First things first: Dorothy Who?
It's sad to have to explain, and there's no need once you see the show, since her work sings for itself, without the need to advertise or trumpet its virtues. That's partly, of course, what made the discreet, distinctive lyric writing talents of Dorothy Fields (pictured) such an integral part of the now vanquished golden age of the Broadway musical: its seeming effortlessness and lack of fanfare, and the craft that was a given.
First seen at the tiny Jermyn Street Theatre in February, this effervescent fringe treat makes a highly welcome return to the slightly larger King's Head, whose dinner theatre ambience is perfectly suited to the show's intimate charms. But I would caution any West End producers on the look-out for a show to transfer cheaply to beware: if Dorothy Fields is a tough one to explain to non-aficionados, the show lacks name recognition amongst its cast, too.
Which is all well and good for the purpose here, which is to showcase the songs, not the singers; once again, it's the lack of advertising themselves that actually goes to serve the material. It may be sad to say, but such values are relatively alien in the West End today.
If such modesty of performance is rare, such immodesty of talent is rarer still. In a truly astonishing career that spanned some six decades, and saw Fields working on some 19 shows, 30 movies and nearly 500 songs in all, she collaborated with many of the greatest theatrical composers of the last century: Jimmy McHugh and Jerome Kern, Arthur Schwartz and Sigmund Romberg, and Harold Arlen and Burton Lane. To know her work is to know a substantial body of the Broadway musical at its best; and she continued turning out the hits, almost to the end of her life, providing words to Cy Coleman's music for Sweet Charity in 1966 and Seesaw in 1973.
A personal credo to her career as well as life can perhaps be found encapsulated in the lyric to "It's Not Where You Start" from her last show, Seesaw:
"It's not where you start,/It's where you finish,/
It's not how you go,/it's how you land./
A hundred to one shot,/they call him a klutz,/
Can out-run the fav'rite,/all he needs in the guts."
And boy, did Fields have guts! And girl, did she finish on top!
This show does, too. Director David Kernan and co-deviser and writer Eden Phillips have cleverly weaved some 40 songs into a brief biographical tale of her life. With the writer herself embodied by the mature, stately presence of Angela Richards, much of the narration is given in the first person, a device that allows us to see the woman behind the songs as well as the songs of the woman.
Richards is ably supported in putting those across by Rebecca Lock, Robert Meadmore, Kathryn Akin, Stori James and pianist/singer Nathan Martin.
- Mark Shenton