Festival Theatre, Chichester (UK) • 15 June 2007 • 7:30pm
Music by Richard Rodgers. Lyrics by Lorenz Hart. Book by George Oppenheimer. Adapted by Martin Connor.
Directed by Martin Connor. Choreographer: Bill Deamer. Musical director: Mark Warman. With Lorna Luft (Phyllis Owen), Sophia Ragavelas (Baby Rose Owen), Rolf Saxon (Seymour Fleming), Mark McGee (Valentine La Mar), Donna Steele (Billie Edwards), Matthew Hart (Gus Fielding), Kay Murphy (Dolores Reynolds)…
The first musical I saw at the Chichester Festival was Divorce Me, Darling! The year was 1997 and the delightful show was my first encounter with Liliane Montevecchi. I’ve gone back to Chichester several times over the years, as there is always a musical offering in the festival programme. The most brilliant show I’ve ever seen there is My One and Only with the wonderful Tim Flavin and the wonderful Janie Dee, one of the most enjoyable experiences of my theatre-going life, thanks in no small part to Gareth Valentine’s felicitous musical direction.
This production of Babes in Arms is a very enjoyable addition to the string of Chichester musicals. It is, of course, a gem of a show: no other score, except maybe Pal Joey, can boast more Rodgers & Hart standards (“The Lady is a Tramp,” “My Funny Valentine,” “Where of When,” “I Wish I Were in Love Again,” “Imagine…”) Both the direction and choreography are very respectful of the show and full of interesting and surprising ideas. There are some outstanding performances in the cast, most notably the comic duo of Gus and Dolores, played expertly by Matthew Hart and Kay Murphy. Lorna Luft gives the expected powerhouse performance and wins the audience over, deservedly. The part of Mrs. Owen is somewhat reminiscent of the part of Mama Rose in Gypsy, which she has played.
Although some dance numbers are entrancing (especially the “Light on Our Feet” tap routine), others are less impressive, presumably because of the heterogeneous dancing skills of the cast. I am grateful that they did the full “Imagine” ballet (a wonderful number expressing the young performers’ love of performing — the first one in a series going up to A Chorus Line), but there were moments when it was less than breathtaking. Also, the sound coming from the 12-piece orchestra was at times regrettably thin.
But that didn’t prevent the show from being a very enjoyable experience. The build-up to the finale, in particular, is expertly done, and it lets the audience go out into the night with their heads full of enchanting music, clever and touching lyrics and a wonderful feeling of warm-hearted dizziness.