After hearing multiple positive reports from his theatre-going friends, my Dad decided that he had to see the Old Vic’s current production of the 1950s, Cole Porter, classic musical movie ‘High Society’. Being the young (and generally historically oblivious) millennial that I am, I’d not heard of it before. I’m not one to turn down a trip to the beautiful Old Vic, so I obliged and promptly booked us some stalls seats. Although ‘classic’ (aka old) musicals aren’t generally my cup of tea, neither of us were left disappointed by this stunning production.
High Society Review
High Society revolves around a wealthy family of socialites living on a waterside estate. We enter their world as the eldest of two sisters, Tracy (played by Kate Fleetwood), is about to embark on her second marriage to a man, George (played by Richard Grieve), to whom she is most definitely not suited. With an often farcical plot full of fun, flings, romance and misadventure; High Society is a bundle of elegant joy from start to finish.
Cole Porter’s romantic score floats through the plot with a silky smooth, yet upbeat, demeanour. Highlights include the prolific ‘Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?’ which was performed with great enthusiasm by Annabel Scholey and Jamie Parker and the beautiful ‘True Love’.
This Production of High Society
This production kicks off with a bang in the form of Joe Stilgoe (an extraordinary British jazz pianist), in the specially created role of Joey Powell (a pianist), engaging the audience with an improvised piano piece. He takes requests from the audience and on my visit somehow managed to integrate ‘The Muppet Theme’, ‘Nessun Dorma’ and ‘The Wheels on the Bus’ into a smashing few minutes of theatre. It completely set the scene, was a lot of fun and got the audience engaged from the outset … there’s also an incredible two piano, sometimes one piano, always switching piano, piano duet at the start of act two to look forward to!
The rest of the cast is as classy as the production. I feel like they’re first and foremost actors who can sing … actors who can sing really, really, well … but the acting always came first, which was oddly refreshing in a West End full of belters. Within a short period of time, I really cared about the fate of these characters which doesn’t always happen in a comedic musical.
In terms of Maria Friedman’s direction, the current ‘in the round’ setup of the Old Vic works incredibly well. With the actors playing to every direction it felt as though I was observing reality, the dance numbers worked particularly well (not least because of their smashing choreography and boundless execution). Not being focused to a specific ‘wall’ everything felt very natural, a feeling that was exemplified by the cast’s multiple points of entry to the stage.
The set was simplistic but also grounded in a great deal of realism, with the scenes being promptly changed by an ensemble cast of house staff (think Downton Abbey … but later in time) who added a glinting eye to proceedings … another excellent directional choice.
My Verdict on High Society
Overall, this production of High Society is stylish, sophisticated and a lot of fun. An enjoyable experience for all the family with an added sense of nostalgia for generation X and their slightly older peers. I give High Society a rating of 4/5.