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Jonathan Russell Productions presents


Bells are Ringing

 


Book & Lyrics by Betty Comden & Adolph Green


Music by Jule Styne


Directed by Paul Foster


Choreography by Alistair David


Musical Direction and Arrangements by Peter McCarthy

 

Union Theatre


29 Sep – 23 Oct 2010

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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A review by Bernie Whelan for EXTRA! EXTRA!

This is a wonderful, feel-good, up-beat musical from slap bang in the middle of the American century crying out to be revived in these less inspiring times and my goodness, this sensational cast really did revive it!


The star of this show is Anna-Jane Casey as the ministering angel of Susanswerphone, Ella Peterson. This is a hugely demanding role, requiring first class acting, singing and dancing skills to tell a charming love story which is by turns richly comic and heart-breakingly sad but always a celebration of our common humanity and Ms Casey inhabits the part as her second skin. Ella physically demonstrates the inter-connectedness of people's lives in the big city where people are most isolated as the meddling switchboard operator of an answering service who breaks the rules, sharing information between her clients to their mutual benefit and intervening personally to encourage them to grasp opportunities which would otherwise have passed them by. Looking back at the film of the musical with the wonderful Judy Holliday and Dean Martin, the American Dream and it's mythical promise of success for everyone who 'goes for it' seems a little dated but the genius of this revival is that it takes the optimistic kernel of the show and grows a real feeling for the importance of the social element integral to our being, something which defines us as human but is often denigrated in these misanthropic times of mutual mistrust, most especially in the heart of the city.


Ella works for her cousin Sue, the owner of Susanswerphone who warns her to just take messages but Ella can't resist responding to the wider needs of her clients, providing a mustard cure for a sick opera singer who sends her a gown from La Traviata in gratitude, adopting the voice of Santa Claus to encourage a boy to eat his greens and being  'Mom' to playwright Jeff Moss (Gary Milner) who is suffering from writer's block and desperately needs a muse. Ella is already in love with Jeff and although she sings and dances to the perfect relationship, one where they will never meet, her compulsion to intervene brings them together and they find each other to be 'Better than a Dream'. Songs like 'Long Before I Knew You' and 'The Party's Over' from this show became standards in the 1950s because they're so full of romance and longing. Others like 'Is it a Crime' are pure vaudeville, where Ella makes her case for helping people to the suspicious vice-squad detective Inspector Barnes (Richard Grieve) 'with a laugh and a smile and a song'. Here, Ms Casey involved the audience to hilarious effect, indicating a woman in the front row when she sang about helping old ladies to cross the road. She and Gary Milner as Jeff Moss also shook hands with the audience during the subway scene singing 'Hello, Hello there!' to show how easily the hard shell of city dwellers is broken by a simple greeting.


Anna-Jane Casey was a joy to hear and see as Ella, giving a performance so natural and professional it was pure entertainment, leaving the audience bereft and begging for more even after two and half hours when she was almost always on stage. Gary Milner's voice as Jeff Moss was rich and melodic, his dancing and ability to lift Ms Casey were impressively athletic, he joked 'Let's give them one for the cheap seats' in an ad lib as he lifted her to the rafters and she quipped back 'They're all cheap seats!' Some of the best dancing came from Carl Au, particularly with Ms Casey on 'Mu Cha Cha', but the whole cast of fifteen were accomplished performers and the show has many varied characters in a complex plot which allows everyone a share of the limelight. I particularly enjoyed Fenton Gray's comic performance as the rascally Sandor, seducer of the lonely Sue played with pathos and humour by Corinna Powlesland. In one of the most exciting numbers 'It's a Simple Little System',  Sandor explains to his bookie ring how he plans to run the bets through Susanswerphone by pretending he's running a classical music business, repeating the code where every composer represents a race meeting and so on to them until they finally get it, breaking into Handel's Messiah. Another wonderful ensemble piece 'Drop that Name'  brings the high society of Jeff Moss' snobbish celebrity friends to life and finishes with Ella resigned to give up the game of pretence in the most affecting song of the show, 'The Party's Over' during which, I can guarantee, there wasn't a dry eye in the house.


I enjoyed every minute of this terrifically entertaining musical revival and found it to be a powerful antidote to the alienation and individuation of contemporary city life. My congratulations to the four piece band who recreated the heyday of Hollywood glamour from a darkened corner of the Union Theatre so that we could have been on the set of 'Some Like it Hot' or 'Gentlemen Prefer Blondes'. Likewise to the choreographer Alistair David, set and costume designer Christopher Giles and everyone involved in bringing this uplifting show alive on the stage again but chiefly to the director Paul Foster. This really is one show you don't want to miss.

 


Union Theatre
 204 Union St, London SE1 0LX
Evenings: 7:30pm, Saturday and Sunday: 2:30pm (except Sunday and Monday evenings)
Tickets £19.50, Concs £17.50 (Students, Children & OAP's)
Box Office: 020 7261 9876
http://www.uniontheatre.biz/#

 

 

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