Archive for May, 2012

Review – The Suit – Théâtre des Bouffes du Nord at the Young Vic

May 28, 2012

I’m a horrible one for remembering names, but I am a fan of director Peter Brook. His “Empty Space” aesthetic suits me as a fan of theater that tells rather than shows, that allows the user to fill in the detail with their imagination. (It’s the total opposite of the video screen theory of set design, which not only shows you everything you need to see but does it in a way that sucks the viewer’s creative powers.) So I was very excited to see a brand new show by his Théâtre des Bouffes du Nord come to The Young VicThe Suit, based on a story by South African author Can Themba.

The premise of the show was simple (per the Young Vic’s website): “a young worker returns home to find his wife in bed with her lover. The lover escapes, leaving behind his suit. In revenge, the husband instructs his wife to treat the suit as an honored guest” – not just for dinner, but every day. It sounded like classic absurdist/surrealist theater, and I wondered what sort of wild extremes they would go to as the story unfolded. I imagined her bathing the suit, putting it to bed every night, taking it to the zoo, et cetera.

The reality, however, was much less than I had hoped for. The suit is sat down for just one meal, and, while supposedly it gets a spot in their bed (I think), it didn’t seem to happen night after night like I expected. In fact, after the first day, the suit doesn’t seem to play much of a role in the lives of Philemon and Matilda except for one humiliating Sunday walk. It comes to life (as it were) when Matilda pretends to dance with it; but otherwise it seems to fall away from the main story.

And what the main story is, well, I don’t know. It seems to be about Matilda (Nonhlanhla Kheswa) coming into her own and finding her value as a woman in something more than entertaining herself with young hotties; but it also seems to be about celebrating the life of blacks in a South Africa that was about to be destroyed (referred to in the play but not seen). People go to work on horribly crowded buses; they drink and dance in shebeens; they deal with racism on a daily basis but live in strong communities where women organize self-education groups through their churches. This second bit was my strongest takeaway from the show, the feeling of seeing bits of a lifestyle that was soon to be destroyed; and it was lovely.

This, however, must have been an aside, for surely we were meant to be focusing on Philemon (William Nadylam) and his wife, and their journey toward forgiveness/reconciliation or whatever other ending the playwright might have chosen (madness, death, murder, the introduction of a dress – I didn’t know what was going to happen so don’t want to spoil it). But somehow they came to seem like an aside, like a ten minute story that didn’t have the ending that Albee or Sarte would have given it, as they worked it toward an intense exploration of the human psyche. It left me feeling dissatisfied – and unhappy that I’d gotten bored in a play that was only supposed to be 70 minutes long. I sat through 1:50 of Master and Margarita without once losing my focus … why wasn’t this play able to hold me for even two thirds of that time? While I was happy to see another play done in the wonderful Brook style, I’m afraid this one won’t be one I recommend to other people – it was just too slight.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Friday, May 18th, 2012. It continues through June 16th.)

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Review – Chariots of Fire – Hampstead Theater

May 24, 2012

I have a real thing for new writing. This, however, doesn’t extend to new plays that are adaptations of movies. But when pcchan1981 invited me to catch Chariots of Fire at the Hampstead Theater, I thought, why not? The script is by Mike Bartlett, and I think he’s pretty decent. But I became a bit worried when a West End transfer was announced before the show’s opening. What made them so sure of the show’s success? Did this have … something to do with the Olympics? Hmmm.

Three months later it was finally time for the show. I had seen the movie but, as I saw it back when it was new most of the plot details had long ago slid from my brain. I remembered that one of the characters was Jewish, and that the plot had something to do with running in the Olympics. But everything else was pretty much gone. To me, it meant I was approaching the show in a close to ideal fashion, as, other than being pretty sure of the ending, I had few preconceptions about what was going to happen and no expectation of a performance “like the guy in the film.” (And thank God I hadn’t read the Hampstead website, which describes the show as “the theatrical event of our Olympic year.” Those claims inevitably lead to disappointment. Can people just say, “We think our show is good, we do hope you’ll like it?”)

