Review: Puttin’ on the Ritz, the song & dance extravaganza, at Cheltenham Everyman

Puttin on the Ritz

Puttin on the Ritz - Credit: Archant

Great songs from Gershwin, Berlin and Porter, yes! (But, to be honest, it wasn’t Strictly Katie Jarvis’s cup of tea)

Puttin’ on the Ritz - Katya

Puttin’ on the Ritz - Katya - Credit: Archant

“This isn’t a musical, is it?” Ian asks, suspiciously, as we take our seats in the theatre.

“Umm…” I say, giving him a Paddington-type hard stare.

“It IS called Puttin’ on the Ritz (with no ‘g’)”, I add - privately wondering how many clues he needs. “’The song and dance extravaganza! With the music of George Gershwin. Irving Berlin. Cole Porter…!’”

I mean, what was he expecting? Tortured Chekhov characters? Beckett silences? A scenery door that sticks while all the actors’ trousers fall down?

To be fair, any one of those elements would have been nice. At times.

But let’s put this into fair perspective. I’ve never seen Strictly. Never tuned into Britain’s Got Talent. (Though I hear the dogs are amazing.)

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And I’m a stickler for good English.

So I’m not the ideal candidate for Puttin’ on the Ritz.

And this is a show that tries very hard to dazzle and sparkle with the glamour of Fred and Ginger; to glide with the smoothness of Cole Porter; to capture the excitement of the Cotton Club, where the likes of Louis Armstrong made eardrums - and society - burst with excitement.

And some of the costumes were great.

But you knew there was trouble when, as the modern-day dancers entered the stage, you couldn’t drag your eyes from the black-and-white films flickering on the screen above them: Astaire and Rogers tapping away in vintage footage; Judy Garland Wizard of Oz-ing.

Perhaps I’m being unkind. Some of the audience clearly loved this sing-and-dance fest - particularly the ones who knew the words to My Blue Heaven. (I can’t see the point of a sing-a-long (other than the national anthem, and even then we’re only talking first verse) if you don’t include the words somewhere.)

There were cracking songs in there. I Won’t Dance. Top Hat. It Don’t Mean a Thing. Anything Goes by the fab Cole Porter. (And who knew (Thanks, programme) that, despite his ‘sexual orientation’, he married the divorcee Linda Lee Thomas, the two remaining devoted until her death in 1954? Or that he never really recovered from a riding accident, which eventually necessitated his leg being amputated?). I read all this in the semi-dark.

The audience loved Strictly guest stars Katya Virshilas (dazzling tan) and Jared Murillo (great Mills & Boon name), who were incredibly skilful. And there was Becky O’Brien (Britain’s Got Talent, the season that put dogs on a back-paw) with a good strong pair of lungs and an endearing personality.

But why the Marx Brothers film in the interval? Why the sudden burst of Christina Perri? Why, when a show relies on music, would you pick a programme that necessitates all recorded backing tracks? (Marvellous though the big bands were.)

Maybe we were too early in the tour. Maybe it’s the fact that I didn’t know the words to the 20s songs and I didn’t recognise the 21st century names.

Listen. I love the Everyman. I hardly ever have seen a bad production here. But a girl has gotta be honest.

And, hey! If you’re over 100, recognise all the names in Daily Mail side columns, and would wear a tea cosy if alone in a room, then go for it.

The Everyman Theatre is at Regent Street, Cheltenham, Gloucestershire GL50 1HQ, box office 01242 572573;