Glenn head

glenn top

Tommy Steele as Glenn Miller with the excellent six strong ensemble

The Glenn Miller Story

Wolverhampton Grand

***

GLENN Miller is a name that resonates among the World War II generations. His band and his music have endured to delight those that have followed.

Born in 1904, Miller was an American big band musician, arranger, composer, and bandleader in the swing era.

He was the best-selling recording artist in the war years from 1939 to 1943, leading one of the great big bands and his recordings include In the Mood, Moonlight Serenade, Chattanooga Choo Choo, and A String of Pearls.

Very popular in Great Britain, his link with our country was immortalised when he departed from RAF Twinwood Farm near Clapham, Bedford, for France in December 1944 to entertain U.S. troops, but disappeared, presumed dead, in bad weather over the English Channel. The exact circumstances of his death remain a mystery to this day

Theatre impresario Bill Kenwright is a shrewd judge of what is popular, and what stories, and performers, will pull in the crowds. Glenn Miller and his music is a safe bet for those of a certain age, but billing Tommy Steele as the lead, a man twice the age of Miller when he died, was a risk. Steele’s love of Miller and his music was a driving factor in his casting, but would it work? Particularly when Miller’s finest work is instrumental?

Director Bob Thompson sidesteps the age issue by using Steele mainly to narrate Miller’s story, which amounts to little more than stage directions to enable the next big band number as we are treated to a well selected slice of the Miller musical catalogue.

As well as playing him he also re-imagines some scenes as Miller. Steele sings solo on The Nearness of You and duets with Miller's wife-to-be Helen, energetically played by Sarah Soetaert on Zing! Went the Strings of My Heart. Soetaert is 50 years Steele’s junior, I half expected him to break into a rendition of Some Guys Have All the Luck! The 16-piece onstage orchestra are terrific, the choreography snappy, delivered by a six-strong chorus whose tap dancing delighted an appreciative audience.

Steele transcends popular music culture like no-other apart from Sir Cliff Richard, the end and its encore as much a tribute to Steele as Miller. His affection for his audience, and the affection returned defined the show. A fifties rock and roller, he has appeared in musicals pretty much non-stop since, with that energy always present in this lively show which runs till Saturday 24th October.

Gary Longden

19-10-15

 

And following the band . . .

FORMER pop idol Tommy Steele expressed his doubts when producer/director Bill Kenwright chose him to play the lead in this new musical about the legendary American big band leader.

He pointed out that he was now a 78-year-old pensioner, and Glenn Miller was only 40 when the plane taking him to entertain troops in Paris during the second World War disappeared over the English Channel.

But Steele was urged to go ahead, and while his many fans in the packed opening night audience loved his performance, it was easy to see why he had his reservations about taking on the role.

It looks wrong in the first act when he is falling in love with his wife-to-be, Helen Burger, impressively played by the lovely Sarah Soetaert (more like dad and daughter) and it might have been better to have a younger actor in the early scenes.

Steele certainly seems more comfortable in the second act when he dons a pair of specs for the time when Miller becomes a Major in the US army with a task of entertaining the troops, though his wayward grey hair could do with a bit of a military trim.

Sarah Soetaert sings beautifully and Steele proves he can still belt out a tune. He has charisma and when he told the audience ‘You are fantastic’, one customer roared back ‘So are you’, and there were plenty of cheers for the old star too.

The 16-piece orchestra excelled throughout with some of those great Miller hits . . . Chattanooga Choo Choo, In the Mood, Moonlight Serenade, Pennsylvania 6-5000 and many more, while the choreography was slick and pleasing.

But this musical missed a chance for a tear-jerking finale with a rather tame treatment of the drama of the great man’s tragic death. To extend the rather short show Steele and the on-stage musicians lead the audience in a joyful sing-along

Paul Marston

19-10-15 

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