The inside of the theater had been set up like a race track, with a circular running level separating the stalls seats from the balcony and upper balcony area, and a rotating area in the middle that could either just have the edge rotating or the whole thing going at once. This was obviously very useful for a play in which a lot of action centers on racing, and they made good use of it, not just running on the stationary track but cutting across the middle to do figure eights; they also raced on the small rotating edge of the middle section. Unsurprising, with all of this running, the cast of this show was looking awfully fit; I suspect some folks might find it worth seeing for that alone.

This was not enough for me. I was looking for drama and personal evolution: I got one note characters and lots of running. Real drama came during the British Olympics Committee grilling scene, when they try to force someone to run against their religious beliefs; but nothing else really engaged me at that level. I found joy when one of the runners practiced hurdles with glasses of fine champagne balanced on the posts; I was gleeful at the frequent use of Gilbert and Sullivan (did Cambridge students really all do Am Dram?). Yet I cared for nobody on stage, because they didn’t seem real, not a one of them; they were actors portraying actors portraying some writer’s version of real people as made interesting enough to film. Just what was I supposed to care about?

As I was struggling to keep engaged during the second act, the British team made it to France for the Olympics, and suddenly it was five rings projected on the floor and the Olympic flag on the wall. In my mind, the IOC licensing committee (LOCOG?) suddenly swooped in and confiscated all of the props and declared the play closed as they hadn’t received official permission to use their copyrighted stuff (at exorbitant fees). But then I realized … the whole reason for this play’s existence is to ride on those Olympic coattails, and take advantage of the Olympics as a marketing phenomenon. It was never a play aimed at me, a hardcore theater fan who sees an average of three shows a week. Taking advantage of Olympics fever is why this play was written, why it is transferring, and why it uses the horribly, gratingly inappropriate Vangelis music despite the fact it says THIS WAS WRITTEN IN 1981 and ruins the feeling of the early 20s they otherwise have tried so hard to create on stage. This play was written to make a buck, not to be a good show.

If you have to, you can probably make it through this play. But I promise you, after this summer is over this thing will never see the light of a serious stage again.

(This review is for a performance that took place on May 21st, 2012. It continues at the Hampstead until June 16th, and if you’re going to see it do it before it transfers. There are plenty of seats available still and it will cost you much more like what it is worth rather than what they are going to want you to play.)

Review – Flahooley – Lost Musicals at Sadler’s Wells

May 22, 2012

It’s now three years into the Lost Musicals series for me, and I have to say I was checking and rechecking both the Sadler’s Wells and the Lost Musicals webpages this spring hoping for details of this year’s shows. Disappointingly, there are only two shows this time around, but I booked dutifully and showed up at the Lilian Baylis studio last Sunday for Flahooley. Sadly, due to this last-minute scheduling, I wasn’t able to stay for all of it – but I’ve got a guest review to fill in the details of what I missed.

As ever, the show opened with Ian Marshall Fisher giving us background on the show, which I’ve semi-transcribed:

The book and lyrics are by E. Y. “Yip” Harvo, a “sprightly and annoying” poetic genius. His first job was at a light bulb company in the 20s (shades of Charles Dickens at the blacking factory!). When the factory went down the tubes during the Depression, Harvo’s school buddy Ira Gershwin invited him to be a lyricist. His first hit song was “Brother Can You Spare a Dime;” these days, he’s best known for “Over the Rainbow”. Both were songs with not just pretty words, but meaning, with words that made people smile while ingesting his philosophy … a philosophy that later cost him his career.

