THE TRANSATLANTIC MAGAZINE
That wall of laughter you get from a packed theatre in rapture at a musical comedy is something that has been sorely missed these past 18 months. Thankfully it’s back with 100% audiences finally allowed again.
This lavish recreation of the 2011 Tony winning production of the Cole Porter classic couldn’t be a better tonic for our troubled times. The farcical plot of this romp doesn’t need much attention, except to say it involves a motley collection of folks on a trans-Atlantic Liner. There are millionaires, aristos, debutantes, nightclub hoofers, conmen, gangsters, and of course tap-dancing sailors but, as some of them bemoan, not enough celebrities. Cole Porter would have loved the age of Instagram.
It also provides the opportunity to witness - over here and making her West End debut - the wonder that is Sutton Foster. Now considered Broadway Royalty, she won her second Tony for this and, Streep-like, appears to get nominated for every show she’s in. After this she’ll re-open Broadway in The Music Man with Hugh Jackman.
What more can be said about Ms Foster. Singing coaches up and down the land should use her as an object lesson in musical theatre voice. Diction so perfect you hear every syllable, amazing breath control and even when belting out some comic ‘list song’ she makes every word count. But to be a star, you need more than mastering technique and period styling. You also need to bring something of yourself to it, and she does. She's a nifty dancer as well. The daft Act 2 number ‘The Gypsy in Me’ is usually an open invitation for ham acting, but Foster manages to bring a classy restraint to it. This makes it even funnier, but also lets her co-star shine. She sings a string of classics written for Ethel Merman, better than Ethel ever could.
She’s aided here by a sublime British supporting cast who are directed with scalpel-like finesse by Kathleen Marshall, who also choreographed the sublime dance numbers. There’s Robert Lindsay relishing his role as Public Enemy No. 13 Moonface Martin - his timing is as sharp as any old Music Hall veteran. There’s the lithe and winsome Felicity Kendal, now reduced to scatty old dames, but giving this one some gumption and loving every minute of it. And there’s Gary Wilmot, always a solid comic foil, here as a befuddled Wall St investor. With a large cast of principals everyone gets to shine and more importantly to catch their breath.
Three of the younger talents shine out. Samuel Edwards brings a boyish charm to Billy the romantic lead and is period perfect, while Nicole-Lily Baisden, as Hope, embodies the perfect ingenue lead.
Carly Mercedes Dyer, however, as con woman Erma (sidekick to Moonface), commits grand larceny, stealing the show with her sassy number ‘Buddy Beware’. Being sexy, funny, and singing to perfection, all while clambering over a chorus of sailors as she dismounts from a balcony, is quite a feat. That number, with its combination of tart wit and gay abandon, sums up the whole mood of the piece. Timothy Crouse (son of Russell) and John Weidman both delicately and expertly revamped the book to make it work for today and did it without losing the period feel.
For lovers of musicals there’s no better than this. The effervescence of it will knock you out.