Gentlemen Prefer Blondes on National Tour

Note: Following its summer season at the Regent's Park Open Air Theatre, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes embarks on an 11-week, 10-stop national tour, running 8 September to 21 November 1998.

Everyone remembers the definitive version of Lorelei Lee - Marilyn Monroe wiggling her way through the high glamour number “Diamonds Are A Girl s Best Friend” in the film of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. With that one song, Monroe did more for sales of Winston and Cartier than any advertising jingle ever could, and in the process probably shifted a fair amount of hydrogen peroxide too.

Now the New Shakespeare Company has imported some of the razzle-dazzle to Regent's Park with its revival of this 1949 musical. With lyrics by Leo Robin, music by Jule Styne, and book by Anita Loos, the tale of Lorelei, a small town gal with lofty ambitions, is set in Paris, New York and on board the liner Ile de France. The showstopper “Diamonds” is augmented by a classic score that includes “A Little Girl From Little Rock”, “Bye Bye Baby” and “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes”.

While cruising across the pond with girlfriend Dorothy (Debby Bishop), Lorelei (Sara Crowe) discovers her sugar daddy, the button tycoon Gus Esmond (Clive Rowe) may be about to dump her. This is a cue for Ms Lee and pal to resort to a spot of shipboard gold-digging. Lorelei attracts the attentions of zip manufacturer Josephus Gage (a carrot-chomping Martin Turner) while Dorothy snares a wealthy admirer Henry Spofford (Harry Burton). All goes swimmingly until the party reaches the City of Lights, where the bottle blonde discovers a still faithful Gus ensconced in her suite at the George V. Suddenly, the stage is set for a battle between the button baron and the zipper king for Lorelei s affections.

There are some proficient performances in Ian Talbot s production, notably Bishop, who possesses a fine pair of lungs, and the jovially rotund Rowe. He played Nicely Nicely Johnson in the RNT s Guys and Dolls, and he does nicely in this role too, especially in the Act II number “Coquette”.

Elsewhere, though, the show lacks sparkle. The two comic Frenchmen whom Lady Beekmen (Delia Lindsay) hires to recover her diamonds (loaned to Lorelei) seem to have wandered in from a bad episode of ‘Allo, ‘Allo. And a major disappointment is the casting of Crowe, aka the bimbo from the Philly cheese commercials. Crowe, whose inspiration for the part seems to be a marionette version of Betty Boop, blows the big staircase number, with a squeaky rendition lacking power or depth. This bland bombshell needs to believe in herself a little more in order to carry the role of Lorelei with any real conviction.

It s certainly ironic then, that halfway through Act I the ship s steward tells a passenger, “If you haven t met her, you re missing quite a lot.”

Go expecting zircons, rather than real gems.

Richard Forrest