Tuesday, July 28, 2015

"High Society" at the Old Vic - perhaps the second Act was better. I didn't stay to find out

"High Society", at the Old Vic theatre, received mostly good reviews. I beg to differ. Maybe it redeemed itself after the interval but I didn't hang around to find out. I'd had my fill of this ill-acted, ill-staged and mostly poorly sung production well before the end of the first act.

The film of "High Society" on which this production is of course based is not high art, but it is a classic. You can no more add new songs to it (even if they are by Cole Porter) than you could add an aria from Figaro to Cosi Fan Tutte. There are enough good songs in the movie, we didn't need any more.

Kate Fleetwood as Tracy Lord was no Grace Kelly. Tracy doesn't sing much in the movie and doesn't need to. To have her singing "I love Paris" in this stage show was gratuitous and unnecessary. Great song. Wrong context. Ms Fleetwood sang well but didn't convince in character. And she didn't look right either.  Barbara Flynn as Mrs Lord was miscast and had a fragile American accent which came and went (mostly the latter). Ellie Bamber as Dinah Lord was the best thing in the show and looks a prodigious talent.

The male leads were uninspiring prancing around the far too small stage rather cautiously and singing at best like escapees from an amateur production. Indeed from the start this seemed like a good effort from a group of keen amateurs rather than an expensive and much hyped professional show. 

You could argue, I suppose, that transferring a movie to the stage requires compromises. Perhaps it does. But when it is well done (42nd Street; Singing in the Rain) the changes don't matter much. But making a (mostly) non singing part into a singing part, introducing for no good reason a plethora of songs that weren't in the original, and making the character around whom the action revolves appear first in the action not in a pretty dress but in hunting gear holding a shotgun and a dead pheasant - you've got to be kidding!

Perhaps the show picks up in the second Act and I've been unfair? But if Cole Porter had wanted to revive his great standard "Just one of those things" for High Society he could have done so. He didn't and instead wrote a totally new original score. The producers of this travesty of a production seem to think they know better than Porter and know better than the great Hollywood director Charles Walters in changing both characters and storyline. They don't.