An elegant, swellegant show

High Society 

Grand Theatre, Wolverhampton 

****

HOT on the heels of the Oscars, Wolverhampton's Grand theatre rolled out its own red carpet last night as patrons sipped champagne cocktails and donned full evening clobber in anticipation of a ‘swell party'. A packed house, too. Not bad for a chilly, Black Country evening in February. 

High Society is a stage adaptation of a movie. That, in itself is unusual as its most often the other way around. The 1956 film was a perfect vehicle for Frank Sinatra and Bing Crosby.

It also proved to be the swan song for Grace Kelly who up- sticked to become a real life Princess shortly after the film was released. With such big names and a score by Cole Porter, it was a winner from the start. 

Director, Anna Linstrum loses none of the glamour and sparkle of the film. A mostly white set actually shimmers under the ‘sun kissed' lighting and provides a perfect canvass for an array of sharp suits and sumptuous ball gowns. Elegant, plain wooden furniture gives real depth and texture and is cleverly and quickly moved as required on a stage revolve. Nothing seems cluttered, affording ample space for the company to strut their stuff.  

Part of the joy of coming to the theatre is the sense of being transported to another world .To escape, albeit for a couple of hours, from day to day reality. Designer, Francis O'Connor, deserves huge credit for creating a little piece of Long Island luxury bathed in sunshine. 

The plot is simple. Guests gather for a wedding. Champagne is quaffed and feathers ruffled. Unrequited love, perhaps one of Musical Theatre's biggest themes, rears its head and threatens to spoil the party. Or does it?  

SUCCESS GUARANTEED

Sondheim aside, complicated plot lines are not the main ingredient of musical theatre. Audiences come for the songs and with a score by Cole Porter, those songs are going to appeal. Good tunes are one thing. Combined with the wit and sheer cleverness of Porter's lyrics, success is guaranteed. Classics just keep coming in this show - Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?, True Love, Let's Misbehave, Just One of Those Things and Well, Did you Evah? are just a few of the numbers in an almost embarrassment of musical riches. 

Michael Praed oozes natural charm as Dexter Haven, Laid back to a point of lying down, his delivery has a filmic quality that sits well in this piece.  

Sophie Bould , as Tracey Lord, is a complete joy. Beautiful to watch and to listen to. She also plays tipsy well. Many try but sadly fail.  

Daniel Boys as Mike Connor undoubtedly has the big voice yet he actually has less to sing than Michael Praed. When he is allowed to let loose, though, notice is taken!  

Strong performances too from Alex Young as Liz Imbrie, Katie Lee as Dinah lord and Keiron Crook as George. Teddy Kempner as gin loving Uncle Willy is given some of the best comedy lines and doesn't disappoint. 

A perfect antidote to a cold night. Its all here - great songs, sunny locations and spot on performances all round. Go on! Join the party - the best elegant, swellagant party in town! 

Tom Roberts

Meanwhile from the cocktail bar . . .

***

BACK on the stage she first trod as an eight year old, Sophie Bould returns to the Grand starring in this Cole Porter musical as it begins a UK tour.

She plays wealthy socialite Tracy Lord in the stylish adaptation of the 1956 film which boasted a cast including Grace Kelly, Frank Sinatra and Bing Crosby.

Now 31, Sophie spent a number of years with the South Staffs Musical Theatre Company before turning professional and has since appeared in the West End.

She is comfortable in the role of the Long Island divorcee whose preparations for a lavish society wedding to George Kittredge (Keiron Crook) are disrupted by the unexpected arrival of ex-husband Dexter Haven, who fancies winning her back.

There is a sparkling opening to the musical when Sophie makes a string of remarkable quick costume changes on stage during the overture, switching from jodhpurs to golf gear, a tennis outfit and finally a swimming costume.

Michael Praed has loads of poise as Dexter and there are amusing comedy spots from veteran Teddy Kempner (Uncle Willie) and young Katie Lee (Dinah Lord), with sound contributions from Daniel Boys (reporter Mike Connor), Alex Young (Liz Imbrie), and Marilyn Cutts (Margaret Lord). The set, which represents the family's magnificent home, has a revolving circular section and works well, with cast members able to smoothly move various pieces for room changes.

But overall this production needs more power and quality from the voices to cash in on such fine songs. Directed by Anna Linstrum, High Society runs to 02-03-13 and will be at Birmimngham Hippodrome from May 14-18.

Paul Marston 

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