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 The Theatreguide.London Review

Riverside Studios  Spring 2013

This sprightly little musical is a salute to a man, almost forgotten today, who was a major cabaret and recording star from the 1920s through the 1950s. If it is not quite the show it thinks it is, what it is is thoroughly fascinating and entertaining. 

Leslie Hutchinson, Caribbean born and American raised, was a singer-pianist most of whose career was spent in Britain and France. Joe Evans' play focusses on two episodes in the 1920s – Hutch's meeting with Cole Porter, who became his mentor (and lover), teaching him musicianship and showmanship and giving him many songs that became the core of his repertoire, and his affair with Lady Edwina Mountbatten, that led to a scandal that almost destroyed his career. (He survived the scandal and went on to even more success afterwards, but the play does not deal with that.) 

The fascinating thing about the musical Hutch is that it really isn't about Hutch at all. Whether he realises or not, Joe Evans is more interested, and far more interesting, in exploring the two marriages Hutchinson impacts. 

Both the Porters and the Mountbattens had open marriages, each spouse aware and tolerant of the other's side dalliances, and yet Evans presents both Linda Porter and Louis Mountbatten surprising themselves with their unhappiness over their partner's affair with Hutch. And it is their pain and confusion we relate and respond to most fully. 

Meanwhile Hutchinson himself is never really explored. We're told a couple of times that he resents the racial prejudice he encounters and that he's insecure in his talent, but for the most part he just walks through the play affecting others. 

We even have to take it on faith that he's a brilliant performer. Newcomer Sheldon Green plays the piano and sings, but the script and Linnie Reedman's direction repeatedly reduce him to cocktail lounge pianist status, providing quiet background underscoring to dramatic scenes involving the others. 

The musical's score includes more than sixteen songs, most by Porter, ranging from classics (Begin The Beguine, In The Still Of The Night) to the less familiar (I'm A Gigolo). About half are presented as performance pieces by Hutch or a chorus line, the rest fitted into the story as book songs and sung by the others. 

These are the most powerful, since they grow out of characterisations and illuminate the figures we're most moved by – Linda Porter singing of her pain, Edwina having a rare brief flash of self-awareness. 

Indeed, one of the most touching (and slightly bizarre) moments has Louis Mountbatten (Andrew Mathys), sitting in a night club, pick up a violin and play a Porter tune as a mournful underscoring to his wife's seduction of Hutch. 

With Sheldon Green not given much to work with as Hutch and Sid Phoenix directed to be little more than elegant and soigné as Cole, the most fully developed characterisations are Imogen Daines' selfishly hedonistic Edwina, Andrew Mathys' quietly suffering Louis, and particularly Nell Mooney's bravely torch-carrying Linda Porter. 

I really can't tell whether playwright, director and performers realise that the show they're putting on is not the one they set out to do. But it is much richer and more involving than a mere biography-of-a-star would have been, and well worth seeing for that.

Gerald Berkowitz

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Review - Hutch - Riverside Studios 2013  

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