Lady, Be Good!

“Lady, be good!”

George Gershwin – music
Ira Gershwin – lyrics
Guy Bolton & Fred Thompson – book

Dick Trevor – Chris Ellis-Stanton
Susie Trevor – Kate Nelson
Jack Robinson – Norman Bowman
Josephine Vanderwater – Hattie Ladbury
Daisy Parke – Charlotte Warren
Bertie Bassett – Giles Taylor
J. Watterson ‘Watty’ Watkins – Paul Grunert
Shirley Vernon – Rachel Jerram
Manuel Estrada – Thomas Padden
Rufus Parke – Steve Watts
A flunkey – Joseph Pitcher

Ensemble – Alan Bradshaw, Chris Edgerley, Hayley Gallivan, Anna Lowe, Martin McCarthy, David McGranaghan, Nicolas Pinto-Sander & Gemma Sutton

The Band:
Duncan Lamont Jr (flute, clarinet & alto saxophone), Emma Fowler (clarinet, bass clarinet & baritone saxophone), Juliette Leighton-Jones (violin), Richard Hammond (trumpet), Liam Kirkman (trombone), Graeme Taylor (guitars), David Berry (double bass & tuba), Robert Millett (percussion)
Catherine Jayes (musical director & keyboard)

Ian Talbot – Director
Paul Farnsworth – Designer
Bill Deamer – Choreographer
Jason Taylor – Lighting designer
Gregory Clarke – Sound designer

Reviewed by: Michael Darvell

Reviewed: 20 July, 2007
Venue: Open Air Theatre, Regent’s Park, London

Weather-wise this summer has not been a good season for open-air theatre. It was touch and go on this day with another horrendous downpour almost putting a stop to the performances at the Open Air Theatre. Luckily the matinee didn’t start till 4.30, by which time the sun had shone for several hours and dried off the surplus water that hangs about the seating in Regent’s Park. The show went up a little late, the bad weather holding one of the actors up. Another didn’t make it in time, so the understudy, Hayley Gallivan, who has just got her Equity card, went on for Charlotte Warren and was totally delightful. In fact the whole cast of bright young things are just the ticket and inject new life into the show, bringing an immense freshness to a classic musical comedy, and executing the whole thing with style and panache but without ever sending it up.

“Lady, be good!” was important in the history of musical comedy. For a start in 1924 it was George and Ira Gershwin’s first joint venture on a full-length show and the first big hit for Fred and Adele Astaire. It also heralded the entry of jazz into the theatre, which had previously relied on operetta as a seminal, influencing source of music. It has to be said, however, that the show is eminently silly, although in a witty way in the book and lyrics. It’s a story typical of its time, an inconsequential nonsense about Dick and Susie, a penniless brother-and-sister vaudeville act who get evicted. To bankroll his lifestyle Dick decides to drop his girlfriend Shirley and go for a wealthy heiress, one Josephine Vanderwater. But Shirley plans to stop him, while their lawyer, Watty Watkins, suggests she pose as a wealthy widow to claim an inheritance of one Jack Robinson. Then the late Mr Robinson turns up … with hilarious results.

However, it’s not the plot that has ever interested the audience in this kind of show, although the present cast do wonders with winkling-out the best lines and situations and putting them to good and humorous effect. No, it is George Gershwin’s music and Ira Gershwin’s lyrics that give the show its raison d’être. Director Ian Talbot admits to a little tinkering. One character, Jeff White, is completely dropped, as he has no bearing on the plot. Of the 22 original numbers only 13 are retained and some were dropped even from the 1924 production, including, of all things, ‘The man I love’.

This song eventually became a hit without ever finding a home in a Gershwin show, despite its also being tried out in “Strike up the band” and “Rosalie”. As well as cutting songs, Ian Talbot has also axed the overture and interpolated a couple of other Gershwin numbers, so that this production now opens with ‘Fascinating rhythm’. It’s a very good and eminently catchy score and includes other classic numbers such as ‘Oh, lady, be good!’, ‘The half of it, dearie, blues’, ‘I’d rather Charleston’ and ‘Little Jazz Bird’.

Chris Ellis-Stanton and Kate Nelson play the brother and sister (Fred and Adele) roles and they make a good team. What is so good about this production is that the piece is full of dance and every single member of the company is a really nifty hoofer. The choreography is by Bill Deamer, responsible for the dance tunes in this year’s brilliant Chichester Festival production of “Babes in Arms” Good work comes from Norman Bowman as Jack Robinson and Hattie Ladbury who, as heiress Josephine Vanderwater, with her rather superior air, reminded me of Ann Miller. Giles Taylor gives new life to the silly ass role of squiffy Bertie Bassett and Paul Grunert as lawyer Watty Watkins provides much of the humour in a style like the Marx Brothers crossed with Damon Runyon. If he hasn’t already done Nicely-Nicely Johnson in “Guys and Dolls”, then he ought to. The band under Catherine Jayes and the ensemble performers play, sing and dance up a storm. And the whole thing is set against Paul Farnsworth’s starkly evocative, black and white, jazz-age designs. You’d be mad to miss it, weather permitting or not.

  • Lady, Be Good! is in repertory at the Open Air Theatre until 25 August
  • Box Office: 08700 601811
  • Open Air Theatre

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