Cliffs Pavilion, Southend
Tuesday 22nd May 2013
The glitz of the rich and glamorous Lord family is depicted in fine, exuberant style in this new production of the 1950s musical, based on the play The Philadelphia Story. As the family prepare for the wedding of eldest daughter Tracey to the sensible, boring George, neighbour and ex-husband C. K. Dexter Haven arrives his charm and wit a delight to all but the cold, hard Tracey. Meanwhile, following a leak to the press regarding Tracey's father's involvement in an unsavoury affair, a pair of reporters arrive from Spy magazine to investigate the story while posing as wedding reporters.
This production includes a tight, energetic ensemble who play members of the serving staff, and have the responsibility of moving around the large set pieces. The flexibility of the set allows for the various rooms in the large Lord manor to be depicted in entirely different shapes and layouts. Simply achieved and incorporating a stage revolve the effect was excellent and gave a grand feel to the beautiful setting. A shame during our performance that the follow spotting did not live up to the standards set on stage as the poor execution became quite a distraction.
There was not a weak link among the excellent cast. Sophie Bould was gorgeous as Tracey Lord, maintaining a stony facade throughout the first half until the champagne of the wedding eve party melted her resolve. With a sweet voice and commanding presence she was an ideal leading lady. Michael Praed was suave and charming with a twinkle in his eye as the laid back ex-husband Dexter. A marvellous comic turn by Teddy Kempner as Uncle Willy, chasing after Spy magazine photographer Liz Imbrie played with ideally pitched wry humour by Alex Young in an outstanding performance. Daniel Boys was also superb as her colleague Mike Connor, with his rendition of "You're Sensational" a musical high point. Such a shame this role only required a number and a half of him, as his performance was entirely captivating.
As a die hard fan of the Sinatra/Crosby/Kelly movie version I could not help but miss the inclusion of the Jazz festival and the additional music that goes along with it, led by Crosby and Louis Armstrong in the film. Significant differences also to a song as pivotal as "Well, Did you Evah!", which in the film version is an iconic duet between Frank Sinatra and Bing Crosby, but in this production was staged as a large ensemble number. Not that it was poorly done, quite the opposite it was a very enjoyable piece, but the farcical ins and outs of the party took far too long at the top of the second act and could have been more succinctly portrayed.
Well worth a visit as it continues on tour, this is a worthy production of a much loved show.