Bells Are Ringing
Union Theatre Autumn 2010
This brassy 1956 Broadway musical, written by Betty Comden and Adolph Green as a vehicle for actress Judy Holliday, wasn't the best of its time - the same year saw My Fair Lady - but its high quality and fun level testify to how superior even B-list musicals were during that golden age, and this revival by the tiny but mighty Union Theatre is a welcome Good Night Out.
The score – lyrics by Comden and Green, music by Jule Styne - features two classics, Just In Time and The Party's Over, and several comic songs that are favourites of musical fans, Perfect Relationship, Simple Little System and Drop That Name - and these days even Andrew Lloyd Webber has trouble coming up with five great songs in a single show.
The plot, as with most musicals, is openly minimal and contrived - in the days before answering machines and voicemail, an operator at an answering service gets personally involved with her clients, offering cold cures, career advice and just a sympathetic ear.
She's fallen in love with one client just from his voice, and manages to meet him without letting him know who she is. He falls for her, complications arise and are overcome, and they live tunefully ever after.
It's a sweet story, the characters are attractive, there's lots of comedy along the way, and of course all those excellent songs.
Like any vehicle, it depends on its star, and Anna-Jane Casey rises to the moment. She makes the most of her sprightly musical numbers while still tugging at your heart in The Party's Over, she dances well, and she's funny.
She may have to work a little too visibly at being twinkly and adorable, but she gets there, and she's as irresistible as you could want.
The role of her love interest just asks for someone manly who can sing, and Gary Milner delivers, providing solid support, and it is noteworthy that most of the cast in this fringe production have solid West End credentials.
Director Paul Foster and choreographer Alistair David do wonders in the tiny space, moving people and props about with grace and inventiveness.
It would be nice to think this is a tryout for a possible tour or West End transfer - show, production, star and potential audiences all deserve more than this brief fringe run.
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Review of Bells Are Ringing - Union Theatre 2010