Music: Jule Styne
Lyrics: Leo Robin
Book: Anita Loos and Joseph Fields
Director: Sasha Regan
Reviewer: Stephen Bates
The 1953 film Gentlemen Prefer Blondes took us back to the 1920s, an era when predatory young ladies might have crossed the Atlantic by environmentally friendly means in pursuit of wealthy gentlemen. This stage version, originally seen on Broadway in 1949, seems terribly dated, but a lively revival makes the Union Theatre feel much larger than it is and it still packs quite a punch.
As the blonde Lorelei Lee, Abigayle Honeywill does not look to be unduly daunted by the knowledge that the role is most famously associated with Marilyn Monroe. Her assumed squeaky voice may not help to make her songs easy listening, but she delivers the key number. Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend, with genuine panache. Eleanor Lakin also has bucketsful of sass as the brunette Dorothy Shaw, Lorelei’s chaperone for the voyage from New York to Paris.
The plot, if it can be called that, has Lorelei going to France to meet her intended, Gus Esmond (Aaron Bannister-Davies), heir to a button manufacturing fortune. Thinking that Gus will abandon her, Lorelei makes a beeline for Josephus Gage (George Lennan) who claims to be the inventor of the zip. Meanwhile, Henry (Freddie King), the geeky son of another millionaire, drunkard Mrs Spofford (Virge Gilchrist), takes a shine to Dorothy. Also aboard are the flamboyant showgirl Gloria (Ashlee Young) and Sir Francis Beekman (Tom Murphy) a lecherous English gentleman whose eye for the opposite sex rarely wanders in the direction of his wife, Lady Phyllis (Maria Mosquera).
The book, written by Anita Loos and Joseph Fields, creaks throughout and all but falls apart in the second half. There are times when we wish that these passengers were sailing on the Titanic, but director Sasha Regan gives the show sufficient buoyancy to see it through choppy waters. Set designer Justin Williams opts for an open stage, giving ample room for Zak Nemorin’s choreography, which blends traditional show routines with distinct, imaginative sequences, particularly in scenes set in France.
Jule Styne’s catchy tunes and Leo Robin’s clever lyrics are of their era, but they still come across strongly today, musical director Henry Brennan helping to make them sound fresh. Period costumes (designer Penn O’Gara) are changed at a frantic rate, posing the question as to where they are all stored at this small venue.
The show is all profoundly silly, but quality songs, zestful dance and an exuberant 18-strong company redeem it. In the end, of course the girls get their millionaires and we get a jolly good evening.
Runs until 26 October 2019 | Image: Mark Senior