Yip’s big success was Finian’s Rainbow (about how whites treated blacks in the 40s – I did not know this as I’ve never seen it). But after World War II he was blacklisted as a commie. Being a socialist actually wasn’t that uncommon for a Jewish first generation American – but in the 50s the “communist threat” became an obsession for the country. The McCarthy hearings were broadcast daily, with celebrities and other prominent people in a chair, on national TV, being grilled with one main question: “Were you a communist?” Many had been, maybe 20 years earlier. Lots of people informed on their friends to save themselves. Jerry Robbins was one of those who named names, destroying the career of Zero Mostel. Once Yip was named a lefty, his jobs dried up and he went back to NYC. But once he was there, producer Cheryl Crawford producer (from the Group Theater in Chicago) invited him to do a show with her. This became “Flahooley,” a show that on the outside is fairy tale yet lampoons Western history and capitalism. But America wasn’t ready for it, what with the general feelings in the air and the Korean War. It was seen as Anti-American, a play that made fun of what had “made us successful.” It had only 40 performances before it closed.

The original show had one famous person: Peruvian Yma Sumac, who was a big star at the time with a five octave vocal range. (The part of Princess Najla is clearly written for her, based on what I heard sung during the show – nice work, Margaret Preece!) Other (later) famous faces were Jerome Portland and Barbara Cook.

Flahooley also requires a certain amount of familiarity with 1950s American slang to get the jokes. Remember that Ike is president, pediatrician Dr Spock and psychotherapy are popular, and loyalty tests are rampant. On TV was comedian Milton Beryl and kiddy TV shows Hopalong Cassidy and Kukla Fran and Ollie (a puppet show). References are also made to beanie hats, gossip columnist Hedda Hopper (known for her funny hats), S.N.A.F.U. (used to rhyme “snafuly,” very clever!), serotan (a laxative typically named by spelling the word “nature” backward), and drugstore Walgreens (still in business).

Be warned, though: despite the left leanings of the author, some of the dialogue may not pass the standards of the modern audience. Sample:
Saudi ambassador (to president of toy company, B.G. Bigelow): Salaam aleikum.
B.G. Bigelow: Shish kebab.

So: how was the show? Well, I enjoyed the constant railing against the silly aspects of capitalism wrapped around a gentle story about a romance in a toy factory. The dialogue was clever at a level modern shows can’t meet, though the songs weren’t as memorable as I would have liked (despite the two wonderful nonsense songs sung by Princess Najla). I left at the interval (1:50 later) … here’s a review by David G on the entire show.

“The musical Flahooley is an uneasy clash of themes. Part critique of witch-hunts by a writer who’d just been blacklisted from Hollywood at the height of McCarthyism, part satire of American capitalism by a socialist, part magical tale of an Arabian genie by the lyricist of Wizard on Oz, and part standard boy-meets-girl-and-finally-wins-her-by-buying-her-a-balloon love story, it never quite manages to knit the strands together into a coherent whole. On Broadway, it ran for just 40 performances before closing, and that was after having been refined and toned down during provincial previews.

“Flawed though it is, it works very well as a Lost Musical, where it’s performed in a concert setting with minimal choreography. Flahooley is set in a toy factory, and the original performance made extensive use of puppets in some scenes; these are, admittedly, hard to realize in the Lost Musicals format and are at times confusing. But there is still much to love in the lyrics and the music, including the exquisite juxtaposition of the townspeople singing about their belief in Santa Claus with the appearance of a genie who ruins their economy by … creating and giving out free toys.

“So, yes, at times Flahooley has a confusing plot and uneven tone, but there is more than enough of interest to make it well worth a revival by the Lost Musicals team.”

You know, I may just try to go back and see the rest of it …

LATER: Wow, this play was even more subversive than I thought! Per Wikipedia: “Following the original book, the doll exclaimed “Dirty Red!” instead of laughing, went to sleep when you fed it phenobarbital, woke up when you fed it benzedrine (a drug also referenced in Finian’s) and had the stated purpose of teaching children how to be good Americans.”

(This review is for a performance that took place on Sunday, May20th, 2012. Flahooley continues through June 3rd.)

