Music & lyrics by Cole Porter, Book by Arthur Kopit
Palace Theatre, Manchester, and touring
Cole Porter's MGM film musical High Society appeared in 1956, based on Philip Barry's play The Philadelphia Story, with an all-star cast including Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra, Grace Kelly and Celeste Holm. This stage version was written in 1997 by Arthur Kopit with a changed list of songs.
Set in the glamorous, sophisticated, affluent society that Porter was part of, it tells of the upcoming wedding of Tracy Lord to safe, reliable George Kittredge, but when her less reliable first husband Dexter Haven turns up it quickly becomes obvious that they still have strong feelings for one another. A slight complication is the presence of Mike Connor and Liz Imbrie, reporters from a gossip magazine who are supposed to be undercover but everyone knows who they really are.
Kopit's book is rather short on plot, and much of it feels like padding between Porter's songs. The songs are a mixture between some well-known, memorable numbers and some less familiar ones; some of the best-known from the film - in particular Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? and Well Did You Evah? - seem very short and insignificant in comparison with their film versions.
This production never really gets the most out of the material or the cast. Much of it feels as though the performers are just 'going through the motions' and could be much better if more work had been put into the production. Some of the comic business (not all) is rushed and flat, and some comic songs seem to run out of steam as they do not have enough comic business to fill them.
There are some good performances from the cast. Top of the bill is Susie Blake as the bride's mother, who plays the part well but does not appear very often. Graham Bickley gradually settles into the part of Dexter to find the witty, laid-back romantic who wins back the affections of his ex-wife. As press photographer Liz, Ria Jones is very strong, if underused. In the main part, Katherine Kingsley is excellent as Tracy Lord - amongst other things, she does a very funny drunk routine.
Despite some good performances, this production overall is quite weak and unimaginative and does not do justice to the film it is based on.
"High Society" runs until 22 January 2005
Peter Lathan reviewed this production, with Liza Goddard replacing Susie Blake, at the Sunderland Empire
Reviewer: David Chadderton