Babes In Arms – June 2007

8/10

By: Rodgers and Hart, book by George Oppenheimer

Adapted and directed by: Martin Connor

Venue: Chichester Festival Theatre

Date: Wednesday 13th June 2007

This was sooo much better than last year’s musical. It may be an earlier offering than Carousel, but the wit of the writing and the coherence of the plot were far better. I do hope this gets a London transfer.

We went to the pre-show talk, given by a professor at a university. He gave us an overview of Rodgers and Hart’s career (some people have great jobs!), explaining how they influenced the development of musicals in the 20s and 30s. Until they got going, musicals were mainly cobbled together bits of entertainment – a hangover from Vaudeville. Initially, they wrote using this form themselves, then grew into the idea of tying the songs together with a more substantial plot. Babes In Arms is itself a reference to their early days at college (Hart was several years older than Rodgers, but stayed on to work on the student shows).

They also worked in Hollywood, and often their stage shows were radically changed for the big screen – for Babes In Arms, all but two of the original songs were removed. The version we were seeing tonight had been created from the two stage versions that they produced – the original, and a later version which took out much of the political references and background.

The performance itself got off to a good start. The set was mainly wooden struts fanning out from the back of a barn – actually, the set could be either the inside or the outside of the barn, depending. There was a piano to our left, and various boxes, trunks, etc around the stage. The band played a lively overture, and then we were straight into the action. The plot? Oh well, that was just about some teenagers who’re working for a theatre manager during the Depression, and who want to do their own show. The Manager has brought in a star, a precocious child with a mother of steel (Lorna Luft), to act in a new play called The Deep North…. oh, for goodness sake, you know the story!

The newly grown child star is actually a fine kid, who’s as keen as the rest of them to do something new. I loved the way she did the giggly child with curly blond hair to perfection, as well as the more sensible teenager with talent. In fact, all the performances were superb, full of life and energy, and the dancing was just great. I especially liked the tap dancers, and Light on our Feet was far and away the best thing in a very good show.

I enjoyed the both versions of the scene from The Deep North; the original, to show us just how bad it was, and the revised version, ambushed by the kids. I recognised most of the songs, and came out wanting a cast recording to sing our way home to. Well done.

© 2007 Sheila Evans at ilovetheatre.me

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