Review – La Boheme – Isango Ensemble at the Hackney Empire

May 22, 2012

One of the things that makes dramatic art great is that it transcends a time and place and a culture and holds its meaning when reimagined as part of a completely different world from that of the author. For example, Shakespeare holds both as a straight Kabuki show and as modern ballet. South Africa’s Isango Ensemble has done a great job of taking Western stories and reflecting them through a mirror of the township experience, showing the relevance of Scrooge to modern capitalism and making a Magic Flute more enchanting thanks to a marimba orchestra (and the powerful portrayal of the Queen of the Night).

I had no problems, therefore, in anticipating a successful adaptation of La Boheme when it was announced as one of the three shows the Isango Ensemble was bringing to the Hackney Empire. Normally I would avoid 19th century opera, but I thought with a fresh look (and a mountain of marimbas) I might find the joy I’d missed when I saw it long ago at the Seattle Opera.

And, to a great extent, this was true. Performed mostly in English and reduced to a two hour running time, this was a Boheme that was packed full of energy and rather short on wallowing in misery. I enjoyed seeing Rodolfo and Mimi meet in a shanty where the occupants struggle to keep warm and to keep illuminated; her search for a candle and his desire to have someone keeping the chill away make their love affair seem to aim for survival as much as affection. Having Rodolfo’s space be a one story, one room building with four people living in it seemed as appropriate a version of poverty as a top floor garret; and heating poverty is something that has in no ways gone away in the modern world.

The next scene, in a “shebeen” full of rowdy carousers celebrating a local holiday, is lively and fun. Corrupt government ministers running around with inappropriate girlfriends is just as timely now as when it was written, and Musetta’s mocking of her “poodle” Alcindoro was funny. This was my favorite part of the show – while it was not centered on the main pair of lovers, the life it showed was exciting and the group scenes energetic.

With all of the dancing and singing in this show, I think the Isango Ensemble blew a normal “Boheme” out of the water. I don’t normally like 19th century opera, but – helped by the good singing of the cast – I found myself bubbling along with this one. My suspicion is that people who were familiar with the show would enjoy it even more than I did, as the adaptations of the original music were probably pretty faithful (as they were for Magic Flute). Here’s hoping they come back and roast another old chestnut until it’s nice and tasty.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Thursday, May 17th, 2012. It continues through June 1st.)

Mini-review – Duchess of Malfi – Old Vic Theatre

May 19, 2012

Why, I wondered, would the Old Vic be hustling Duchess of Malfi tickets on every forum possible, promising two for ones, upgrades, free drinks, and what have you from shortly after the play opened? If you’d been trying to get a ticket for their long and popular run of Noises Off, this was a completely new experience. Previously, The Old Vic couldn’t get you a seat anywhere no matter how much you were willing to pay; but now they … if I was reading it right … they couldn’t seem to find anyone to watch their show at any price. Not very reassuring given that I’d bought the tickets weeks before opening and couldn’t exactly trade them in for something else.

If nothing else I was relieved that my crummy (and expensive) full price second balcony tickets were upgraded to stalls (row O!), so I didn’t have to be bitter about all of the people who had got better seats that me for less. As it turned out, we’d booked in for the closed captioned night, so the audience was full of people signing to each other from across the room. Being able to talk to someone in the first balcony when you were in the stalls without disturbing your neighbors – how neat was that! And there was a REALLY snazzy set on stage that looked like it was pulled straight from an early Renaissance painting made to demonstrate the principles of perspective – three levels of church-looking balconies inside of a stone box (on three sides) – I was reminded of the La Cuba palace in Palermo, inspiration for part of the Decameron.

However, instead of Classic Literature Done Live, what we got was … well, revenge tragedy, which was classic literature, only without any expectation of the characters to become interesting … or really to change at all over the course of the play, except to go mad. The bad people are pointed out at the beginning and stay bad (or get worse). The only character that’s the least bit interesting is the duchess herself, who is trying to have a life of her own in a society where, although a widow, she is still basically chattel.

