Musicals at Ye Olde Rose & Crown just get better and better. “It’s election year” a character informs us - like we needed reminding. But he’s referring, of course, to the mid-term USA elections of 1950 when Out Of This World first hit The White Way. The show is peppered with such anachronisms. Call Me Madam, Irving Berlin’s rival show which opened the same year, soon gets a mention; whilst Porter plunders his own Kiss Me, Kate with a knowing reference to Too Darn Hot, a shameless piece of product placement. When Out of This World opened at New York’s New Century Theatre, his biggest hit was still playing just up the road at The Shubert.
But oh, that the creators of some current musicals could indeed take us out of this world and craft such beautifully integrated confections of wit and melody as this!
Loosely based on Plautus’s BC comedy Amphitryon and its later variants by Moliere and Giraudoux, Porter, the writers Dwight Taylor and Reginald Lawrence do for Roman mythology what Kiss Me Kate had done for Broadway musicals - i.e. send it up with affection and a great sense of style. And, ok, it may not be the masterpiece The Shrew show was, but the score, sadly neglected, is certainly up there with Porter’s other best (arguably Anything Goes and Nymph Errant). In the past thirty years there have been two good productions in the UK: a GSMD student revival in the '80s and a ‘revised’ version at Chichester (2004); but this is the real thing and, mercifully includes the blissful number From This Moment On which had been foolishly ‘lost’ in Philadelphia on the advice of visiting director George Abbott. Certainly, it is the best-sung one of them all.
The plot concerns the wayward libido of Jupiter, hearty-voiced Cameron Bernard Jones “positively teeming with sex” as the chorus informs us from the off. He sends Mercury - Hugo Joss Catton, whose voice and personality would fill Wembley Stadium and then some - to lure the honeymooning Helen, played by the charming and ever-reliable Ruth Betteridge, to the Arcadia Inn in the Greek mountains. Mercury then arranges for her news reporter hubby Art (Adam Hepworth making bricks out of straw in goofy specs) to be conveniently despatched to Athens on a story, descending from Olympus to seduce Helen, hotly pursued by his cynical, wise-cracking wife Juno - the superb Rhiannon Moushall. Along with a bunch of other sub-romances, this being a musical comedy - albeit with a delicious touch of loucheness - all is more or less happily resolved by curtain fall.
En route to the deflowering, we are treated to one beautifully staged number after another, seamlessly flowing in and out of the merry dialogue at a rate of knots. The production never drops a stitch or puts a toe-tapping foot wrong. Slick work from both director Randy Smartnick and his choreographer Kate McPhee - with a special word for the balletic contribution of Kate Deacon whose appearances take the musicality of the show into another zone. Danny Becker is also impressive as a gun(g)-ho gangster and dances a treat. But this is another ensemble show and everyone enters totally into the spirit of the piece.
As usual, Aaron Clingham has done an great job deconstructing the original lush (Robert Russell Bennett) orchestrations for a four piece band, including the three-quarter time of Where, Oh Where? There is the obligatory Porter signature beguine (I Am Loved) and one witty catalogue number after another, from the list of famous beauties in They Couldn’t Compare to You to the goodies in Cherry Pies Out to Be; not forgetting such soaring ballads as Use Your Imagination and The Song Of The Night. Ms Moushall wrings every ounce of humour from her point numbers - although it is difficult to believe her when she tells us Nobody’s Chasing Me! But then there isn’t a dud song (and there are twenty-four) in the show.
Porter’s lyrics often land just the right side of decency. Mercury, recalling his conquests lets slip:
“There was Melisande, a platinum blonde,
How I loved to ruffle her locks.
There was bright Aurora and then Pandora
Who let me open her...”
The Chorus drown him just in time. Then there’s Juno’s moaning:
“The bee is chasing petunias
The queen is chasing the bee
The worm is chasing the lettuce
But nobody's chasing me.”
As the cliché goes, they don’t make ‘em like that any more!
Good to note that the venue has conquered its acoustics problem: every word and note comes over clear as a bell. This may well be helped by the simple but effective all-purpose set (designed by Andrew Yon) framed by white Ionic columns, which places the band out of harm’s way up on Olympus behind a balustrade at the rear of the stage. Kate McPhee’s white, often diaphanous costumes mainly highlighted by yellows, gold, blue and silver and the occasional greens also give the show, well … class!
A TV jukebox panellist used to say: “Oi’ll give it FIVE!” I like to think she’d have been with me on this one.