Based on the play The Philadelphia Story (which has also been seen at the Old Vic starring Kevin Spacey and Jennifer Ehle) by Philip Barry as well as the film High Society, it is lovely to see a production of the musical which is fizzing with enthusiasm and energy.
Performed in the round (which really suits the musical well), High Society tells the story of Tracy Lord who is preparing to get married for the second time but not expecting the appearance of her first husband CK Dexter Haven…
It begins with a lovely sing along at the piano with Joe Stilgoe (who has had a part written for him specifically for the production – just like Louis Armstrong in the film), who gets the audience to shout out suggestions for songs for him to play. In the end at this particular sing along we ended up with a strange mix including Nellie the Elephant, Fly Me to the Moon, Moon River and The Entertainer!
Moving on to the production itself, the show moves along at a lovely pace that is kept light hearted and bubbly throughout. One such example of the fantastic performances and choreographed sequences is the ‘Who Wants to be a Millionaire?’ scene, featuring Jamie Parker as Mike Connor and Annabel Scoley as Liz Imbrie. Both give vibrant and comical performances throughout – but this scene particularly showcases this.
But there are also other very strong performances in the cast such as Ellie Bamber as the spoilt and opinionated Dinah,, Kate Fleetwood as the modern and sophisticated Tracy and Rupert Young as the strongly determined Dexter.
However, it doesn’t feel like a perfect production as the chemistry between Fleetwood and Young seems to be underplayed and there doesn’t seem to be much emotional warmth between the pair. The energy in performances seem to also run out towards the end making the last scene feel a bit like of an anti-climax.
Yet despite this, the audience is still able to have fun and enjoy themselves thanks to the wonderful music of Cole Porter and the sense of humour that comes through consistently. The costumes and set design reflect the 1950 era well and the audience does tend to feel as though they are part of the party.
But it is the ‘Well did you Evah’ and ‘Let’s Misbehave’ scenes that really sum up the liveliness of the musical as a whole and the energy levels really pick up during this period of the second act.
While the set design might be simple, it allows the audience to use their imagination as to what their idea of what an upper class person’s house might have looked like in those days – showing respect for the audience’s intelligence.
Some might find it a superficial musical, but personally I thought it was a fun and enjoyable way to spend a wet (surprise surprise UK weather) afternoon that really brought the sunshine to the theatre. It is a fitting end to Kevin Spacey’s reign as Artistic Director of the Old Vic.
High Society performs at the Old Vic Theatre until 22nd August.