Bells Are Ringing is a glimpse into history, specifically fifties New York and the days before the advent of answering machines when those who could afford it paid answering services to take messages when they could not be at the phone.
Employed as a message taker for her Aunt's "Susanswerphone", Anna-Jane Casey plays a protagonist who lives through the lives of her clients: actors, playwrites, pet grooming services and even the Duchess of Windsor. Casey establishes herself from the musical's first number as an exceptional performer bringing a strong voice and impressive movement to the character.
Accused by her aunt of becoming too involved with those at the end of the telephone line, as well as "Susanswerphone" being mistakenly investigated by the police as a suspected escort service, Casey acts upon information she receives in her messages and meddles on behalf of her clients. As she puts it, if Romeo and Juliet had been fortunate to have an answering service "those kids would still be alive."
This is a musical of its age, firmly rooted in its fifties genesis, with production numbers triggered by saying "hello" to strangers on subway cars, melting away their imagined locations and filling the wide expanse of the Union's stage with a hard working ensemble delivering Alistair David’s excellent choreography.
Gary Milner disappoints as the love interest Casey has fallen for simply from hearing his voice, but emerges as a well rounded character in time for the finale. In particular Adam Rhys-Charles deserves mention, standing out from the ensemble as the young songwriter, trapped working as a dentist until rescued by Casey's do-gooding.