If frothy old school nostalgia is your bag then this lively production of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes may be just up your theatrical street. Based upon the eponymous 1925 jazz-era novel by Anita Loos, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes was first made into a silent comedy film in 1928, and then became a 1949 stage musical with music by Jule Styne starring Carol Channing. Gentlemen Prefer Blondes is most universally recognised in popular culture from the iconic Howard Hawks’ 1953 movie musical starring Marilyn Monroe and Jane Russell.
Set mostly on a cruise ship bound from New York to Paris the plot follows Arkansas showgirl Lorelei, a gold-digging flapper with a hidden past who is willing to do almost anything to guarantee herself a wealthy future. Because Lorelei’s fiancée Gus Esmond Jr, a button manufacturer, cannot accompany her to Paris, she is chaperoned on the boat by her best friend Dorothy, who is also a Follies dancer. Lorelei loves diamonds and buys a tiara as an investment with the borrowed money from Sir Francis Beekman an elderly admirer. His wife finds out, and then Lorelei is also suspected of infidelity by her fiancée and all mayhem breaks out.
Comedy is one of the most susceptible genres prone to ageing badly. Gentlemen Prefer Blonds is no exception. In the Me Too era, Sir Francis Beekman’s predatory Benny Hillesque behaviour felt creepy to watch rather than funny. Equally uncomfortable was the cheap humour aimed at the addicted and troubled alcoholic Mrs Spofford. Sometimes a clever spin can provide a bypass for vexatious antiquated comedy, but Sasha Regan’s pedestrian direction brings nothing new to the outdated material.
Abigayle Honeywill as Lorelei Lee shines in her showstopping numbers ‘I’m Just A little Girl from Little Rock’ and ‘Diamonds Are A Girl’s Best Friend.’ Sadly her spoken diction doesn’t sparkle as well as her sung one. Honeywill’s badly enunciated squeaky dialogue is often difficult to understand, and any playful humour is lost as she speeds through her lines like an out of control freight train. Her version of Lorelei is presented as a pragmatic but compassionless gold digger lacking any of the soft edged charms or vulnerabilities needed to make the character likeable.
The golden voiced Eleanor Larkin steals the show as Lorelei’s chaperone, with a warmly believable and grounded performance as Dorothy Shaw. Freddie King is quirkily engaging as Henry Spofford, and as Josephus Gage, the baby-faced George Lennan gives a delightfully exuberant performance of ‘I’m a Tingle I’m a Glow.’
Musical direction by Henry Brennan does more than justice to Jule Styne’s chirpy score, and the production is tightly choreographed by Zak Nemorin. Indeed some of the most impressive moments of the evening are superbly delivered by the committed dance ensemble.
Gentlemen Prefer Blondes plays at the Union Theatre until 26th October 2019.
Main Image Credit: Mark Senior