GENTLEMEN PREFER BLONDES
Review from Words and Music © September 1997
What a cast! headed by Londonís Lost Musicals newcomers Kim Criswell , Dale Rapley and Michael Roberts, and regulars such as Myra Sands, Louise Gold and James Vaughan, this was some line up!
Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, with Music by Jule Styne (Gypsy and Funny Girl are his other best known credits), Lyrics by Leo Robin (author of the song A Girl In Calico), book by Anita Loos (Who also contributed to Gigi) and Libretto by Joseph Fields (Brother to Herbert and Dorothy Fields. His credits include Wonderful Town and Flower Drum Song), originally premiered in 1949. The original stars were Carol Channing and Yvonne Adair, as Lorelei and Dorothy, roles played by Marilyn Monroe and Jane Russell in the film, respectively.
The Show starts with Lorelei and Dorothy on their way to Paris, from America, by ship.
First of all Kim Criswell made her British Lost Musicals debut as Dorothy Shaw ; bringing to Itís High Time all her skills as a performer. After this came a contrast when Louise Gold, with her red hair hidden under a blond wig, as Lorelei Lee , presented us with a subtler approach, dueting Bye Bye Baby with Michael Roberts, another fine performer, as Gus Esmond Jnr, Loreleiís fiancée (originally played by Jack McCauley ).
Later, on the boat, Lorelei receives a wire from Gus who has gone to Little Rock (her home town), on business, and she realises he will find out something that she doesnít want him to find out, and probably break off their engagement. Louise Gold followed this up by really excelling herself with a unique rendition of Iím Just A Little Girl From Little Rock. She really is an extraordinary vocalist!
Having got acquainted with some interesting men it was then Kim Criswellís turn to sparkle with the sassy/seductive I Love What Iím Doing (When Iím Doing It For Love), the kind of number which could have been made for this joyous performer! It suited her so perfectly.
Meanwhile Lorelei, while not opening Gusís wire has decided that he has broken off their engagement and that she and Dorothy must therefore use this trip to Paris to find themselves some rich men. Dorothy attempts to dismiss this, by saying that she can always work.
Lorelei however still tries to fix them both up with promising millionaires. For herself Lorelei chooses the zipper king Josephus Gage. For Dorothy she chooses Henry Spofford. In this he is a grown man (not the seven year old boy of the film) with an aging mother, who is evidently supposed to be on the wagon. (These two gentlemen were originally played by George. S. Irving and Eric Brotherson.)
Lorelei invites Mrs Ella Spofford to her cabin, and gives her several glasses of champagne, in exchange for information about Henry. She then engineers a meeting between Dorothy and Henry to take place in her cabin with Henryís favourite record Just A Kiss Apart on the gramophone. She pretends it is Dorothyís favourite and Henry is persuaded to sing it to the girls. This marked the second truly stunning debut of the evening; that of Dale Rapley as Henry Spofford. He is tallish (5ft11"), handsome and has an excellent singing voice, being quite capable of holding his own in a duet with either of this showís two excellent leading ladies. I really hope we shall be seeing him in many many more musicals (until now his best known musical credits have been Harry in Flora the Red Menace at the Richmond Orange Tree, and Mr Tebrick in Lady into Fox, co-starring with Louise Gold, at the Hammersmith Lyric).
Also on board this boat are the flirtatious Sir Francis Beekman, a good performance from James Bree, admirably backed up by Myra Sandsís Lady Phyllis Beekman, a lady who tries to rule her husband with a rod of iron, and does not quite succeed. I loved the way she said "Fran-cis" every time he so much as looked at a girl.
Lady Beekman is trying to sell her tiara to an American. Lorelei wishes to buy it, but does not have the money, so she decides to persuade Sir Francis to lend her the money. She insists on calling him "Piggy" and seduces him while they sing Its Delightful Down In Chile. This number is one of this showís famous choral numbers, arranged by Hugh Martin (who did many such arrangements for Broadway, but is better known as a songwriter for Meet Me In St. Louis). James Bree (in a role created by Rex Evans)handled himself well during this number, but its real star was Louise Gold. This was a perfect song for her as it provided her with an excellent opportunity to exercise her considerable vocal talents.
On arrival in France Dorothy and Henry, who are becoming attracted to each other sing a charming duet Sunshine, which proved to be a beautiful pairing of two extremely fine singers.
The French Police, Robert and Louie Lemanteur (good performances from Matthew Gould and Ben Stock) enter, looking for Lorelei, trying to recover Lady Beekmanís tiara. This leads to an amusing scene where Lorelei canít understand their French, and they canít understand much of anyone else's English, until Dorothy tells them to "shut up", and they fall for the charms of both girls, and offer to take them out. They are joined by Henryís mother.