Unfortunately one person does not an engrossing night make. I was assisted in killing time by the captioning screens, which allowed me to follow the dialogue more closely than I would have managed on my own, and by the incredibly inept person who left their cellphone on during the interval, thus creating a profoundly memorable moment as the Duchess is slowly strangled to the theme song of The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly. It’s the small things, right? Otherwise, the best thing I can say about the evening (other than the wonderful company I had) was the scene near the end where the Duchess’ commonlaw husband is creeping through the ruins of a cloister, hoping to end the feud between the brothers Malfi and himself. As he speaks of his hopes for reconciliation, the duchess’ ghostly voice repeats back his words in an attempt to warn him off. Let me quote this to you:

ANTONIO: Echo, I will not talk with thee,
For thou art a dead thing.

ECHO: Thou art a dead thing.

I mean SERIOUSLY DO NOT GO INTO THE BASEMENT. But he has to, because is a revenge tragedy, and everyone has to die, and all you can do is just wait it out until the final curtain. But really, that scene with the echo, it was great, but I’ll probably tell more people about that stupid cell phone, because after two and a half hours of BLOOD BLOOD SEX DEATH EVIL MORE DEATH MADNESS SCREAMING a little humor was a thing of beauty, indeed.

(This review is for a performance that took place on May 15th, 2012. It continues through June 9th. This may possibly be a perfect production of this play, but I must remember in the future I do not care for the revenge tragedy. Maybe some day I’ll get to see Noises Off, though. I do like a good laugh.)

Mini-review – What The Butler Saw – The Vaudeville

May 17, 2012

My feeling of elation on walking out of The Vaudeville after seeing What The Butler Saw is difficult to put into words. I felt like Joe Orton had just jumped the shark, landed on a rocket and shot to the moon. The whole play is a cascading series of ridiculousness that’s clearly in the farce tradition (person tells lie, gets into trouble) but all twisted and manipulated to make it feel horribly modern and inappropriate even for the sixties. It oozes the unrestricted sexuality I enjoyed in the previous Joe Orton work I’d seen – many of the characters are bi and quite free with themselves, including the lead character’s wife – and this, to me, turned the formula of the Commedia Dell’arte (read: “One Man, Two Governors”) on its head. It’s still all nudge nudge wink wink and occasional slamming doors (four at once), but instead of stock characters we have a money-hungry rentboy, a married woman who’s in a club for lesbians, and characters who engage in and discuss a variety of non-vanilla sexual practices. All in all, a good looking naked man running across stage mid-show isn’t really all that surprising – it’s just another jolly treat in Orton’s pick a mix bag of dodginess.

While some of the dialog and attitudes seem a bit hard to swallow (you can practically write your own joke here – Orton would have), I fell in love with this production because of the way it felt like every word, character, and action was knowingly transgressive – not just of its time (the Churchill jokes alone make me imagine it would have made blood boil when it was new) but of ours, still. The actors uniformly pushed it further, turning the dial up to eleven and just completely going for it. I felt there was a manic energy on stage and was completely swept up in it, laughing loudly and snorting frequently. Meanwhile, the aged American professor sitting next to me found it just not in the least bit comic. Ah well.

I advise seeing this as soon as possible: they may tone it down and you don’t want to miss this gem while it’s still completely over the top. It’s funnier than anything I’ve seen since London Assurance. Later it may just be another show with perfect timing and every line memorized: right now, it’s joyfully shocking and raw and the actors know it. Just remember: don’t take the kids.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Monday, May 14th, 2012. It continues through August 25th.)

Mini-review – Misterman – National Theater

May 16, 2012

A one man show about a religious fanatic in Ireland did not sound like the kind of thing I really wanted to waste my time watching. I don’t care for religion and, based on how terrible the last two Irish plays I saw were, I thought there was little hope for Misterman to be anything other than miserable. But then the reports came back that this was full of “black humor” and … key point … had a running time of 90 minutes. And the buzz was very positive. Alright, I thought, bring on your Jesus talk, I can make it that long … and I may even enjoy myself.

