Jubilee - A Cole Porter First for the Tabard
Penny Flood enjoys the rollicking good fun of a right royal send-up
Cole Porter is one the greats of musical theatre, so Chiswick is very lucky that The Tabard is housing the first fully staged production in Britain of Jubilee, with Porter’s music and book by another American stage great, playwright and director Moss Hart.
Jubilee may have been written in the mid-1930s about the current Queen’s Grandfather’s silver jubilee, but without changing the original script the show at the Tabard still has witty relevance today. It may not be well known, but was described as one of the best musical comedies of the time when it was first performed on Broadway.
Jubilee is a send-up of the cult of royalty and the pomp, circumstance and snobbery that go with it, as well as generally with the class systems in America as well as Britain. As well as poking gentle fun at the monarchy, Jubilee takes sideswipes at celebrity and the self-centredness of writers and actors of the day, some of them instantly recognisable – like England’s Noel Coward and one of the early Hollywood Tarzans, ex-Olympic swimming champion Johnny Weismuller,.
The Tabard production is great fun, with lots of singing and dancing from a young enthusiastic cast, who also play musical instruments when they’re not leaping round on the stage. Of course, there are great Porter songs, including The Kling-Kling Bird in the Divi-Divi Tree (as funny as it sounds), Begin the Beguine and Just One of Those Things, Porter enjoys himself writing songs in different style, such as Me and Marie Down by the Seaside as a rollicking music hall knees up and there is even a new Royal national anthem.
Moss Hart’s book focuses the royal family – king, queen, prince and princess. They decide to skip the preparations for the impending jubilee celebrations and become ordinary folk, for a few days, during which they can do something special that they really want to do. It’s a funny idea that gets funnier by the minute.
Queen Kathleen (Amy Cooke-Hodgson) wants to meet her movie hero Mowgli (based Weismuller) and Princess Diana (Alana Asher) wants to meet the famous playwright Eric Dare (Jonathan Leinmuller), based on Noel Coward. Yes, there is a Queen Katie and Princess Di.
King Henry (Robertt Paul doing a dithery and funny Prince Charles) wants to be left in peace to perfect a trick with a piece of string while Prince James (Charlie Guest) wants to meet cabaret star Karen O’Kane (Emma Williamson).
Splendid comedienne Cooke-Hodgson makes the Queen pivotal to the show’s dynamic. She’s got a terrific voice, great presence and she’s hilarious. Of course she meets her hero Mowgli (Herman Gambhir), a matinee idol and champion swimmer with a spectacular physique of bulging six-pack, pecs and biceps. He is more brawn that brains, but it’s not his brains that the queen is interested in - she wants him to teach her the breaststroke. No opportunity for a double entendre and camp innuendo is missed, for example King and Queen nicknamed Tootsie and Butch respectively and the loin-cloth clad Mowgli is followed by a chorus line of boy swimmers.
The Prince’s infatuation with Karen O’Kane leads to us seeing her performing Begin the Beguine as fan dance (Williamson is also known as burlesque artiste Scarlett Belle). Does the lady bare all? That would be telling, you’ll have to go and see for yourself! Princess Diana meets the self-obsessed Eric Dare, who has nothing original to say other than quotes from his plays. The king gets tangled up with high society socialite and celebrity hostess, a fizzing Eva Standing (Kathleen Culler).
And so they blunder on as the British Prime Minister (Chris Dobson) goes frantic looking for them as the day of the jubilee looms closer and the characters and ensemble work their way through 17 songs, lots of dancing and some farcical scenes.
Energetic support comes from the ensemble: Adam Dutton, who also played characters with funny voices like the policeman and the zoo keeper; Catherine Nicole, Adam Pendrich, Hannah Powell, George Reeve, Holly Tyler and Lucy Ward.
The choreography by James Houlbrooke is excellent, including some tap dancing whose sound is like a tuneful roll of thunder in the small Tabard theatre. Director Julia Hillman keeps the show involving many actors, musicians and plot lines moving swiftly to create a an evening I thoroughly enjoyed.
If I was being nitpicky I would have some criticism of the staging but I was having too good a time to let it bother me. And it may be ironed out by the time you see it.
It’s on ‘till the 21 st July and it’s an opportunity not to be missed.
June 16, 2012