It’s a fair assumption that most theatre audiences will have a pretty good idea what to expect from a Cole Porter classic. Should this not be the case, however, the High Society programme from Barnes and Richmond Operatic Society (BROS), gives a well-documented history of this musical, including notes on the music and dance styles that the show, produced in 1998, promises to deliver.
BROS Chair, Louise Ellard-Turnbull refers in her programme message to "the lines between professional and amateur theatre becoming increasingly blurred." I wholeheartedly agree on this occasion and furthermore the singing and acting from Heather Stockwell (Tracy Lord) could have graced any West End Stage in my opinion.
Set in Long Island, New York State, the plot is somewhat lightweight, and it is quite a difficult show to deliver, being more of a play with music than a true musical. Director, Deb McDowell does a first-rate job with a well-chosen and talented cast, who deliver a well-timed and pacey show.
The ten-piece band does a fabulous job under the direction of MD, Janet Simpson. On a couple of occasions, particularly at the beginning of the show, I felt that the band was a little on the loud side during the ensemble numbers, making it difficult to distinguish the vocals, but the musicians were very sympathetic during the solo / duet numbers and the balance was perfect.
The choreography is spot on for the period. The overall impression is simplicity with style, which I know can only be achieved if the dancing and movement is exceptionally well rehearsed and perfectly executed. I can honestly say that all the dance numbers are polished and the ensemble work slick. It is refreshing to see some slightly older men (I won’t mention any names!) still moving well. On the other end of the scale age-wise, Nancy Robinson (young Tracy) gives a very heartfelt dance performance with her able partner Evan Huntley-Robertson (young Dexter). In the opening of Act 2, I really didn’t know where to look as everyone was moving around and keeping in character so well there are some wonderful interactions to watch. Jason Thomas (George Kittredge) has some delightfully awkward choreography in, I Worship You which makes a good contrast to the easy natural and ‘comfortable’ movements by Nick Moorhead (C.K. Dexter Haven) throughout the show. Both men handle direction well in their numbers. Congratulations to the actors and to Jen Moorhead – your experience as choreographer really shows!
The attention to detail in set design and costumes enhances the performance and the success of this production owes as much to the technicians off stage as it did to the performers on. The various scene changes are handled with ease and the whole performance is seamless. I like the use of the trellis’ in various configurations. The lighting and sound go almost unnoticed as they are faultless, and one tends only to notice if there is something that doesn’t work as it should. Well done all teams involved in this production – too many to name individually.
I would like to pick out the following for a special mention (in no particular order), but everyone should be proud of their performance whether named or not!..
Heather Stockwell (Tracy Lord) - fantastic performance, brimming with energy, faultless vocals and your decline into inebriation is expertly handled!
Nick Moorhead (C.K. Dexter Haven) – works really well with Dinah in particular. Love Little One especially. Good contrast in character to George.
The Singing Servants – fantastic harmony work, great facial expressions, polished dancing/movement and you've managed to keep in character throughout.
Rebecca Nardin (Dinah Lord) – great energy and enthusiasm in this role which you appear to genuinely enjoy. I love Paris is wonderful – well sung and danced.
Carl Smith (Uncle Willie) – great character with perfect amount of humour. Really enjoyable, I’m Getting Myself Ready For You and Say it With Gin. The audience are loving your onstage moments before you even open your mouth!
Rachel Williams (Margaret Lord) – good believable relationship with your onstage family. Perfect diction throughout. Some nice touches to this cameo role and well sung too.
Bex Wood (Liz Imbrie) – good chemistry with Mike. Love the facial expressions and body language in, I’m Getting Myself Ready for You. You could hear a pin drop in, He’s a Right Guy which is beautifully sung, a really enjoyable number.
This is my first visit to Richmond Theatre and my first BROS show, but I’m hoping it won’t be my last. I was humming the ‘big numbers’ the whole train journey home!