A Glenn Miller story
Devised by John Latus and directed by David Lee
Mayflower Theatre, Southampton
Glenn Miller is a name synonymous with a particular musical sound. The mere mention of him conjures recognisable chords of a Moonlight Serenade flavoured with clarinets.
Tribute bands have filled concert halls with recreations of The Glenn Miller sound ever since he went missing, presumed killed, on a flight from London to Paris on 15th December 1944. The latest attempt to lay the ghost is American Patrol, a stage account of Miller's last six months in London, devised by John Latus and directed by David Lee, given its world premiere at Southampton's Mayflower Theatre this week (18th May).
It is sad to report that as a show the production is a great disappointment. Nor does one have far to look for the problems - most of them are there on stage, or not, for all to see.
It didn't help that Mike Read, who was to have played the chat show host interviewing a veteran Ray McKinley (Michael Knowles), Miller's drummer and deputy, failed to turn up for the first night. Since the interview continues intermittently throughout the three-hour performance with Helen Power stepping up to fill the chair, the vitality of these scenes is of considerable importance to the evening.
Use of truck settings for these and other brief - and all of them are very brief - interludes relating the nitty-gritty of a story creates more distraction by the noise made by these creatures as they are trundled on and off.
Sadly, too, most of the supporting players seem to have been picked from the band. At least, I assume they are all good musicians. The only actor, Mr Knowles apart, worthy of that name is John Altman who plays Miller himself, the one character, if you please, who has so little to say it might have been wiser to cast a musician!
For the main business of the evening, of course, is to see and hear the on-stage assembly of Miller's 32 piece band - four trumpets, four trombones, French horn, five saxophonists aka clarinettists, piano, guitar, bass, drums plus a twelve strong string section. This, after all, is what it is all about.
Indeed, the orchestra does achieve a level the drama simply does not match. I did wonder how many of the players had ever heard the Ink Spots, or if they had the right score for Shoo Shoo Baby or even if this was actually Miller's version of Oranges & Lemons. Those aside, there are nice touches of Crosby (Andrew Fleming) and Anne Shelton (Clare Cunliffe).
Whether this show will find itself touring venues must be a matter for speculation. If it can be cut, sharpened up and altogether made that much more credible, there are surely audiences of Glenn Miller fans all around the country
Reviewer: Kevin Catchpole