Posts Tagged ‘Al Dubin’

January is the month, awash with ticket offers, when I revisit show’s I’ve loved and catch up with those I wasn’t sure about, certainly at full price, and this is the first of six, and the first of the catch-up’s.

It’s based on the 1933 film, itself based on a novel, which was made to tap dance America out of the Great Depression. It’s the archetypal Broadway show, but it didn’t get there until 1980. It’s director died on the afternoon of the opening, but no-one involved was told until the curtain call. When it got to London in 1984, life imitated art when a chorus girl had to take over from both the lead and her standby and went on to take the lead role and start a glittering career. That was Catherine Zeta-Jones.

My thirty-something self took against it then, finding it unoriginal, the story vacuous and the production deeply old-fashioned. A short while later, I said this at my interview for the Laurence Olivier Awards panel when I was asked what I thought about it winning the Best Musical award (it beat one of my favourite shows, The Hired Man). When I discovered one of its producers was on the interview panel, I was astonished that I got through. One of my biggest faux pas’ ever. After this second exposure, the serious theatre-goer in me still finds in unoriginal, vacuous and old-fashioned, but the good-time guy melts at the ensemble tap dances, bright neon sets and sheer spectacle, let alone the talent on the stage. I’m not sure I’ve ever been quite so ambivalent about a show.

It may be the first juke-box musical, before the term was coined, as it brings together Warren & Dubin songs from a number of places, including Keep Young & Beautiful, I Only Have Eyes For You, We’re in the Money, and Lullaby of Broadway. I can dispense with the story by saying a leading lady is injured and a chorus girl takes over and becomes a star. It has one of the best opening scenes, as the curtain rises teasingly on something like forty pairs of legs tap dancing. There’s more bright smiles and jazz hands than a musicals regular gets in a years worth of shows. The late Gower Champion’s original dances and Randy Skinner’s musical staging and new choreography, presumably with a nod to Busby Berkley’s work on the film, are conventional but thrilling nonetheless. The design is loud, brash, glitzy, colourful, sparkly, but old-fashioned. Sheena Easton was indisposed, but her standby C J Johnson was sensational. In fact, it’s an excellent cast, with Clare Halse as chorus-girl-becomes-star Peggy Sawyer and Tom Lister as Julian Marsh, the director of the show-within-the-show, Pretty Lady.

Leave your brain at home and go for the dancing, the dazzle and the spectacle. Ambivalent I may be, but I’m also glad I went.

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