Babes in Arms – Ye Olde Rose and Crown Theatre, London

Writer: Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart
Director: Brendan Matthew
Reviewer: Deborah Parry

Babes in Arms isn’t the most famous of musicals – in fact, unless you’re an avid fan of the genre, chances are that you may not have even heard of it before. Aside from a film adaptation that was released in 1939 and a revival at the Chichester Festival in 2007, there haven’t been many professionally staged versions in the UK, so this production at Ye Olde Rose and Crown is particularly welcomed.

Written by Rodgers and Hart in 1937, the musical tells the story of a group of youths living on Long Island whose parents are vaudeville performers and have left them alone while away on tour. Cue Sheriff Reynolds who has decided that these dirty layabouts must be sent to a work farm, which is met with great protest. The solution? The teenagers have a plan- they’re going to put on a show, and a spectacular one at that (not entirely sure how that would justify avoiding manual labour but this is musical theatre, so let’s go with it).

Despite being sugary sweet, there are hints of depth within the story, such as racism and political affiliations (communism in particular) but these themes are not explored in any great detail and do not dominate the plot.

Sandwiched between Showboat in 1927 and, (arguably the first example of a modern show with integrated songs and dances) Oklahoma in 1943, Babes in Arms is reminiscent of a traditional book musical but songs sometimes seem to have been created of out of context and situated within the piece, rather than truly being a plot progressing tool. And, though you may not be overly familiar with the show itself, it is likely that you will recognise some of those tunes- you might even be surprised to discover that they originated from the musical in question (My Funny Valentine, The Lady is a Tramp and Johnny One Note being the most famous).

The cast of this particular revival is young, bright-eyed and enthusiastic – with many having recently completed their theatre school training and Jamie Tait (Irving De Quincy) making his professional debut. There are moments where the energy and focus dwindles but the chorus numbers have been particularly staged well and lift the piece. Rather frustratingly, many lines are mumbled and thrown away, which makes it difficult to follow the story at times. There are some wonderful vocal performances though with Beth Bradley (Baby Rose) bringing particular gusto to the song Johnny One Note. Costumes are great, as are the dance numbers – with impressive choreography.

There is no doubt that staging this particular musical is a challenge, with a large cast, big songs and dance numbers and not the most inspiring plot. All Star Productions has done a decent job but a little more attention to detail, especially in terms of dialogue and exploration of characterisation, would have elevated the overall impact.

Runs until 7 August 2016 | Image: David Ovendon

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Impressive choreography

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