High Society

Hayes Theatre, September 7

HIgh S res
Amy Lehpamer and Bobby Fox. Photo: Kurt Sneddon

At his best Cole Porter was the cleverest songwriter of them all. Alas his musicals, including High Society, were fleshed out with many numbers several rungs below his best, and in this production even the peaks provided by the classic songs are outdone by the superbly realised comedy of Arthur Kopit’s book (based on Philip Barry’s play).

When the original film was made in 1956 High Society was already an old-fashioned musical in the sense that the flimsy plot-line – girl on rebound nearly falls for wrong guy – comes to a panting halt each time a song is sung. For it to work it must fizz, and Helen Dallimore has certainly achieved that in her production for Hayes Theatre Co, even if she could have axed some songs, including Once Upon A Time and He’s A Right Guy, that are little more than larynx exercisers.

In Amy Lehpamer she has a funny, effervescent Tracy, although Bert Labonte (Dexter) and Bobby Fox (Mike) may have been better cast the other way around. Virginia Gay turns in the show’s most complete acting performance as Liz, and Jessica Whitfield (Dinah), Laurence Coy (Willie) and Scott Irwin (George) all shine with a hammier sort of humour.

Dallimore has a flair for mining incidental laughs, including from Lucetta Stapleton’s costumes, yet she, Lehpamer and choreographer Cameron Mitchell fail to extract anything from Tracy’s It’s All Right With Me, and the scene where Mike sings You’re Sensational to Tracy is missing some requisite sexual frisson.

The challenges of mounting the show in this little space have been roundly met, however. Dallimore’s staging is immeasurably helped by Lauren Peters’ ingenious set of hinged archways, while reducing the band to a Benny Goodman-style quartet (under Daryl Wallis) was also a masterstroke.

Peppering the story are such Porter classics as I Love Paris, True Love and Just One Of Those Things, plus Willie’s amusing Say It With Gin. Unfortunately all were slightly spoiled by excessively amplified sound.

Until October 3.