HIGH SOCIETY - MAY 2014
Director - Liz Petley-Jones
Musical Director - Keith Pusey
Choreography - Louise Hodson
By Cole Porter
Tracy - Katie Hickson
Dexter - Dan Hickson
Mike - Adrian Hickford
Liz - Suzanne Hall
Dinah - Laura Pirret
Uncle Willie - Peter Barber
George - Charlie Hellard
Seth - Paul Hellard
Mother Lord - Penny Bullough
Jenny Adams, David Anderson, Cressida Bullough, Deborah Cleary, Colin Crimp, Anne Croudass, Emily Cutler, Jill Fitzpatrick,Stephen Gleed, Susan Harper, Louise Hodson, Bob Jones, Graham Light, Sally Male, Simon Meanwell-Ralph, Nicky Moore, Heather Reid, Claire Smith, Emma Smith, Mary Twomey, Charlotte Upfold, Lucy Whiteman
Winchester Youth Counselling - For people aged between 11 and 25 in the district of Winchester.
This production can best be described as sensational!
The very stylish set came to life as the overture began and the servants quietly came on stage. The “High Society” theme seamlessly led into “Ridin’ High” sung by Katie Hickson, as a very elegant Tracy Lord. Then a stream of fabulous Cole Porter songs followed, each one performed perfectly by the very talented cast.
Dexter, played by Dan Hickson, came across as a very warm, charming character. He and Katie were a great couple with some excellent singing and believable dialogue. Adrian Hickford and Suzanne Hall (Mike and Liz) were also a well matched couple. “Who Wants to be a Millionaire” was well sung and choreographed and Adrian’s version of “You’re Sensational” was lovely.
Laura Pirret was a splendid little sister and her duet with Tracy was extremely funny. Penny Bullough was a staid Mother Lord. She was very amusing when she “let her hair down” after the party and Paul Hellard was a rather dignified Father Lord. Peter Barber was a super Uncle Willie, thoroughly enjoying himself in a very non-PC way, and his “Say it with Gin” was a delight. Charlie Hellard was good as the stuffy George.
There were so many favourite moments in the show. “Just One of Those Things” was nicely interpreted and “Well, Did You Evah?” was a superb ensemble piece. “Let’s Misbehave” was brilliant. The chorus was fabulous throughout and the high jinks in the kitchen were dazzling, with excellent choreography and execution by the staff – I do love a bit of tap!
The orchestra was super. Keith Pusey must be congratulated on not only getting that real Cole Porter sound but also letting us hear the fabulous lyrics. Sound and lighting were good throughout and I was very impressed by the set. It was so versatile with scene changes accomplished in seconds. The costumes were excellent and Tracy’s dresses were absolutely gorgeous.
Liz Petley-Jones did a fantastic job. It was such a stylish, lively colourful production and everyone involved should be congratulated.
Any musical that showcases Cole Porter’s witty lyrics and memorable tunes has a head-start on many others, such is the enduring quality of the man’s talent. Set in affluent 1930s Long Island, socialite Tracy Lord’s wedding preparations are derailed, initially by the distracting presence of ex-husband Dexter and then by tabloid hack Mike.
Kate Hickson is stunning in the lead-role, running the whole gamut of emotions from pretentious, through drunken, to romantic. Real-life husband Dan (Dexter) plays a more laid-back character but is just one of an entirely excellent cast. Suzanne Hall and Adrian Hickford added quality support as the journalists and Laura Pirret makes a strong debut as Dinah, Tracy’s little sister.
The performance was exceptional, with an impressive in-house produced set, costumes, lighting and sound.
Liz Petley-Jones’ direction ensured the whole cast contributed, with choreography (Louise Hodson) and music (Keith Pusey) all worthy of note.
PROVERBIALLY speaking, familiarity can breed contempt, but the opposite is most certainly the case with Winchester Musicals and Opera Society’s delightful latest production of High Society. With so many familiar songs in the show, one barely has time to draw breath between one timeless standard and the next, and an enthusiastic opening-night audience lapped it all up gratefully.
