JSPAC, September 19
Perhaps it was historical. Perhaps the Great Depression falling slap-bang in the midst of Irving Berlin, George Gershwin, Cole Porter and others fashioning the golden age of popular song inclined the creators of Puttin’ on the Ritz to have deep troughs as well as highs. Otherwise it defies explanation.
If Natalie Spriggs can offer such an utterly compelling Summertime, why would her Somewhere Over the Rainbow be so devoid of magic? If you are going to cover the Rat Pack in three songs, why make one of them the pedestrian The Candy Man? This was sung by Damion Scarcella, who even managed to strip Embraceable You of its romance, sex and sensitivity, although, to be fair, his efforts were hardly helped by a crass arrangement (Clive Dunstall). Yet Simon Schofield and Emma Kate Nelson were deft and amusing performing A Couple of Swells.
For its antipodean tour this British production, originally directed and choreographed by Emma Rogers, has Rob Mills bringing a little local star-power to the ensemble, intermittently adding the sort of pizzazz that should have been the show’s foundation garment. He had fun with Let There Be Love, but could have left the anachronistic Mr Bojangles alone, and should have detoured around On the Street Where You Live, his voice being about as appropriate as Johnny Casino doing Wagner. He was certainly not the first and won’t be the last to denude Mack the Knife of all its menace, yet was much more convincing on That’s Life and a rousing The Birth of the Blues.
Despite being somewhat cramped on this stage the cast’s dancing generally outshone its singing, with Rogers’ choreography hitting genuine highs on It Don’t Mean a Thing (If it Ain’t Got that Swing), Puttin’ on the Ritz, an impressively elegant Let’s Face the Music and Dance (amplified by Heather Davis’s costumes), and an immensely engaging Maple Leaf Rag. The recorded music, however, was a liability, sounding as brittle and cheap as a transistor radio, when some performances were indeed worthy of The Ritz.