Glenn Miller Orchestra UK, Symphony Hall, Birmingham

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The Independent Culture

A massive American flag is draped across the back of the stage, and the UK version of the Glenn Miller Orchestra troop on in its Second World War military garb. We could half expect a ghostly B-52 to melt through the walls, burying its nose in the Stars and Stripes, re-enacting the old band-leading trombonist's final flight.

Back in those original swinging days, Miller led a vital, dance-fuelling unit, but 60 years on, his music is the subject of what is really a glorified tribute band, even if the UK orchestra is officially licensed by the New York-based Glenn Miller Productions Inc.

The harmless aim of this show is to entertain, breaking up the full-band numbers with vocal spots and dance routines. It's nostalgia, but a lazy form of nostalgia, and the specialised Miller audience is just as much to blame for this static format. They harbour romantic dreams of the swinging Second World War years, but are probably not sufficiently steeped in jazz to get het up by the sounds of Benny Goodman, Artie Shaw, Woody Herman or the Dorsey Brothers. Miller's sound, beautifully translucent though it was, could only glide around the perimeter of jazz, giving a pale- pink glimmer of the music's deep crimson delights.

When it's filtered through the reinterpretative lens of these modern-day British players, the spirit becomes Miller-lite, smoothly played but lacking in vim and rhythmic vigour. The musical director Ray McVay's thick Scottish brogue is mostly incomprehensible, but he breaks the entertainer's golden rule by hectoring the timid crowd into enjoying themselves.

This matinée was billed as a late Christmas special, but with 2004 well under way, the band have wisely limited themselves to "Winter Wonderland" and "Let It Snow".

The Jiving Lindy Hoppers bound on to add some youthful energy, although their leaps and twirls can't really match up to the athleticism and abandonment of the original moves we have all seen on sepia footage from the golden age.

The Moonlight Serenaders form a vocal sub-group, filling the role of The Modernaires. McVay attempts to escape the strictures of a Miller-only repertoire, making tenuous links with the trumpeter Harry James (Miller's torch-carrier, after his untimely demise) and Louis Armstrong. Completely inexplicable, though, is the inclusion of a stray Lloyd Webber tune and the theme from Star Wars.

It is "Moonlight Serenade" that makes the most affecting contrast, creating a suitably luminous aura. The band loosens up in the second half, climaxing with the hits of "Pennsylvania 6-5000" and "In the Mood", the trombone section parading up and down the aisles while the Lindy Hoppers, descending from the stage, pick their partners from a worried audience.

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