Mini-review – Babes in Arms – Union Theatre

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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.)

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