As one enters the theatre one is surrounded on all sides by a white silhouette of the New York skyline which makes the space seem much bigger than it is. It needs to; this is a musical with many changes of scenery and a company of fourteen actors and four onstage musicians. In Fringe terms, that’s a cast of thousands.
The theatre company in residence, All Star productions, is dedicated to presenting ‘rarely performed or neglected works of musical theatre’, Face The Music is both.
First performed in 1932, in the depths of the Depression, Face the Music is a comedy about poverty and the need for money. The sense of financial collapse informs the entire evening and is the source of an unending stream of wisecracks. In a nice reference to the period, apple crates are used as chairs, reminding us of the bankrupt businessmen who turned to selling apples on Wall Street.
The plot, for want of a better word, is a variation on our old friend ‘Let’s put on a show’. This time, it’s, ‘Let’s raise the money to put on a show.’
For the rest of the evening we watch people trying to raise money and finding a rich fool who is assured that losing money would be a great investment. ‘Because it’s show business, they think it’s a business’ they say. ‘Want to get rid of a lot of money? Back a show!’ they urge him. ‘No one’s got more money than I can lose in a show’ he boasts. ‘Your money is as good as lost right now’, the idiot backer is guaranteed. ‘700,000 dollars – what have you got to lose?’ ‘800,000 dollars’ comes the snappy answer.
The action gets zanier when the rehearsals begin (there was a funny passage about the use of elephants), followed by the loss of the money (lead-in to a big choral religious number as, failing all else, the company turn to God.) Then it’s onward to the retirement of the producer, a publicity scam that goes wrong, which means the police get involved; there are raids, tax evasion, general chaos and an investigation that turns into another show. Fortunately, everything and anything is an excuse for a song and dance and the evening bounces along.
The combination of optimism and cynicism is what makes plays and films of this period so perpetually watchable. The two feed each other; optimism sweetens the cynicism, and the cynicism is buoyed up by the optimism.
The characters have an innocence that is endearing as they sing: ‘Just around the corner, there’s a rainbow in the sky, so let’s have another cup of coffee, and let’s have another piece of pie’.
For all its charm and wit, the story is really too scattered to keep us involved. The evening is really a lot of nice songs, jolly dancing and a string of gags as if the author’s couldn’t bear to leave out a funny line, even if it means adding another scene to get it in. One is left feeling that Face the Music is about everything but the kitchen sink, and maybe even that, if one bothered to look for it. But why bother? It’s funny, it’s fast, the dancing is excellent, the actors are all delightful, and the whole evening is overflowing with good humour and youthful vitality.
When they wrote this, Berlin and Hart were young and the exuberance and energy in the production reflects that youth. I think they would have enjoyed this revival.
Review by Kate Beswick
Face The Music
The show opened on Broadway on February 17th 1932 playing for 165 performances. After lying dormant for nearly 70 years, the show was restored with an adaptation by David Ives for presentation at City Centre Encores!
Producer Hal Reisman desperately seeks backers for his Broadway show. Because of the Great Depression, once rich investors are “Lunching at the Automat”. In his search, Reisman meets crooked policemen who need to get rid of their illegal money before they are found out. The corrupt Police Chief Martin van Buren Meshbesher and his eccentric wife Myrtle become investors in the show, expecting it to be a failure. However, when risqué material is added the show is raided and the government tries to close it and the flop becomes an instant hit because of the publicity.
With both music and lyrics composed by Irving Berlin (WHITE CHRISTMAS, TOP HAT, CALL ME MADAM) the snappy musical features such memorable numbers as Let’s Have Another Cup of Coffee, Soft Lights and Sweet Music, Manhattan Madness, and I Say Its Spinach (and the Hell with It).
The Creative Team is led by Director Brendan Matthew and Musical Director Aaron Clingham, who were both nominated in the Broadway World Awards last year for their work on All Star Productions production of The Apple Tree.
Ye Olde Rose and Crown Theatre, 53 Hoe Street, London, E17 4SA
9th June to 3rd July 2015
Tuesday – Saturday at 7.30pm; Sundays at 3.00pm; No performances on Mondays
Director: Brendan Matthew
Musical Director: Aaron Clingham
Choreographer: Sally Brooks
Assistant Director: Catriona Mackenzie
Production Manager: Kat Gagan
Designer: Joana Dias
Lighting Designer: Sky Bembury
Production Assistant: Angie Lawrence
Casting: Benjamin Newsome
Producer: Andrew Yon
Presented by arrangement with R&H Theatricals Europe
Sunday 14th June 2015