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 The Theatreguide.London Review


High Society
Shaftsbury Theatre Autumn-Winter 2005

This thoroughly charming stage version of the movie musical version of The Philadelphia Story has a lot of things going for it and only one real flaw, which I might as well get out of the way at the start.

This production was mounted at the Open Air Theatre in Regents Park last year and subsequently toured the country, and you may find that it feels more like a touring show than a West End musical.

Everything, from sets to performances, is just a wee bit too modest for those wishing the high energy and flash of a full-blown musical. Just about everything about this show is more than adequate, but no more than that. Unless you adjust your expectations to the level of a pleasant little show, you might be vaguely disappointed.

And that's the worst thing I can say about it. It certainly is more consistently successful than the too-often-too-dreary Old Vic production of The Philadelphia Story earlier this year. The main players are all attractive, the Cole Porter songs are, of course, great, and the thing bounces along as merrily as you could hope, with only the occasional slight falter.

This is not the same stage musical that played London in 1987, but a later American adaptation with a different script and a different mix of Porter songs to supplement the few from the film. And so Porter classic like Just One of Those Things and I Love Paris are shoehorned, sometimes a bit awkwardly, into the story of the heiress whose second wedding is forestalled by a visit from her first husband.

(You might also find that a few songs, like a lugubrious Who Wants To Be A Millionaire, are performed at unexpected tempos, but you'll adjust.)

The show is being advertised as a vehicle for Jerry Hall, the famous rock-star-ex-wife, but she actually has the tiny role of the mother. She looks beautiful, speak-sings the very few lines assigned her adequately, and manages in the very few dance moments assigned her to stay almost in step with the others. In short, she does no harm.

Katherine Kingsley, who can sing, dance and look lovely at the same time, is a fine Tracy Lord. She creates and sustains the ice princess veneer while still letting us catch glimpses of the capacity for fun and emotional depth that make the character worth saving.

Graham Buckley is a manly and attractive C. K. Dexter Haven and Paul Robinson a boyish and attractive Mike Connor. Royston Kean and Claire Redcliffe have fun stealing their scenes as, respectively, randy old Uncle Willie and precocious kid sister Dinah. Ian Talbot's direction, Gillian Gregory's choreography and Paul Farnsworth's design are all serviceable without ever rising to the really exciting.

Were I to come upon this production at the Palace Theatre Norwich (if there is such a place) I would recommend it enthusiastically. My only hesitation here is that London audiences might expect a little more in the way of star power, production values and overall pizzazz than the very pleasant little show this is.


Gerald Berkowitz

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Review - High Society - Shaftsbury 2005