Director and Choreographer: Emma Rogers
Musical Director: Kurt Kansley
Reviewer: Dan English
In a show that boasts a million sequins, it is hard not to be impressed by the glitz and the glamour in That’s Entertainment, the song and dance show that makes its Dartford stop on its UK Tour.
The production is a romp with the musical theatre that helped to define the genre, promising the greatest hits from the 1940s and 1950s whiledetouring to Tipperary and even tipping a hat at The Rat Pack. While there is no plot, meaning it shies away from being seen as a conventional musical and is a mere roller coaster ride through some of the songs that helped define a theatrical era, the show does go some way to reigniting the razzmatazz that made the productions of the 40s and 50s so unique through its sensational choreography and impressive set design.
One strong creative decision of this production is the inclusion of The Overtones as guest performers for this section of the tour. The five-piece band put their swinging sound to good effect in this production and their reworking of classic hits from the era, such as Roy Orbison’s Pretty Woman provides a welcome break from the saturation of show-tunes in this show. Their demeanour captures the audience quickly and their well-paced performances help drive the show along.
The show is certainly boosted by the impressive vocal talents of six individuals (Lauren Atkins, Loula Geater, Andy McGuire, Emma Kate Nelson, Simon Schofield and Sean Smith) whose vocal range helps to evoke images of the golden age of musical theatre as well as the blues and early swing music that is introduced in the mid 50s too. Their vocal abilities are matched with their impressive dance talents too, which bring to life the lavishness of Putting On The Ritz despite being a scaled back touring production.
Despite the impressive vocal performances across the production, it is a disappointment that the musical accompaniment is not live. That’s Entertainment is a production that relies on rousing show tunes, madcap music hall pieces and booming big band numbers, such as the second half’s Rat Pack medley, but ultimately falls short without a live band. Although not a problem in the louder, rowdier music hall sections, such as the Act One Knees Up Mother Brown finale, this lack of musical presence becomes a larger issue in the quieter numbers, such as the Carousel Waltz, which leaves the impression of a village hall tea dance rather than a Rodgers and Hammerstein Broadway hit.
Although it suffers from a poor musical decision, what this show does encapsulate of the era is the pure showmanship of it, helped by both the strong casting but also the design of the production. Heather Davies’ spectacular costumes help to define eras in an instant, with a particular highlight being the intricate Pearly King and Queen costumes showcased in the first half. The costumes also are not restrictive and so do not prevent the performers from delivering Rodgers’ well-crafted choreographer. The routines are slickly executed and go a long way to transporting the audience into the world of 1940s and 50s Broadway. Rogers’ choreography is innovative yet simple, relying on little props to frame the routines while still incorporating a wide range of dance genres, from classical to tap.
The production’s set design allows for the changes in genre and decade to be swift across the two-hour performance. From the dazzling Broadway lights of the first half to the cabaret style staircases in the second, the underlying sense of showmanship and putting on a show comes to the foreground with good effect. Like the costume, the set only serves to enhance rather than detract from the performance and does go some way to making up for the disappointment of a lack of alive band.
That’s Entertainment is a song and dance show, rather than a conventional musical, that celebrates both music and dance from an era when musical theatre and the razzmatazz that came with it first emerged. Its blending of musical theatre with pop songs of the era is slick and effective, creating a real sense of the eras it is immersed it. The production is held back by its lack of live musical, which prevents it from getting out of third gear at times, but it does also do well to revive an era long passed by but still cherished by many, through the vocal delivery and impressive routines. There is plenty of sparkle left in these old favourites.