Saturday 22nd June 2013
Our second visit to the Royal Academy of Music for their end of year Musical Theatre shows couldn’t have been more different from the first. If A Catered Affair is a kitchen sink drama, ‘Little Me’ throws in everything but the kitchen sink.
Based on the novel by Patrick Dennis, ‘Little Me’ has a book by Neil Simon, lyrics by Caroyln Leigh and music by Cy Coleman. The story follows the rise of Belle Poitrine (nee Schlumpfert), a girl from the wrong side of the tracks who sets out to attain wealth, culture and social position so that she can marry the boy she has fallen in love with, Noble Eggleston. Belle herself tells the story to her biographer, and so we are treated to a series of vignettes as we follow her through various adventures, including being mistakenly imprisoned for accidentally shooting a man who is trying to propose to her, a career in vaudeville making use of said notoriety, various war time adventures and surviving the sinking of the titantic-like luxury liner, as fate continually brings them together only to part them again. Part parody, part fable, the most important thing is that nothing is allowed to get in the way of the fun, and the show is chock full of visual comedy, slapstick and witty dialogue.
At nearly three hours, the show flew by, directed with flair and wit by Karen Rabinowitz, who has to deal with a phenomenal number of scene changes and characters. Originally designed to be a star vehicle for Sid Caesar, who septupled up to play the men in Belle’s life, here Rabinowitz has taken the opportunity to share out the parts, giving a series of fantastic cameos to members of the company. The staging is inventive, with excellent design by Alistair Turner, never missing an opportunity for a visual gag, as illustrated in the ‘Gigantic scene’, where Belle and Noble are reunited just as the ship starts to sink, and Noble teaches the passengers to swim, whilst still having time to sing a romantic duet. Did we say the plot was silly?
For this kind of comedy to work, the cast really need to be on their toes and consistent. Everyone had the tone perfectly pitched with excellent comic timing and high energy. With plenty of doubling up the characters were all clearly defined and the focus was on telling the story (a plot this crazy needs utter conviction from everyone involved).
Emma Harrold as young Belle perfectly embodies the wide-eyed innocence and good heart of the heroine and shows her versatility, between the comedic vaudeville number ‘Oh! Dem Doggone Dimples’ and the more heartfelt ‘Poor Little Hollywood Star’. As ‘older Belle’, Leah Collett gives a sense that Belle has aged gracefully without really changing as she amusingly ticks a different box of sophistication in each of her scenes, golfing, tennis, saunas, ballet, and art. Her duet with her younger self (‘Little Me’) is powerfully delivered. As Noble, Alex Spinney has the challenging task of playing an impossibly ideal man and he rises to it with a dashing smile and strong voice, as he commits ever more unlikely heroic acts, culminating in becoming Governor of North (and South) Dakota. As George Musgrove, the country hick who becomes a suave nightclub owner, Simon Loughton has charm, and his seduction of Belle (‘I’ve got your number’) allows him to show off his dancing ability to a tee. As Mr Pinchley, the miserly banker who sees the light thanks to Belle, Andrew Linnie gives us a comic tour de force. Sean Quigley as Fred Poitrine makes the most of his cameo as the terminally oblivious soldier who marries Belle almost by accident (‘A real live girl’) before being killed in action (he gets his finger caught in his typewriter….it can happen). As Val Du Val, Matko Amulic has perfect comic timing, whether he is tap dancing in his signature number ‘Boom boom’, or dealing with sudden bouts of convenient trauma-induced amnesia which can only be cured by Belle.
We can’t say we left the theatre pondering the meaning of life – if there’s one message from this show, it’s that you don’t need a message to be hugely entertaining.