Glitzy and glamorous, something like an old lady past her prime, The Adelphi Hotel in Liverpool still stands as an icon at the heart of this rejuvenated city. No longer a central point in which the great and good gather, The Adelphi is nonetheless as much a part of Liverpool’s heritage as The Beatles and St. George’s Hall making Phil Willmott’s musical to celebrate its history as eagerly anticipated as anything else contributing to the festivities of Culture Year.
Unlike the tired façade of the building that stands today, there is nothing shoddy about the set. A revolving maze of intricacy showing the lobby, the kitchens, the roof – on which Roy Rogers and Trigger once famously appeared – and the guest rooms are all lavishly displayed and just about outdoes the stunning range of costumes on display.
The music is sweeping and grandiose and the songs themselves are catchy – except, perhaps, for the overly schmaltzy “Once In A Lifetime” with its repeated refrain of “It’s Liverpool’s Time Again” reverberating through one’s head with nightmarish regularity long into the wee small hours – and are performed well, as are the intricate dance numbers which come straight out of every Fred and Ginger movie ever made.
Helen Carter as lovelorn chambermaid, Babs, and the perpetually drunk wife of an unnamed Hollywood movie producer, drives the show along with a performance that is quite simply fabulous in all respects. Neil McCaul, who triples up in roles of Lord Rothmore, the producer and as an Irish kitchen porter, exhibits his obvious talents to the full, as does Natasha Seale as Old Alice and Mother Thompson.
Julie Atherton playing Young Alice and Jo, the contemporary manager of the hotel, and Simon Bailey, Young Alice’s roguish husband-to-be, Tommy, are also excellent and both can certainly sing as well as act.
The problem is that there is a discernible lack of either originality or depth in the storyline. Fun and frothy it certainly is, and that’s exactly what the tin offers the customers in the pre-show blurb, but given that The Adelphi has some pretty fabulous tales to tell in its own right, relying on a rehashed version of Titanic – without the berg, mind you – seems a bit of a cop out.
There remains an awful lot to commend Once Upon A Time At The Adelphi and it is worth going to see, but the huge regret is that had Phil Willmott only concentrated harder on telling a deeper, more intriguing story then it might well have been a whole lot better.