London Palladium, London – until 13 March 2017
Guest reviewer: Joe Sharpe
Showbiz, entertainment and glamour are three things one expects on a trip to Las Vegas. Well for one night only, courtesy of the London Music Theatre Orchestra; Vegas came to London – with showbiz, entertainment and sheer musical class in abundance. It took 20 years for Andrew Bergman’s 1992 movie to be given a musical theatre treatment – but in the hands of Jason Robert Brown, arguably one of the most incisive songwriters for the stage after Sondheim, the show opened on Broadway for a brief run in 2015. For one night only and under the inspired baton of Brown himself, the show has just played the London Palladium in a polished concert performance delivered by the London Musical Theatre Orchestra and a star-studded cast.
Bergman’s is a tale that’s pure Hollywood fantasy. Jack and Betsy are young lovers who after a convoluted back story, decide to get married in Vegas. On arriving in Nevada however, the beautiful Betsy catches the eye of Tommy, a nefarious but shrewd veteran gambler who sees in the young woman, the image of his late wife. Thrashing Jack in a rigged card game, Tommy strikes a deal to relieve Jack of his poker debt, in exchange for the older man being able to spend a weekend with Betsy. The unfolding narrative is as unbelievable as it is hilarious, with the tale stretching to Hawaii and including a troupe of Flying Elvises before its ultimate, happy resolution.
As Jack and Betsy, Arthur Darvill and Samantha Barks drove the performing excellence at the core of this concert-staged piece, with Darvill giving a wonderfully charismatic performance, matched by stunning vocals that were best exemplified in the opening number I Love Betsy. Barks was equally flawless, but what made these two so watchable was the chemistry and comedy in their connection. Despite delivering almost all of the text out front, including referencing scripts where needed, they offered a masterclass in delivering a staged concert performance. Alongside Barks and Darvill, Maxwell Caulfield’s Tommy was similarly magnificent in voice and character.
To be fair, there wasn’t a weak link within the entire company, but stand out performances came from Rosemary Ashe as Jacks possessive, crazed mother Bea and Nicholas Colicos playing the comically clumsy and conniving Johnny Sandwich.
It is rare to find a one-off concert staging delivered to such an impeccable standard throughout cast and orchestra. Introducing the evening, Freddie Tapner the LMTO’s founder, invited the audience to allow the music to fill the scene changes and dance breaks and warned that the flying Elvises would have be left to the imagination! Bravo to Shaun Kerrison’s direction – with disbelief suitably suspended, the evening’s magic simply soared.
Brown’s score combined with Bergman’s script is a driving force to be reckoned with in musical theatre. The gags and jazzy tunes come thick and fast as the plot’s twists and turns unfold. The saying is that what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas – well it was great to see the secrets of this story spilled in London. The show’s creatives took a gamble that came up trumps, their ambitious production playing to a full house. Flush with their success, let’s hope it’s back here soon.