Review – Bells Are Ringing – Union Theatre

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Cross the Union Theatre, South London’s home of the brilliantly-revived-musical-on-a-shoestring-budget, with Jule Styne, creator of Gypsy, Funny Girl and the recent Forgotten Musical Darling of the Day, and what do you get? Bells Are Ringing, the giddy, well-crafted production currently marking itself as the show for fans of Golden Era Broadway song-craft as well as Mad Men-style plot and panache.

The plot is a “madcap caper:” lowly answering service minion Ella Peterson (Anna-Jane Casey, radiant) has made herself into a one-woman fix-it shop for all of the characters using “Suzanserphone” to handle their overflow calls, dishing out home cures, motherly advice, and “talks with Santa” to her clientele. Half-baked Inspector Barnes (Richard Grieve) is certain she’s offering shady services of some sort, and sets his aid Francis (Michael Bryher) to catch her doing whatever “it” is. Ella’s looking suspicious because she’s fallen for playwright Jeff Moss (Gary Milner); meanwhile bookie Sandor (Fenton Gray) is … but enough of the plot, having a few surprises makes it more fun!

What matters far more than plot is what it was like seeing the play. We’re crammed together on a long wall of the theater (go for the 2/3s of the seats away from the band), and a man & four young women show up and start singing in lovely harmony (really loved Aoife Nally’s voice) – and cracking jokes – and dancing! And the room comes alive, and the band is hitting it, for once it’s natural, mike-free voices and oh my God, it’s Man In Chair’s prayer “please let this show be good” ANSWERED! (Well, it does run a bit long as it’s nearly 90 minutes until the interval and 10ish when we left, but that’s forgivable.)

And there’s Anna-Jean Casey, whom I remember from last year’s Hackney panto, and she’s winning and she’s our heroine and she’s quirky and fun and she talks to the audience (“Hi there!”) and her voice is lovely and she dances effortlessly and I am totally caught up in “I wanna see her succeed!” She has 50s musical star charisma down perfectly and she has sold me on the show ten minutes after the lights have gone down.

And of course there’s MORE dancing (the subway scene!), MORE songs (every lyric worth listening to!), a cha-cha scene (inevitable at this time, remember Damn Yankees?), so many plots twists you’d think we were crocheting an afghan, in short WIN WIN WIN. And it’s all in your lap and in your face, a big Broadway musical so close you can touch it, and by golly, suddenly the Union has reminded me why I do this theater thing, ’cause I just went into a darkened room and watched magic happen. Well done all; you’ve restored my faith in the genre and sent me out the door with a song in my heart.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Wednesday, September 29th, 2010. It continues through October 23rd. Shows at this tiny house sell out quickly, so if this review caught your eye, I advise you to book NOW.)

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2 Responses to “Review – Bells Are Ringing – Union Theatre”

  1. Tweets that mention Review – Bells Are Ringing – Union Theatre « Life in the Cheap Seats – Webcowgirl’s London theatre reviews -- Topsy.com Says:

    […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by webcowgirl, Miss Alice. Miss Alice said: @oi_lauren distraught. why can't I go? 😦 https://webcowgirl.wordpress.com/2010/09/30/review-bells-are-ringing-union-theatre/ […]

  2. Review – On the Twentieth Century – Union Theatre « Life in the Cheap Seats – Webcowgirl’s London theatre reviews Says:

    […] realize until I cozied up to the program that this musical, unlike Annie Get Your Gun or Bells Are Ringing wasn’t so much from that golden age as from, well, the last of the tail end of the silver age […]

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