Show: Babes in Arms
Venue: Ye Olde Rose and Crown Theatre Pub
Credits: Music: Richard Rodgers. Lyrics: Lorenz Hart. Book & Lyrics: Rogers & Hart adapted by John Guare. Produced by All Ster Productions
Author: Ned Hopkins
Perfomence Date: 22/07/2016
Babes in Arms
Ned Hopkins | 23 Jul 2016 13:18pm
Photo: David Ovenden
As with many classic musical comedies of Broadway’s so-called golden age, Babes In Arms has been modified several times down the years. Originally produced in 1937 it is, perhaps, the best known model for all those ‘let’s do the show right here in the barn’ confections that brightened people’s lives in the immediate pre-WW2 period.
Purged of its original political references in a 1959 Broadway revival – the book for which was the accepted version for four decades – New York’s City Centre’s Encores again revisited the show in 1999 in an edgier adaptation by the American playwright John Guare. This is the version that All Star Productions presents at Ye Olde Rose & Crown until 7th August.
Whether it is the best ‘cut’ of the show or not (the 2009 Chichester revival chose to use the milder but arguably tidier ‘50s book as its starting point, but added a character and songs) matters not one jot. In Brendan Matthew’s pacey production, it is the sublime Rodgers & Hart numbers that are the thing. An ensemble of fourteen gifted performers delivers them with verve and polish. Carole Todd’s fine choreography adds distinction to the show, in particular her work on the two ballets, which develop the numbers Johnny One Note, and Imagine.
As the nominal leading man Valentine and his girl Billie, Jack McCann and Ruth Betteridge provide secure lynch pins. Betteridge sparkles in her interpretations of My Funny Valentine (which refers to the name of her boyfriend not the calendar event) and The Lady is a Tramp. In the secondary principal roles, Meg McCarthy and Dominic Owen give Dolores and Gus as much comic characterisation and gusto as they will take, especially in their numbers I Wish I Were in Love Again and You are So Fair. Jamie Tait and Alex Okoampia execute a nifty tap routine, and Joey Warne and Beth Bradley bring élan and style to the parts of Peter and Baby Rose. But everyone gets a chance to shine sooner or later.
The plot of Babes in Arms is even more footling than most of the period, despite unresolved – yet strangely timely – story threads involving the conflicting politics of the left-wing kids (one actually calls himself a communist) versus those of the racist, right-wing Southerner. It is the latter who underwrites the show, Calhoun’s Follies, which they devise to prevent the sheriff making them labour on the work farm. Oh, and a deus ex machina arrives in the form of an aviator, whose unfortunate crash-landing in the field owned by Valentine’s father results in some over-complicated comic business, yet leaves everyone rich and happy. Don’t ask! I got lost somewhere along the way, but it was all expertly done and huge fun.
If you ever wondered where all those aforementioned standards (along with Where and When and Way Out West) came from, well, now you know. The Sinatra, Garland and Fitzgerald versions, relayed down the ages through tannoys and transistors, provided a musical background to the social lives of many of us, and what joy it is to watch a new generation of talented young actors putting these evergreens across with infectious enthusiasm, making them fresh all over again. And in this hot weather too!
Joana Dias’ all-purpose barn set generally works well and provides an atmospheric framework for the energetic numbers. However, I have to confess I was sometimes not always sure exactly where we were meant to be. Maybe a bit more sign-posting?
Once again, one of the great joys of visiting All Star Productions is hearing Aaron Clingham’s charming musical arrangements and his five-piece band expertly do the work of a full pit orchestra.
So, overall, a production that provides perfect, nostalgic entertainment for a summer’s evening. I left the theatre light-footed and humming:
When love congeals – it soon reveals
The faint aroma – of performing seals
The double-crossing of a pair of heels
I wish I were in love again.
Ah, if only!