I wear my heart on my sleeve, and if we’re talking musical theater, that heart clearly reads “GIVE ME THAT OLD TIME MUSIC.” I like seeing shows that leave me walking out the door singing a (newly learned) melody, and it’s all the better if there’s a tap dance number (or three) to lift my spirits during the show. Hey, I’m not saying I don’t enjoy Sondheim, but so much music these days is just so introspective and, I don’t know, fashionably boring – what ever happened to writing songs with a hook?
This was a talent Mr Irving Berlin, premiere 20th century American tunesmith, had in spades. So when I read that a show he had written with Moss Hart was going to be making its UK debut at the Rose and Crown, well, I just about slapped a hat on my head and ran out the door so fast there was a little cartoon dust devil left swirling behind me in the hallway. It absolutely helped that it was being produced by All Star Productions, whose How to Succeed in Business without Really Trying, One Touch of Venus, and Flora the Red Menace had shown such a skill at squeezing out the core joy and musicality at the heart of the shows (while operating on a tight budget, still not stinting on talent). A trip to Walthamstow has never been so appealing – and they are actually easier to get to than the Gatehouse. Go go Face the Music!
In every way, this show exceeded my expectations. I just went for the music, but the story was slap-me scintillating, positively prosecco-esque in its perfectly targeted wit. This, my friends, is a play that makes fun of making plays, a topic I find hilarious, and it had me guffawing and hee-hawing like a ticklish donkey being ridden by a contortionist. Everyone was hamming it up so much that it was impossible not to believe in them as, well, the actors they were playing (favorite comedians were the effervescent Laurel Dougall as Mrs Myrtle Meshbesher and gigglicious Samuel Haughton as producer Hal Reisman), and to make it even better the full investment was done in lively choreography that kept your eyes riveted to the stage (Sally Brooks). A nice bonus was chorine/dancer Joanne Clifton, a bright star dropped surprisingly into this production to all of our benefit (gorgeous movement and just smashing in all of her costumes – no wonder the cops couldn’t stay away from her!).
The fantastic songs kept rolling in, the jokes slammed us harder and faster, and the ridiculous events of the play layered on each other like a rainbow cake, every slice hysterical. I’d sit around and quote the play to demonstrate how funny it was, but why make you miss out on a single laugh? Let’s just say … I loved this show and I’m going back. There’s no Lost Musicals this season, but there’s a Found Musical just up the road in Walthamstow, and if you can’t afford to go to Gypsy more than once, you can find just as much joy and fun at the Rose and Crown at a much better price.
(This review is for a preview performance that took place on June 11, 2015. It continues through July 3rd.)