Chicago to New York in 16 hours, and anything can happen in those 16 hours. And it does. A megalomaniac theatre director, a capricious Hollywood star, a handsome but dull leading man, a religious nut and a couple of stressed out backstage men chase one-another along the luxury train. The result is a zany, frenetic journey in which everyone’s ego is ruffled.
Cy Coleman’s music captures the slapstick, neurotic but irrestistibly seductive atmosphere of the New York backstage musical genre. Comden and Green’s lyrics spice it up with their unmistakable brand of wit.
In this production, the mouldy smell and ankle-grabbing damp of the Union Theatre help recreate the notion of theatre as an industry with no cash but lots of heart. The set is minimal, the costumes basic and the musical accompaniment of one piano and too many saxophones a little strident. Yet none of that matters once you’re swept off your feet but the positive energy and talent of the cast. It’s a collection one-of-a-kind, memorable individuals.
Howard Samuels has boundless energy and charm as wheeler-dealing Broadway director Oscar Jaffee. With the sassy Rebecca Vere as his counterfoil, they form a brilliantly funny love-hate pair not unlike the one in Kiss Me, Kate. Valda Aviks is electrifying as the Baptist on a mission, Letitia Peabody Primrose. Her comedy skills are spot on, her singing superb, and her stage presence very charismatic. Robbie Scotcher acquits himself well as the all-muscle-but-no-brains Hollywood leading man Bruce Granit (a role originally played by Kevin Kline). In my opinion, though, Chris David Storer and Matt Harrop simply steal the show with their razor sharp comic timing and rubber face expressions, as the overworked, underpaid and unthanked duo whose job is to make sure all ends well.
This production is the theatre – no money, limited resources but lots and lots of heart.