As it turns out, the buzz was right. Where I expected a cutesy show about a misunderstood but kind soul, from the very beginning Thomas Magill (Cillian Murphy) does not seem to be alright. It’s funny to see him desperately scribbling angry notes when someone is rude to him, but his inability to get control over the speakers blaring music during the very first scene – which ends with him destroying the tape players – shows us that under his smile is a bad temper and a lack of control. And, it seems, he is experiencing a reality that is different from the one we are in.

Throughout the play Murphy voices a lot of different characters, some of them “through the eyes of Thomas,” others being quite simply performed as they might have been talking to him. It becomes obvious that we, the audience, need to be thinking about which of these conversations are real and which are as he wanted them to take place; and, at some point, it becomes impossible to tell if any of them are real, or if he is really just doing the whole thing by himself in a garage he’s locked himself into.

While the play dragged a little around 1:10, this was a great psychodrama and a brilliant chance for Murphy to show off his skills as an actor. Big props have to also go to Enda Walsh for the brilliant script. I try really hard to support new writing and this time it paid off: Misterman is going to get revived again and again. That said … the show at the National is really nice with an effective, electric set and everything as perfect as you hope it will be at one of the premiere stages in the UK. And it’s only 90 minutes! What’s to lose? Get your tickets now!

(This review is for a performance that took place on Tuesday, May 8th, 2012. It continues through May 28th. Don’t be discouraged by the fact it looks sold out: at the National you can almost always count on a few returns on the day of or night before.)

Reader deal for “The Claribel,” part four of RETZproduces Six Part Tempest in Shoreditch

May 13, 2012

Over the last few months, I’ve been greatly enjoying watching the Tempest unfold slowly, one hour at a time, one month apart, in an abandoned shop in Hoxton. I feel like these extracts have been provising me with interesting insights into the characters of The Tempest, and I love the intimacy created by having a maximum of about ten audience members per performance. The latest installation, “The Claribel,” is about to open, and I’m pleased to say I have a deal to offer readers of my blog: free drinks with each ticket. Leave a message here and I will email you the secret password that may well lead to you receiving a drink from the hands of Caliban her/himself.

Details for booking online are at the Bordurian website. Performances will be THUR / FRI / SAT / SUN this week and next at 7pm & 8.15pm nightly.

Review – Barbarians – Tooting Arts Club

May 11, 2012

Ah, London. So much to see, so little time. In some ways it was almost an academic exercise to click a link from Lyn Gardner’s recent article on “plays with staying power” to see just what was going on at the “Tooting Arts Club” with its revival of the play Barbarians – it’s not like I had any free spots on my May schedule to add in another play. And, truth be told, her description of the play as “searingly topical in a time of rising youth unemployment” wasn’t entirely enticing. But, since I live in Tooting, I was interested to think good work was being done locally. I poked around the website and became a bit more intrigued by the show. Then a friend cancelled for dinner and suddenly I had a free night. Hooray, I thought, I’ll see a show near the house! But then … disaster! It was already sold out! WHAT TO DO NOW!

Suddenly … I had to see it. I decided to just risk being turned away and hope for a return. To make it just a little more exciting, I did it on a day when I was going to be leaving from north London with about 5 minutes to spare. Panting and sweating after my dash up the stairs at Tooting Broadway, I showed up at the venue (late, mind you!) to be told … yes, it was sold out, and the three people who had just gone in were the remains of the returns queue. HORRORS! I guessed it was going to be a nice solo dinner at Dosa and Chutney … but then the nice lady stuck her head in once they got seated, waved me over, and pointed me to a lone chair in a corner. “We’ll settle up at the interval!” she whispered, and I WAS IN!

Well, after a week of bloodless performances, I can’t tell you what a thrill it was to get to see a vibrant production like Barbarians. I knew nothing about it at all, really, other than it was about unemployed people: in this case the youth of late 70s/early 80s Britain (as near as I could tell) – an era in Britain that I idolized as a teen in America.

