After my ordeal at The Drowsy Chaperone (see review below), it was very pleasing to see an unashamedly old fashioned, un-cynical, non pseudo musical. I will even go so far as to say that watching Rodgers & Hart’s fluffy 1937 tuner, Babes in Arm at the Chichester Festival Theatre, was a joy; for joy is what great songs, memorable music and vibrant choreography spell.
Martin Connor has adapted the story, cutting out some of the sub-plot and inserting a couple of extra Rodgers & Hart numbers into the show. Connor also directs the large and lively company, with energetic choreography by Bill Deamer. The plot focuses on a group of young theatrical talents determined to make a mark and show off their own dramatic gifts in a self penned musical revue, as opposed to the turgid historical play they are employed to light, make sets, costumes and scenery etc for.
Mark McGee is wonderful as Valentine, the composer of the group, falling in love with Billie, played by an equally charming Donna Steele. The comic acting is also great, Matthew Hart and Kay Murphy providing the broadest of laughs as a rather unsuited couple (he being camp as Christmas and quite short, she being very tall and rather scornful of him). There is also an ex child star, Baby Rose Owen (Sophia Ragavelas, suitably sweet), brought in to buoy ticket sales, and her mother, Mrs Phyllis Owen, played by Judy Garland’s daughter Lorna Luft. The extremely pushy Mrs Owens falls for the malapropism pone theatre manager and producer Seymour Fleming (Rolf Saxon), and delivers her two numbers (When She Goes On the Stage’ and You Took Advantage of Me’) with great panache. We are all with the kids, hoping that they will get their chance to shine on the stage, and of course they eventually do, earning themselves an instantaneous Broadway transfer whilst they’re at it.
The songs are brilliant, from ‘My Funny Valentine’ and ‘The Lady is a Tramp’, to the joyous song and dance bonanza finale number, ‘Johnny One Note’. I’m not going to lie and say that the story is always consistent, or that the acting is always particularly insightful (because the characters themselves aren’t), but the committed young cast and superb songs combine to make a highly entertaining evening.