pm Mat Wed & Sat 2.30pm.
Runs: 2hr 50min One interval.
TICKETS: 0844 871 7628.
Review: Carole Woddis 18 May 18.
Utterly brilliant. More please.
For people of a certain age, High Society, alongside West Side Story and My Fair Lady, are the musicals we grew up with, the words practically known by rote.
High Society, the film, was based on Philip Barry’s stage play The Philadelphia Story, written around and partly inspired by Katherine Hepburn as Tracy Lord, the high society thoroughbred, privileged, clever and cold but softening as she comes to terms with her own imperfections. Grace Kelly embodied this ice-maiden (as she was often called) to perfection in the 1956 film also starring Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra and Celeste Holm.
In Maria Friedman’s Old Vic production – an appropriate swansong for the Kevin Spacey era – Kate Fleetwood plays her with a feisty, brittle, modern edge. The song `Ridin high’ sees her entering in jodhpurs, white cravat and whip – the very epitome of 1950s US upper-crust outdoor style. By the end, hair soaking from a midnight dip with writer/journo Mike Connor (Jamie Parker), the ice has cracked.
In between, this revival of the original 1998 Broadway stage musical with book by Arthur Kopit and extra songs incorporated from Cole Porter’s back catalogue, becomes a heady mix of spectacular set numbers and nimble use of the Old Vic’s in-the-round setting, whilst not altogether escaping the long shadow of the film.
Friedman and her musical arrangers’ approach is fiercely unsentimental. The most effective numbers for example are the ensembles when ‘What a swell party’ expands to include a double piano jazz duet, young black tap-dancer, Omari Douglas cutting up a storm atop a piano and Tracy’s sensuously Rumba-based unbuttoning, “it’s the wrong face…but it’s alright with me.”
What with the tweenies and butlers wheeling in plants, drinks, food – there’s even a pungently real egg & bacon fry-up onstage – there’s a busy sense of indulgent living created by Friedman and designer Tom Pye with his elegant costuming drawn from Dior.
Porter’s songs are undoubtedly the show’s draw. The real star of the evening, however, is the engaging, twinkle-fingered Joe Stilgoe who, opening the evening, turns any song thrown at him into a rapturously jazzy medley.
Stanley: Chris Ellis-Stanton.
Mavis: Ricky Butt.
Mario: Zak Nemorin.
Joey Powell: Joe Stilgoe.
Edmund: John Brannoch.
Megan/Tina Mara: Sammy Kelly.
Iris: Katharine Pearson.
Godfrey: Omari Douglas.
Chester: Paul Kemble.
Cindy: Claire Doyle.
Conchita: Philippa Stefani.
Chip: Leon Kay.
Mother Lord: Barbara Flynn.
Dinah Lord: Ellie Bamber.
Tracy Lord: Kate Fleetwood.
Uncle Willie: Jeff Rawle.
C K Dexter-Haven: Rupert Young.
Mike Connor: Jamie Parker.
Liz Imbrie: Annabel Scholey.
George Kittredge: Richard Grieve.
Seth Lord: Christopher Ravenscroft.
Director: Maria Friedman.
Designer: Tom Pye.
Lighting: Neil Austin, Peter Mumford.
Musical Director: Theo Jamieson
Orchestrato/Dance Arranger: Chris Walker.
Video: Finn Ross.
Choreographer: Nathan M Wright.
Associate director: Tim Jackson
Associate choreographer: Claira Vaughan
Associate Producers: Old Vic Productions plc.
First performance of this production of High Society at the Old Vic Theatre London 30 April 2015.