To be a lyricist, Irving Berlin lacks the edginess of a Noël Coward or Cole Porter. He’s the American who doesn’t do irony. That’s tough Snapbacks for cheap on contemporary performers, who have to sing his words without blushing at their frequent corniness, while convincing us of the total sincerity.
Berlin the composer, however, wrote superb dance tunes; along with Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, he found a wonderful performers. Their natural air of sophistication brought sufficient acidity to cut with the schmaltz of his words. The string of the RKO musicals that Berlin wrote the scores from the 1930s weren’t quite enough to keep the studio solvent, but they’re among the best degrees of Hollywood generating a meal of the audience’s appetite for innocence.
Given today’s fashion in making stage musicals from films, rrt had been inevitable that someone would do the maximum one, the 1935 “Opera hat.” Matthew White and Howard Jacques’s remake opened the other day at the Aldwych, replete with jokes so corny that this only possible reply to them is usually to groan with pleasure.
But there’s an understandable problem. Where do you find your Fred and Ginger?
It isn’t really enough to wear the class leading lady in Jon Morrell’s fabulous frocks, or to make them dance in Hildegard Bechtler’s stupendous Deco sets. It isn’t really even enough to possess them, backed by hordes of hoofers, enjoyable conduct Bill Deamer’s coruscating tribute choreography (and that is both imaginative and authentic-looking—missing merely the episode where Fred balances his walking stick on his toe and flips it via a flight). Mr. White directs, and even his clever scene changes that substitute for cinema montage aren’t quite enough—any longer than are leading man Tom Chambers’s height and chic carriage, or Summer Strallen’s passable homage to Ginger’s extra-flexible back.
The thing is: the Fred character, who plays a united states song-and-dance man, along with the Ginger character he falls in love with and pursues from London to Venice, have to be capable of act. For most of the time, and through the entire time they’re dancing, their eyes must be glued to each other’s. Though there are no close-ups, NFL Snapbacks their facial expressions mustn’t betray the job their are performing. It must look easy, so when though they’re thinking all sorts of subtle thoughts (to do with the preposterous mistaken-identity plot).
Naturally, they’re not Fred and Ginger, but in this, Mr. Chambers and Ms. Strallen triumphantly succeed, supported with broad comedy acting by Martin Ball, Vivien Parry, Ricardo Afonso and Stephen Boswell.