The MGM Story – Upstairs at the Gatehouse, London

Writer: Chris Burgess
Director and Choreographer: Matthew Cole
Musical Director: Charlie Ingles
Reviewer: Karl O’Doherty

Expecting a catalogue show of classic MGM numbers is a good enough reason to make the trip up the Highgate hill to see this. However, that expectation will be cracked wide apart by an intelligent, very interesting and sweet look at one of the powerhouses of 20th Century mass-entertainment. So, you know, be prepared.

It may help to look at The MGM Story as a theatrical documentary. We’re looking at the studio from the silent days in the 20’s through its incredible peak of hits like the Wizard of Oz, Meet me in St. Louis, Easter Parade, Annie Get Your Gun, Singing in the Rain and the beautiful Gigi before its sad decline in an age of Elvis and television. Packed with fact and anecdote, surprises and gossipy nuggets this is a story inspired by, crafted with, and presented full of passion and love for the subject.

Switching through different parts and narrative responsibilities (both female performers take on Judy Garland at different points, for example) the four-strong cast are genuinely charming, presenting and demonstrating why the studio’s creations have left such a lasting impact with aplomb. Steven Dalziel, James Leece, Emma Kayte Saunders and Miranda Wilford all deserve pretty much equal praise for the performance, with minor hiccoughs handled with humour and easy charisma that allows leniency when, say, dance routines aren’t as polished as maybe Busby Berkeley would have liked.

In fairness to them, they do make excellent use of the smaller space at the venue on a good looking set from Emily Bestow. With the four musicians playing on stage too, the chance for extravagant choreography is mimimised, but smart use of the space leads to solid pieces throughout. James Leece’s Singin’ in the Rain, Steven Dalziel’s Make ‘Em Laugh and the group number Good Mornin’ are real highlights showing off just what they can do. When they bring out the sheets of wood for a group tap dance number it sparks a sudden realisation that there’s absolutely nowhere near enough tap dance routines on London stages these days.

Writer Chris Burgess clearly knows his subject, and combined with the direction and choreography of Matthew Cole, and the musical direction of Charlie Ingles they have an excellent mix for communicating it to an audience. The production is one for fans of the studio, film history buffs and anyone who appreciates a good song and dance number. A few hours in the company of these “two smart girls and two slick fellas” is one well spent.

Runs until 25 September 2016 then tours | Image: Danilo Moroni


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