Strike Up The Band by George & Ira Gershwin & George S Kaufman. Upstairs at the Gatehouse, London N6. 4**** William Russell

Music & Lyrics by George & Ira Gershwin.
Book by George S Kaufman.
Upstairs at the Gatehouse, Highgate Village, London N6 4BD to 31 March 2019.
Tues – Sat 7.30 pm Mat Sun 4pm.
Runs 2hr 40 mins One interval.
TICKETS: 020 8340 8054.

Review: William Russell 8 March.

A show to rediscover and relish

This Gershwin musical satire about war and capitalism flopped when it was first staged in Philadelphia in 1927 although three years later with a revised book it did achieve a modest Broadway run. This revival directed with spirit by Mark Giesser makes quite clear why it did not work back then – the book is basically a mess, the scatter gun satire aims at too many targets for a start, and it goes on far too long. It is also an amazing tale to spin so soon after the end of the First World War – the probability is that audiences just were not ready for something which sent up capitalist profiteers, the military and politicians with no standards. In addition the US economy was doing rather well so lambasting capitalism and profiteers was probably also not to the popular taste.
Like 1931’s Of Thee I Sing, another of their shows with Kaufman, about a Presidential candidate who stood on a love platform, time has not been kind to Strike Up the Band in many ways. O Thee I Sing, the first musical to win a Pulitzer Prize, does not revive well now because the American political scene it satirises has changed although it too has a superb score and lyrics. Strike Up the Band may not be lost gem of a show, but it is one which all who profess to love musical theatre would be insane to miss. The hits musical and satirical are there in plenty so forgive the rest.
It is basically an operetta and although the ten strong cast work wonders one does miss a chorus. On the other hand there is an eleven strong band which does full justice to music as good as anything Gershwin ever composed and Ira’s breathtaking way with words to astonish – one daring rhyme of Trilby with You’ll be proves a moment to savour.

In an age of international tariffs, Brexit the ERG, wars all over the place and capitalism rampant the satire remains amazingly relevant. Horace J Fletcher makes cheese and with the help of various capitalist and political scoundrels gets the United States to declare war on Switzerland which has just objected to tariffs imposed on its cheese. The President is left in the dark by the way about all this, but the Washington power broker and Horace’s crooked plant manager with a little help from a predatory widow looking for a rich husband ensure that the boys go off to the Alps. The trouble is the Swiss won’t fight them, which ruins the money making machine the cheese gang have set up as all the tourists who had gone to watch the war are frustrated and those who might are staying away.
Horace’s daughter Joan falls for a young man who knows Fletcher’s cheese is made with inferior milk and does not want to go to war –pacifism is bad -and Anne, the daughter of the widow, who wants to wed a young man her predatory mother disapproves of, causes problems. Add a mysterious character who plays a variety of roles and one has a right old mix up.
The performances are good, the cast can all sing, not always the case these days, and this is a musical with ideas intended to challenge the audience to think– not just hum the tunes on the way home although there are plenty of those.
Horace J Fletcher: Richard Emerson.
Joan Fletcher: Beth Burrows.
Jim Townsend: Paul Biggin.
Mrs Draper: Pippa Winslow.
Anne Draper: Charlotte Christensen.
Timothy Harper: Adam Scott Pringle.
Colonel Holmes: Robert Finlayson.
C.Edgar Sloane: Nicholas McBride.
George Spelvin: David Francis.
Bob, factory worker & soldier: Sammy Graham.

Director: Mark Giesser.
Musical Director & orchestrations: Bobby Goulder.
Choreographer: Orley Quick.
Set Design: Camille Etchart.
Costumes: Giulia Scrimieri.
Lighting Design: Will Leighton.
Sound Design: Harry Emerson.
Production photographs: Andreas Lambis.

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