There was an outcry from certain parts of the theatre industry in April 2014, when it was announced that the services of the musicians in the London production of War Horse would no longer be required. The then management of the National Theatre had decided they would use recorded music for that production instead. Puttin’ On The Ritz goes one stage further than this, presenting an entire concert… without a band, let alone an orchestra, using recorded music from beginning to end.
The main downside of this becomes almost immediately obvious. Without a conductor or musical director, the receptive audience’s applause is repeatedly stifled as the show ploughs on at a reasonable pace. It must, presumably, have exactly the same running time every night to the second.
The production’s inability to allow the crowd a chance to show their appreciation allowed for a more restrained evening than might otherwise have been the case. Or, to put it another way, an entire repertoire of song and dance (a whopping 42 songs in all!) is performed without a musical director counting anyone in. That is rather impressive, and a testament to the talent of this large company. Anyone able to get over the lack-of-live-music thing can then just sit back and enjoy the proceedings.
There isn’t any narrative at all, or perhaps there is, if you’re inclined to believe that the tunes of the Great American Songbook tell a narrative all on their own. Take, for instance, ‘Dancing in the Dark’ (the one made famous by Fred Astaire: I’ve nothing against the Bruce Springsteen classic but that isn’t the one I’m on about…) – a simple tale of how two lovers can waltz through life: “We can face the music together…” The Cole Porter tunes in this production also have their own stories (but then they always did), and the show as a whole works well as a collection of songs that continue to be loved by many.
Star billing was given to Ray Quinn, who wasn’t afraid to be at the forefront of the breakneck pace of the dance movements in the Gershwin showstopper ‘I Got Rhythm’. His vocals weren’t always as clear as his colleagues, however. The crème de la crème of the show is its principal dancers, Robin Windsor and Anya Garnis, names only familiar to me through their association with a dance company called Burn The Floor. I suspect, though (having leafed through this show’s programme), most people will know them from their appearances on BBC Television’s Strictly Come Dancing; either way, the level of their talent and ability on display in this show is phenomenal.
However, the apparent ‘big names’ aren’t on for very long. It is the company proper that carry the show. Lucy Van Gasse gave a strong and powerful rendition of ‘Summertime’ (from Gershwin’s ‘Porgy and Bess’), while Ricky Rojas got the audience joining in with ‘Let There Be Love’. The ten dancers, meanwhile, are clearly enjoying themselves. While the set is merely functional, it’s the constant change of costumes that have the wow factor.
There isn’t a moral to come away with (though if you really, really wanted one, it’s that we should be grateful for what we have: “I got rhythm, I got music, I got my man / Who could ask for anything more?”). There isn’t a deep, meaningful topic of conversation about the issues the show raises in the pub afterwards. But there isn’t supposed to be. This is good, clean, old-fashioned, all-American entertainment. And it works.
It surprised me quite how many of the tunes I recognised – of course, I didn’t know all of them, but I was familiar with far more than I expected to be. I have a hunch this will be the same for many people who have seen a few popular classical musical theatre productions. It’s certainly guaranteed to give anyone, young or old, who appreciates the music of the interwar years, a solidly pleasurable evening.
Review by Chris Omaweng
Puttin’ on the Ritz Overview
Featuring dance stars from the hit TV show Strictly Come Dancing.
The all singing all dancing production of Puttin’ on the Ritz. Featuring the music of Irving Berlin, Cole Porter and George Gershwin.
The most famous songs of the Golden Age of Hollywood are recreated live on stage with our award winning singers and dancers. Special guests are world champion dance professionals from BBC’s Strictly Come Dancing, who will wow the audience with their glamorous costumes and ballroom skills.
Puttin’ On The Ritz takes you on a wonderful musical journey and features music from George Gershwin, Irving Berlin and Cole Porter.
Songs include: Cheek to Cheek, Alexander’s Rag Time Band, Birth of the Blues, Swanee, Night and Day, I Got Rhythm, Easter Parade and Puttin On The Ritz
Puttin’ on the Ritz
Churchill Theatre Bromley
Friday 18th September 2015 – Saturday 19th September 2015
Thursday 17th September 2015