There’s no denying that in a rainy, recession-gripped spring, a musical that faces down every crisis with a cheery smile, a crisp shirt and some rinky-dink tap-dancing is refreshing. This new stage version of the famous RKO 1935 movie even drafts in “Let’s Face the Music and Dance” (one of several Irving Berlin classics not in the original but, pleasingly, inserted here). But even so, it’s hard to rise above polite enthusiasm for this new arrival in the West End. It’s not the fault of anyone on the stage, it’s just that the plot is so tissue thin, the script so daft and the gags so corny that there is nothing to do but wait for the next song and dance to come along.
It looks great. Hildegard Bechtler’s designs provide a series of opulent art deco interiors and Jon Morrell’s costumes too are gorgeous. Bill Deamer provides exuberant and witty choreography and Matthew White’s production is delivered with zest and polish.
Chambers, taking the Fred Astaire role, can’t achieve that effortless style of the original – who could? – and his singing voice is rather nasal. But he dances with droll flair and has a very likeable stage presence. Summer Strallen, in the Ginger Rogers role of Dale Tremont, brings a nice mix of snap and softness to her dancing and indeed to her character, suggesting that behind the tough-talking exterior lies a bruised heart. The chemistry between them isn’t earth-shattering but then they don’t have a huge amount to go on.
And yes, the plot. Broadway legend Jerry Travers has come to London to star in a show and promptly falls in love with a girl in the same hotel. A little strenuous wooing on his part and she reciprocates, only for a mix-up to convince her that he is a married man. All the relevant parties then hot foot it to Venice, where, after some outlandish twists and turns, order is restored. It could be Shakespeare, but it isn’t – the characters are strictly one-note and most of the jokes are not so much top hat as old hat.
But the cast goes at it with spirit. Martin Ball dithers amiably as the bankrolling producer, Vivien Parry snaps and sparks as his mercenary wife and Ricardo Afonso holds his own as an Italian dress designer who has to conduct a duel in his underwear and pronounce “antique lace” as “anti-glaze”. It’s that kind of show.