views from the gods

saints and sinners of the stage and screen

Face the Music
Ye Olde Rose and Crown Theatre
13th June 2015

★★★★☆

The ensemble

Photography © David Ovenden

On paper, it just shouldn't work. Face the Music has a ridiculously thin plot and very little in the way of grand showtunes. However, All Star Productions have been making the impossible possible since we first encountered them in 2013 and their take on Irving Berlin's show is - surprisingly if you don't know the company already, unsurprisingly if you do - an entertaining, irreverent performance with some gorgeous choreography. What do you do if the compositions are weak? Jazz hands! This is a company with a solution for everything.

Face the Music is set during the Great Depression, with lots of talented performers itching to ply their craft but out of work due to a lack of funding. (Sound familiar?) Young loved-up actors Kit Baker (Joanna Hughes) and Pat Mason (Alessandro Lubrano) have a chance encounter with rich society wife Myrtle Meshbesher (Laurel Dougall), who declares without any real persuasion that her husband Martin van Buren Meshbesher (David Anthony) will only be too delighted to throw money at the new Broadway show they want to star in. Famous producer Hal Reisman (Samuel Haughton) has rhinestones in his eyes, and an utterly silly show within a show is born.

Musical director Aaron Clingham on keys - together with Ruth Whybrow on piccolo, flute and clarinet, Maria Rodriguez Reina on cello and Greg Sheffield on percussion - does his best to inject some fun into some fairly average songs. But it's Sally Brooks who elevates this production with some stunning dance moves. As well the big ensemble showbiz steps we've come to expect, there are some beautiful double acts. The tune to Torch Song is easily forgotten, but the footwork between the Street Walker (Joanne Clifton) and O'Rourke (James Houlbrook) as they glide and turn whilst handcuffed and the flustered cop's eyes bulge whilst she shamelessly begs for her release and sings of sitting on an organ make for one wickedly funny and yet graceful number.

There's a real elegance in all the movement, although given Clifton has a string of international professional dance awards to her name and joined BBC's Strictly last year, you'd be disappointed if her performance was anything other than utterly mesmerising. It's not just ballroom which features - in You Must Be Born With It, Joe (Lewis Dewar Foley) and Pickles (Ceris Hine) perform some old school tap and in How Can I Change My Luck, out come the ubiquitous jazz hands from Reisman and the ensemble. All Star Productions usually focuses on the music and acting. This time, it's all about the dance. It's a shift in approach by director Brendan Matthew and considering Moss Hart's decidedly flimsy book, it's the correct one to take.

Joana Dias's set design is fairly low key, with a New York skyline roughly painted onto the theatre's black walls and the stage empty save for a number of wooden crates. But these crates are deftly moved and reshaped into long tables, park benches, office desks - much like the impoverished Broadaway wannabes we see Lunching at Automat, she's resourceful with very little.

Closing number The Investigation is the longest song I've heard since the introduction to Into the Woods, and by the end of it, the story is concluded but not very convincingly. It's best not to pick apart the details and to enjoy Face the Music for what it is: the very best in daft fun.

Face the Music opened on 9th June and runs until 3rd July 2015 at Ye Olde Rose and Crown Theatre.

Nearest tube station: Walthamstow Central (Victoria)



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