But what a world! The characters are the scary skinhead looking guys with their Doc Martins on – living in a world where there’s no jobs to be had and a fun night is breaking into a conference room and stealing booze from the kitchen, where your friends tell you that taking a job working with women is degrading yourself. No wonder so much music was being created here then – what else was going on? But it seemed like a miserable time to be young and out of a job, when even making an investment in yourself (getting practical training in “the trades,” what the government here seems to want every poor kid to do now that they’re trying to price them out of going to university) isn’t rewarded by employment.

I learned a lot about a different world and a sort of different time watching indecisive Jan (Jamie Crew), dreamer Louis (Tyler Fayose), and temperamental Paul (Thomas Coombes) deal with getting jobs, getting into a football match, and getting laid. I thought a lot about the title of the play and the characters shown. Each of them came out so different that it was hard to say that “it was their environment that done them wrong,” but looking at it all you can’t help but start to think in what kind of world can you make it easier for people to live lives where they have a little more to look forward to. And what I also thought about was how, underneath the anarchy and violence, part of what made life worth living for these guys was the friendship they had for each other – something which just made the whole thing wind up hurting a little bit more.

The setting, in a garage where the actors walk through and around the audience while performing (instead of them stage, us chairs) was really awesome and gave us a lot greater opportunity to appreciate the fantastic acting. I lost my sense of these people being performers and not the characters they were representing. This does not happen to me often. When I realized it had happened, that I’d bought into the characters being real, I realized I’d happened across that rare thing: a piece of theater so good that breaks down the walls of reality. Nice job, guys, I hope to see all of you again and look forward to whatever Tooting Arts Club puts on next.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Wednesday, May 9th, 2012. The final performances are on May 12th but there are rumors there might be an extra show added. Please check the website or the Tooting Arts Club Twitter feed for details.)

Mini-review – Babes in Arms – Union Theatre

May 10, 2012

Ah, the 30s, when musicals could be about … well, musicals. The exciting world of making stage productions with singing and dancing, who needs any more of a plot when what we wanted all along was an excuse to string together a bunch of production numbers? It’s kind of the formula that’s been working for story ballets for the last hundred and fifty years …

However, modern tastes have moved beyond “I have a barn, let’s put on a show.” We want to hear about being a social outcast, fighting the Nazis, the French revolution. We’ve lost our taste for simple tales of love punctuated by tap dancing.

Well, maybe you have, but I haven’t. As a 40+ person I’ve discovered the joy of Busby Berkeley, from an age when musicals really were there to perk you up while you were watching them and send you home with a song in your heart. As a bonus, I get to see lots of tap dancing, which I do enjoy just a whole load.

If you, like me, are a lover of nights full of tap-dancing and singable tunes, Babes in Arms is the show for you. Did it have five tap numbers? Did it have eight? It had SO MANY that I couldn’t keep count. Few shows manage even two! And there was a large enough cast (18) that they filled the tiny Union Theater to bursting. Time and again I’d see them sneaking back on stage with the clicking that indicated another tap number was coming up, and I’d get kind of bouncy with anticipation.

Songs, yes, it has the songs … eternal lounge favorites “My Funny Valentine” and “The Lady Is a Tramp” for once done in context. Unfortunately they highlighted the uneven vocal talents of the cast. Jenny Perry (as Bunny Byron) owned “Tramp” and had me wishing she had far more opportunity to strut her stuff. Unfortunately Catriona Mackenzie (as Susie Ward), while a fine actress and dancer and right within range for “Valentine,” had many more numbers but not enough oomph in her voice, and I was sorry she hadn’t been cast in the other role.

Overall this was a bit of a thin show plot-wise but still a good value (£18 – those Union prices are great!) and a perfect way to while away a wet Sunday afternoon.

(This review is for a performance that took place on April 29th, 2012. It continues through May 12th.)