Before Rodgers and Hammerstein, there was Rodgers and Hart. Their songs have a more urban sophisticated feel than those of the later, more famous, partnership that produced Oklahoma and The Sound of Music.
The gloriously sensual marriage of song and lyric in 'Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered' comes from the rather 'grown-up' musical Pal Joey, complete with louche nightclub entertainer antihero. Hart could do irrepressible gaiety too, but often with a witty sting in the tail - think of "Sing for Your Supper" from The Boys from Syracuse.
Both numbers feature in the Watermill's unusual new tribute to the Rodgers and Hart partnership. Unusual because it features five women and one man, all indecently talented musicians, singers and dancers - and because deviser John Doyle eschews the usual, linking biographical structure in favour of a delicate storyline.
You can read in the programme about the partnership of the teenage prodigy Richard Rodgers (music) and the brilliant but ultimately unhappy Lorenz Hart (lyrics). What you get onstage is atmosphere - Mark Bailey's smoky nightclub setting, with Richard G Jones' mood-enhancing lighting, is attractively convincing. There, piano-playing composer meets chorus girl who plays as she sings as she dances - or perhaps a reincarnation of the all-female Ivy Benson Band - with each member, conveniently representing a different age of woman as well as playing complementary instruments.
The plot is flimsy, but it hardly matters. Ten Cents a Dance is really about the music as interpreted by the dazzling talents on display. All six performers revel in the musical multi-tasking devised for them by Doyle and musical director Sarah Travis Travis' arrangements and harmonies are spot-on, soaring to ravish the senses or underlining the wit of the lyrics as required. And I've never seen swivel stools used with such versatility!
Christopher Hamilton is the lone male Johnny, (far from 'one note', although Johnny One-Note is another highlight!). Lisa Featherston, Rebecca Jackson, Nina Lucking, Karen Mann and Rosemary Williams are the five Miss Jones who presumably pool the 'Ten Cents a Dance' they earn! It would be unchivalrous to say which represents which age of woman. When all five line up under the lights - red lips, pale make-up, sparkly black gowns - they are the spirit of "Manhattan" (another number featured). The golden glow of those brass instruments adds to the glamour.
And when the show reaches an emotional climax with the plaintive strains of 'I Never Knew What Time It Was' (my wedding waltz!) - it's time for whole-hearted applause.
- Judi Herman (reviewed at The Watermill, Newbury)