Sacha Regan’s Union Theatre has a strong track record when it comes to reviving musicals. 2019 is the 70th anniversary of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes’ premiere on Broadway, and it has only been seen once in London – in 1962 with Dora Bryan.
The 1920s flimsy plot revolves around an ex-Follies dancer, Lorelei Lee, originally Carol Channing, whose fiancée Gus Esmond, a button manufacturer, is unable to accompany her to Paris so asks Dorothy, also a Follies dancer, to chaperon her. Dorothy is a romantic, Lorelei think that diamonds are a more solid investment and buys a tiara with someone else’s money. Zip fasteners are also involved!
At least two of the songs in this light-hearted, frothy entertainment have become ‘standards’ – “ Diamonds are a girl’s best friend” and” I’m just a girl from Little Rock”, whilst Bye Bye Baby is also well known. Interestingly, when it was made into a Hollywood movie, these were the only songs used!
In this inventively choreographed (Zak Nemorin) production, the pace is rarely allowed to slacken, and the men especially are strongly cast.
Joseph Gage, the zipper king and health addict, is portrayed with great energy, his song “I’m a Tingle I’m Aglow” being an unexpected highlight. Aaron Bannister-Davies (Gus) and Freddie King (Henry Spofford) give strong vocal support as two more male suitors and Patrick Cook and Arran Bell are hilarious as French upholders of the law.
Tom Murphy is amusing in the role of ageing roue Sir Francis Beekman, but does not differentiate roles when he appears as Esmond senior at the end of the show.
Eleanor Lakin is superb as Dorothy, Lorelei’s chaperone. She has that rare quality: charisma, and uses her powerful voice imaginatively, putting over her musical numbers with panache, and getting the most out of her at times rather dated dialogue. Definitely a young actor to watch.
Abigayle Honeywill (Lorelei) uses a ‘baby doll’ voice when speaking. Unfortunately this is inclined to affect her enunciation and her dialogue is often difficult to understand.
Mrs Spofford (Virge Gilchrist), Philadelphia’s richest woman and an alcoholic, is always convincing and very amusing.
The director (Sacha Regan) has succeeded in installing much life into this two-hour production, the simple single set (Justin Williams) being inventively used to create an ocean liner, the Follies Bergere etc, greatly aided by imaginative lighting (Hector Murray).
Costuming (Penn O’Gara) was colourful and imaginative, and helped create the period of the 1920s. However, most garments would have benefitted from the use of an iron!
Musical direction was in the hands of Henry Brennan, a supremely stylish pianist, and how lovely to hear a REAL piano rather than an electric one, as well as a musical in which the singers did not rely on amplification. Full marks here!!
In summation, a most enjoyable production of a rarely staged musical: just the sort of thing that, as I said above, the Union Theatre does so well.
Review by John Groves
Based on the best selling novel of the same name, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes is the delicious story of a platinum crowned golddigger from Little Rock and her escapades to find herself a rich man.
GENTLEMEN PREFER BLONDES
MUSIC – Jule Styne
LYRICS – Leo Robin
BOOK – Anita Loos and Joseph Fields
ADAPTED FROM THE NOVEL by Anita Loos
Presented by arrangement with Concord Theatricals Ltd. on behalf of Tams-Witmark LLC
Director – Sasha Regan
Choreographer – Zak Nemorin
Musical Directo – Henry Brennan
Designer – Justin Williams
Costumes – Penn O’Gara
Producer – Sasha Regan
Associate Producer – Maison Kelley
Casting: Adam Braham
Lorelei Lee – Abigayle Honeywill
Dorothy Shaw – Eleanor Lakin
Henry Spofford – Freddie King
Josephus Gage – George Lennan
Mrs Spofford – Virge Gilchrist
Sir Francis Beekman – Tom Murphy
Gus Esmond – Aaron Bannister-Davies
Lady Phyllis Beekman – Maria Mosquera
Gloria Stark – Ashlee Young
Liam Dean, Patrick Cook, Lewis Rimmer, Arran Bell, Esme Bacalla-Hayes, Jo Bird, Stephen Loriot, Jasmine Davis, Florence Beaumont
2nd – 26th October 2019