Union Theatre, London – until 26 October 2019
Sasha Regan’s revival of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes is one of the finest musical theatre productions in town. Marilyn Monroe and Jane Russell gave the 1953 movie its diamond-encrusted panache, but it was the 1949 Broadway show that came first – and with songs penned by the genius of Jule Styne and Leo Robin, its credentials are impeccable. The story is a confection of romantic whimsy and caricature, set in an era when sexual politics were a world apart from today’s identity driven issues, a contrast that makes Regan’s decision to stage the piece all the more bold and brave.
The strengths of the evening lie in the excellent song, dance and acting that are on display. Stepping into Monroe’s shoes is Abigayle Honeywill as Lorelei Lee, the titular blonde. Whip smart, Lorelei is a woman well aware of the siren-like power of her charms, with Honeywill channelling her remarkable talent and experience into the role. Her songs are riddled with a wry ironic comedy and she makes fine work of classics including ‘Diamonds Are A Girl’s Best Friend’ and ‘I’m Just A Little Girl From Little Rock’.
As Lorelei’s chaperone Eleanor Lakin who plays Dorothy Shaw is every match for her charge. Lakin also possesses the voice of an angel that is at all times powerful, controlled and a wonderful medium for her acting. Opening the solo singing with ‘It’s High Time’, Lakin sets an equally high bar that is never bettered than in ‘Keeping Cool With Coolidge’ in which her vocal work is simply sensational.
Styne and Robin’s libretto’s liberally sprinkled with Songbook gems and it says much for Regan’s cast that they all step up to the plate magnificently – capturing each number’s rhythm and cadence, but also and this is critically important, unlocking the comedy in the lyrics and delivering the gags with pinpoint timing. Tom Murphy as the womanising Sir Francis Beekman plays a character who modern writers would baulk at creating. Murphy’s turn however is a hilarious delight, with his take on ‘It’s Delightful Down In Chile’ proving a cracker. Similarly Virge Gilchrist as the alcoholic American aristocrat Ella Spofford is another delightful vignette.
Choreographer Zak Nemorin has drilled his cast with flair and precision, the dance numbers being ambitiously conceived and thrillingly delivered in the Union’s compact space. Sat at a baby grand, Henry Brennan musically directs with his small band making fine work of some of the 20th century’s most entertaining melodies.
This is a carefully crafted musical. Classy, sassy and perfectly performed.
Runs until 26th OctoberPhoto credit: Mark Senior