Review from Words and Music © January 1997
Panama Hattie, written by Herbert Fields and B.G.DeSylva with songs by Cole Porter, was the first show which Ethel Merman, alone, carried. As Hattie Maloney, in Ian Marshall Fisherís production at the Barbican Louise Gold was full of the old paprika and loaded with dynamite.
When I saw the production, on the last afternoon of its four performances the pre show talk was given by Wendy Toye, the choreographer of the original London production, which starred Bebe Daniels.
Of the show itself the action really started with three sailors going to ask Hattie to sing at some shindy they are getting up. When asked if she will come down to speak to the sailors, or shall they be sent up; Hattie says she will come, as she "hasnít sunk THAT low! ". She enters with a dog (we have imagine him), who followed her home last night. He smells like a camel, so she calls him Seabiscuit. *** Nick Bullet, Hattieís fiance, excellently played by Michael Fitzpatrick (How does Ian Marshall Fisher consistently manage to find such good singers?), is about to meet is eight year old daughter Geraldine (Jerry), off the boat from Philadelphia. Here the romantic leads sing My Mother Would Love you, with Louise taking the opportunity for some ridiculous vocal parody . The song is subsequently reprised, for no apparent reason by Ian Sanders as Mac the Bartender , and (as I suspect happened the original production) it sounded like a bit of a come down after the leads had done it so well. *** Hattie, who has to make an impression on her prospective stepdaughter, spends three weeks wages on a way over the top outfit, with bangles bows and bits (being a concert staging, the star assists our imagination by walking in a very showy manner). Jerry, suitably played by Lucy Page finds Hattie terribly funny, neither of them are at all impressed with each other. Feeling that her marriage is off, Hattie, who has been on the wagon, gets drunk on rum and sings an absolutely splendid version of Iíve still Got my Health. I would not have believed it was possible to equal Ethel Mermanís recording, but it is! I note that here too the Fred Astaire verse was cut. There follows an amusing scene in which Hattie, still drunk, is on the floor, looking, with wild red hair, remarkably fox-like, talking to Seabiscuit *** Mandy More, in the Betty Hutton (replaced by June Allyson when she got measles) role of Florrie pleasantly rendered Fresh as a Daisy. Florrie is smitten with Nickís Butler Vivian Budd, known as Budd, performed with excellent comic timing by Stewart Permutt.***Nickís efforts to persuade Jerry and, that funny lady, to get on with each other finally succeeds with Jerry making Hattie cut the bows of her dress and shoes and take off all her bangles; whereupon Hattie (just like Ethel Merman would, if Dorothy Fields is to be believed) asks "Canít I just leave on six?" Hattie, who has a bad hangover, and Jerry gave us a beautiful rendering of Letís Be Buddies, which was reprised twice more in the show. Following this Jerry gave Hattie some advice on how to behave like a lady, at a party where she is to be presented to Nickís boss, Whitney Randolph, acted by Reg Eppey. This backfires when he takes the words right out of her mouth. Hattie then sings Iím Throwing a ball tonight: Never was Louise Gold more in her element: This number was truly stunning: She certainly moved full of rhythm. Her vocals are astounding, absolutely no need for any microphones here! complete with Ethel Mermanís trick of "going from chest tones to head tones without shifting gears"! *** Whitney is to be presented with a cup and his daughter Kitty-Belle, played well by Lisa Peace, suggests that Hattie might present it and sends her off to fill it with goldenrod. This gives Whitney hayfeaver; Hattie gets blamed, and Nick is ordered not to marry that girl. As Nick comments the only good thing which comes out of this is that Jerry very definitely accepts her stepmother.
Much of act two is taken up with the confusing sabotage/war/ spy-catching plot: which was a little indistinct in spite of some enjoyable performances from Jon Glover, Neil McCaul , and James Vaughan, as three sailors. All three can certainly sing, and are not bad looking either. Act two still has some great numbers to be enjoyed most notably: Hattie when asked if she wants Rum in her Coca-Cola informs us that she is through with that and gives us another stunning, brilliantly performed, song, the catchy, Make It Another Old Fashioned Please.*** There is an interesting comedy scene in which Hattie has it out with Kitty-Belle, whose boyfriend keeps being called in whenever Hattie is on the verge of hitting her, finally, as they both say goodbye, Hattie succeeds in kicking her.*** Meanwhile Mandy More, trying to have a romance with Budd, proves that it is possible to steal a bit of the limelight giving a good performance of All Iíve Got to Get Now is My Man.*** Again for no apparent reason, in the plot, Hattie, two of the sailors and Budd performed the complete version of You Said It, it went on so much that it could have gotten tedious, except that Louise Gold, Stewart Permutt and James Vaughan are some of the most untedious performers imaginable: Their acting was so good in this number that one had to think for a moment "This is in the script". As Arthur Treacher, Budd in the original was very tall, at the numbers conclusion Hattie remarks "So the long and short of it is heís so long and Iím so short", since, at 5ft8" Stewart is not so tall, compared to the 5ft9" Louise, this line got a rather different laugh to the one originally intended! *** The sabotage plot and Myra Sands comes to the for, with Myraís rendering of Who would Have Dreamed, another song which though well sung, has little to do with the plot. Her character, Mildred Hunter, Kitty-Belleís best friend turns out to be a TERRORIST! She gives Jerry a mystery package to put in Nickís desk. Jerry is unusually dumb in not realising it is a bomb. Fortunately Hattie hears about the plot to blow up the Panama Canal control room, and comes charging in, even though sheís not got a pass for the place, gets the story out of Jerry, finds the bomb and throws it out. As she saves the day of course Whitney is more than just reconciled to her. When asked to make a speech, typical Hattie, says "I canít make a speech, Iíd better sing it" and gives us a loverly reprise of Letís Be Buddies. Finally the virile trio of sailors sang God Bless the Women, which seems to be a forerunner to Brush Up Your Shakespeare. An interesting idea to get in itís reprise in was to have the cast yell out "encore!".
The rest of its talented cast being: Ian Caddick, Jeremy David, Tracy Keating, Samantha Peo, Joanne Redman and Carl Sanderson, the sound effects and musical director was Gareth Valentine.It was a really enjoyable show, Which I thoroughly enjoyed and I cannot comprehend (though Ethel Mermanís beau did during the original) how anyone could fall asleep watching this show. I only wish Iíd, also, seen the musical (DuBarry was a Lady, the first, of the four Merman/Porter shows Ian Marshall Fisher has staged) that inspired it.
This review first appeared in Words and Music, Issue 26, January 1997
My grateful thanks to Wordís and Musicís Editor, Carol Hughes, for permission to use it.
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