High Society

Lucy James, Zoe Doano and Jill Armour in High Society

Lucy James, Zoe Doano and Jill Armour in High Society


Bord Gáis Energy Theatre, Dublin

Cole Porter’s score for the film High Society came at the end of a career marked by glittering success and personal tragedy. The jazzy composition is rife with riffs familiar to Porter aficionados, and Arthur Kopit’s stage adaptation, which originated in the late 1990s, capitalised on the composer’s posthumous popularity by absorbing other Porter classics, including Let’s Misbehave, I Love Paris, and Say it With Gin.

For a contemporary audience familiar with Bing Crosby and Frank Sinatra’s renditions of these standards in the film and subsequent live recordings, Anna Linstrum’s new production will satisfy a nostalgic desire. However, it will prove far less pleasing on the ear. This not a case of unreasonable comparison (this is not, after all, a tribute show). It is rather a case that, with a few exceptions (Teddy Kempner and Marilyn Cutts), the cast’s singing voices are neither rich nor nimble enough to carry Porter’s mellow melodies, while the seven-piece band fails to yield the deep resonance of a full orchestra.

The plot is based on Philip Barry’s play The Philadelphia Story, in which young socialite Tracy Lord find herself embroiled in a love triangle on the eve of her second marriage. The social backdrop is post-Wall Street Crash America, where the Lords’ excessive lifestyle – the 1920s norm – is now seen as politically and morally suspect. The family become fodder for a society scandal, as two journalists infiltrate the family gathering to collect material for blackmail.

Francis O’Connor’s colonial mansion anchors the production in east-coast America. A revolving centrepiece facilitates the transformation of the set, and her costumes provide a subtle canvas of social status. Andrew Wright’s choreography is only fully unleashed in the ensemble numbers, where a chorus of housekeeping staff – who comment on the action through song – are a black-and-white blur of arms and legs and feet moving fast in tap shoes.

The most impressive group number, however, is the encore, and unfortunately this is true for the lead performances, too. Michael Praed, who is hesitant and just off-key in the first half, gains confidence in the second as the dapper Dexter Haven, while Sophie Bould’s thin-voiced Tracy gains depth for the finale.

In their closing duet they are finally quite convincing, but it’s not enough to give this touring production the real high-spirit it needs.

* Until Saturday

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