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Sometimes, at an open air theatre you worry that a breath of wind might carry the set away. With Lady Be Good your concerns are more about the plot. This is a musical of such froth that it makes The Boy Friend, playing at the same address, look like a weighty oeuvre. But this jazz-age musical comedy, driven by George Gershwin’s restless rhythms and Ira Gershwin’s nimble lyrics, has an irresistible energy, and Ian Talbot’s production delivers it with style.
It might be possible, I suppose, to make more of the story of Dick and Susie Trevor, a wealthy brother and sister who find themselves suddenly stripped of all their money and turfed out on to the sidewalk. But since they themselves regard the situation as cue for a song, it’s hard to mind much. Besides, homelessness brings out a new level of resourcefulness in the duo: leaving their possessions strewn about the street, they pop off to a party to stave off starvation with cocktails and canapés, and solve their insolvency by trying to marry money.
No, the draw here is the way the Gershwins pepper the story with delicious morsels of music: most notably the breathless, infectious “Fascinating Rhythm” and the smoothly lilting “Oh Lady, Be Good”. But there is also the delicate little duet “So Am I”, and the droll yet plaintive “The Half of It, Dearie, Blues”. The show offers a kind of musical fantasy of 1920s New York, and Talbot emphasises this with an abstract production that has the chaps permanently in tuxedos and the ladies in diaphanous cocktail attire. Paul Farnsworth’s set features a giant upturned piano, down whose keys the performers make their first entrance.
Kate Nelson is sweet and graceful as Susie and Paul Grunert puts in a pleasing performance as a wily old Jewish lawyer (“Five minutes with me and they’re a woman with a past”). The call to be breezily dazzling throughout produces some tight smiles and hysterical projection in the first act, but the actors loosen up and the delivery of Bill Deamer’s neat choreography is a joy. You can leave your brain at home, but there’s plenty of work for your toes to do.
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