Enter James Vaughan, as Josephus Gage, a character who, for once, is actually meant to be romantic. With him is Lorelei, sporting the first French dress to use a zipper, (and made by "Bouis Sewers "). Of course being a concert staging we have to use our imagination, costume-wise. However it should be noted that our two magnificent leading ladies were both decked out in sparkling jewellery.
It is suggested that everyone has cocktails, to Mrs Spoffordís delight However Gage says that he never drinks, and that whenever he gets the urge to do so he just eats a raw carrot, where upon, joined by Lorelei, Dorothy and Mrs Spofford, he does an excellent rendition of a song about roughage called Iím a Tingle Iím AGlow. This was perhaps James Vaughanís chief moment of glory.
This was followed by a by a bit of matchmaking, Lorelei and Mrs Spofford leaving Henry and Dorothy alone for another great duet You Say You Care; where Henry tries to propose to Dorothy, who says she isnít good enough for him.
Then came the act one finale in which Gus turns up unexpectedly, realises that Lorelei is dating Gage, and promptly takes up with a dancer named Gloria Stark whom he promises to make a star.
Act 2 opens with everybody at the Pre Catelen Club : Present, unbeknownst to each other, are: Lady Beekman, with two detectives, trying to recover her tiara , and Sir Francis with two girls.
Also present are both leading ladies, Dorothy and Lorelei , who have ample opportunity to show their charms, acting out a romantic interaction with their respective gentlemen, Henry Spofford and Josephus Gage. All played their parts most convincingly.
This scenario is rudely interrupted first by the arrival of Gus, whom Gage is on the verge of having a fight with over Lorelei. Then the floor show is introduced. First Sarah Redmond as Gloria Stark got her comical turn with Mamie Is Mime, ending with a high kick that sheís always practising.
This was follows by Coquette, excellently sung by Kristin Blaikie proving that even with both Kim Criswell and Louise Gold around there is still just enough room for another fine female vocalist. She put her number across extremely well in the face of such competition!
We now came to the highlight of the evening, a real gem, of both stones and precious metal! Diamonds Are A Girlís Best Friend. This was Louise Gold at her finest! even the cast seemed to be enjoying it! If ever there has to be any single performer who can make any famous number so very much her own, then Louise Gold is that performer. At last she let loose with that magnificent voice of hers and just let it rip. This was one performance which perhaps summed the whole terrific show up so perfectly!
Gus explains to Lorelei that he still loves her no matter what and that he will even break with his father and the button business for her sake, and she in turn explains all about how she came to shoot a guy in Little Rock, and was acquitted (he tried to steal the only thing that a girl absolutely must protect); and so the pair make up and duet Gentlemen Prefer Blondes.
After this everybody gets homesick; so the stars of the company, Louise Gold , Michael Roberts, Dale Rapley, Kim Criswell, Dilys Laye, and James Vaughan show their individual and collective talents with Homesick Blues, which has some fine lyrics for everyone.
Back in the U.S.A Lorelei refuses to marry Gus until his father accepts her, so the wedding is being much delayed. During this delay Dilys Laye as the alcoholic, Mrs Spofford, if she had not already shone before gets to shine, dueting Keeping Cool With Coolidge, with Dorothy. Once again Kim Criswell brought her tremendous sense of movement and audience to bear on her singing. For Kim Criswell always acts out her songs, you just canít stop her from dancing to them - I wonder who choreographed her!
Finally the waiting is over as Esmond Snr, a convincing performance from James Bree, arrives in his Wheel chair- another concert staging improvisation. Lorelei then enters and reveals that: she is wearing a dress covered in Esmond buttons batch 302, and she knows everything about Esmond buttons, singing another great song Button Up With Esmond, which was yet another spot on performance from Louise Gold. Lorelei also reveals that she has a head for business since she bought a share in Gageís zipper business in his (Esmond Snrís) name . Therefore everyone is friends as the curtain falls.
The stunning leads received excellent back up support from: Nick Bligh, Maria Cregeen, Katherine Fletcher, Stephen McCarthy and Sean Sweeney. The musical Director was Mark Warman
I just canít tell you what a truly spectacular evening it was. With so many really really superb performers no wonder! I have just never seen a show like it! Producer Ian Marshall Fisher really has done this show proud!
TIME OUT describes the show as "This crazy amorous adventure" a description which I think, seems to sum up this amusing and joyful production very well indeed.
I hope that we see the talented newcomers Kim Criswell and Dale Rapley in many more Lost Musicals at The Barbican. It was also truly wonderful to have two such magnificent leading ladies in the same show; this red headed duo, Louise Gold and Kim Criswell, really did Gentlemen Prefer Blondes justice!
This review first appeared in Words and Music, Issue 28, September 1997
My grateful thanks to Words and Musicís Editor, Carol Hughes, for permission to use it.
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