Pros: Some fun ensemble numbers that will have you tapping your foot.
Cons: A story that fails to capture the imagination.
Upstairs at Ye Old Rose and Crown is transformed into Rhode Island this summer as All Star Productions stage the 1937 Rodgers and Hart musical comedy Babes in Arms. This is the first UK production of the show in almost 15 years and is part of the company’s brave pursuit to revive rarely performed musicals.
Set in the 1930s, the story follows Val and his friends and their decision to stage a theatrical revue in order to avoid being sent to work on a farm by the local sheriff. The youngsters fall in love, break up and fall out during their endeavour, but don’t worry – as you’d expect with this type of work – everything ends up alright in the end.
The intimate studio is well utilised and sets the location via wooden beams, bales of hay and other knickknacks that are bundled about the space. The five piece band is visible onstage throughout and does a sterling job, although they are dressed in blacks: because of their high visibility and position on set, it would’ve been nice to see them dressed in costume. Additionally, the acoustics of the space often meant dialogue and lyrics couldn’t be heard over the noise of the band, particularly the piano.
The more engaging moments are when the cast comes together: the ensemble number Babes in Arms is spirited with good choreography by Carole Todd. Director Brendan Matthew experiments with style which makes for some interesting moments, although the humour of the work isn’t fully captured: maybe because it doesn’t strike the right chord with modern audiences.
Standout performances are delivered by Jack McCann as Valentine LaMar and Ruth Betteridge as Billie Smith. McCann is well cast as the ‘boy next door’ and does a grand job as lead. He and Betteridge work their socks off to sell the relationship between Val and Billie to the audience, managing to create some warmth of character. For the most part the ensemble is good, however some of the acting is overly affected which occasionally rasps.
Overall, this is a good show for fans of the musical era. Although, for me, the predictability of the writing and the simplicity of the characters fuelled my lack of investment in what I was watching: I couldn’t buy into the relationships between characters, nor the task with which they were engaged. Across London, musicals that bear relevance are being produced. This felt a little outmoded and I’m not convinced it was a good choice on behalf of All Star Productions: personally, I understand why it hasn’t been staged here in almost 15 years.
Music: Richard Rodgers
Lyrics: Lorenz Hart
Adaptation: John Guare
Director: Brendan Matthew
Musical Director: Aaron Clingham
Choreographer: Carole Todd
Producer: Andrew Yon
Box Office: 020 8520 8674
Booking Link: https://www.ticketsource.co.uk/allstarproductions
Booking Until: 7 August 2016