It’s not wall-to-wall familiarity though, as Director Liz Petley-Jones has assembled a cast featuring a perfect mix of WMOS stalwarts and fresh new faces. Petley-Jones is also credited with designing the set, and she has come up with an unfussy but highly effective Art Deco solution that perfectly captures the feeling of opulence and space of the Lord family home. Visually there is so much to enjoy, and I particularly liked how the female chorus with their pastel-coloured maids' uniforms blending into the background, and the male chorus, impeccably attired as footmen, were used almost as part of the architecture, emphasising the social class difference between them and their more showily dressed employers. Clever, Miss Petley-Jones!
Another unfamiliar, but welcome, face is MD Keith Pusey, who kept things wonderfully upbeat in the pit. He also did well to coax, cajole and encourage those one or two members of the cast who very occasionally forgot – or struggled– to “swing”.
All nine principals took their turn to shine, and there were many, many delightful highlights throughout the evening. The characterisations of, and interactions between, all three Lord women (Katie Hickson, Penny Bullough, and Laura Pirret) were absolutely spot on with Hickson turning in another top-drawer performance both dramatically and vocally, at turns showing the iciness and the vulnerability of Tracy.
Newcomer Pirret brought delightful, mischievous fun to the part of annoying little sister, Dinah and is surely a name to watch for the future.
Bullough never fails to deliver, and brought real panache to her songs early in both acts.
In fact, so assured were the accents of these three ladies, that it set the bar very high for the male principals. When the gentlemen, wisely in my opinion, decided early on in the piece to settle for just a nod towards American inflections, their characters really convinced.
I love Dan Hickson. There, I’ve said it. He’s no Bing Crosby (but who is?) but he brings warmth and charm to every character he plays, and I was rooting for Dexter throughout. Hickson mentions in the programme notes that the part of Dexter is vocally pitched a little lower than he is used to, but there was no indication of that in this first-class performance. Lecherous drunkard Uncle Willie should, by modern standards, be a fairly odious individual, but Peter Barber played him magnificently as a character of his time, and one couldn’t help but love the old rogue. In his first number, Throwing a Ball Tonight, Barber only just managed to keep up with Pusey’s swinging baton, but by the end of the evening he was fully up to speed, and he was one of the highlights of the show for me.
Adrian Hickford and Suzanne Hall, as press-hounds Mike Connor and Liz Imbrie, can’t help but draw comparisons with their illustrious predecessors in the film version. But before long, thoughts of Sinatra and Holm faded as these two convinced utterly in their respective parts. On a personal level, I’m delighted to see Hall back on stage after her recent spells as director. I had forgotten just how good she is. Her duet with Barber, I’m Getting Myself Ready for You, was a sheer joy.
WMOS debutants Paul Hellard and Charlie Hellard clearly enjoyed their first outings and on this showing are great assets for the society. Charlie was maybe a little nervous for his solo I Worship You but that’s first nights for you, and he otherwise did very well to flesh out the somewhat two-dimensional character of George Kitteredge. Paul is clearly an accomplished actor and conveyed well the genuine contrition of wayward Patriarch, Seth Lord.
In leaving the chorus till last, I fear I am doing them a great disservice. It is a long time since I have seen a chorus so well drilled, so full of character, and so tight musically. Full marks to each and every one of them, and to Petley-Jones, Pusey and choreographer Louise Hodson (who bravely included a great ensemble tap-routine which will only get tighter and tighter as the week progresses…).
Oh, and one final pat on the back to Director, Petley-Jones for her attention to detail. For example, drinking glasses and bottles actually contained liquid; the rope tying up an off-stage yacht actually bobbed up and down with the waves. Little touches, maybe, but they make such a difference.
All in all, a very classy production.
Go and see it. Go on, treat yourself!