High Society, Shaftesbury Theatre, London

Review,Michael Coveney
Tuesday 30 April 2013 04:00

She raises her left arm, and it looks like all her concentration is involved; for a second, anyway, before the arm gives up and droops. She's decorative, and well fitted out in lovely costumes, but she looks as if she is on stage to enjoy being there, not to give a performance.

And she's not even playing the heroine, the spoilt socialite Tracy Lord; she's playing her mother, a small role last illuminated on the London stage by Julia McKenzie, a proper actress, in the Old Vic production of the play of the musical, The Philadelphia Story.

This swellegant, elegant party is a mish-mash using some of the 1956 film's songs, some of Porter's earlier numbers, and the 1997 stage version by the American Arthur Kopit.

Outdoors in Regent's Park two years ago, Ian Talbot's production was just the summer ticket. Inside at the Shaftesbury, badly miced, desperately choreographed and tinnily accompanied by a band of just six, it looks a bit cheap, with white trellis, neat topiary and a floating mansion "design by Paul Farnsworth" that puts you more in mind of a downmarket stand at the Ideal Home Exhibition than a Long Island retreat of swanky privilege.

Kopit's big move is to make the servants the chorus and thread the story of Tracy's thaw - the virgin goddess discovers her own heart while choosing between three men, her reformed alcoholic ex, her dull fiancé and a louche journalist - through a narrative of dance, vaudeville shtick and great songs. This might be enough for some customers. Kopit has certainly arranged the plot of the renewed marriage of Tracy's parents, and the resolution of the other partnerships, more gracefully than did Richard Eyre's 1987 stage version.

Katherine Kingsley is a harsh, unlovable Tracy and, in the Richards role, Ria Jones belts out her numbers with a too obvious brio.

Paul Robinson's Mike Connor is a bit of a sun-tanned wimp who looks better than he sings, while Graham Bickley in the Cary Grant/Bing Crosby/Kevin Spacey role of Dexter Haven brings true musical theatre class to bear on his "True Love" duet with the still impervious Tracy.

To 25 March 2006 (0870 145 1163)

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