Irving Berlin, Cole Porter and George Gershwin: theirs was an era of glitz and glamour, exhibited in this production of Puttin’ On the Ritz. True to the age, the dancing was excellent. A special mention must go to the scene set in the Cotton Club: the audience was transported back to the jazz age with flappers and their fellas jiving the Charleston. Emma Rogers’ choreography was innovative, entertaining and slick throughout.
Musically, however, this recreation fell short. As is always the danger in shows of this sort, those expecting to see Fred, Ginger and Louis revived before their eyes may be disappointed. Repertoire choice, as expected, included many known tunes from the time. However, the interpretations weren’t particularly breath-taking: the lack of a live band meant that singers were forced to battle it out with the synthetic recordings played from inadequate speakers, often drowned out. The sound quality was poor, sounding one-dimensional and unclear.
Half of the excitement was lost by the lack of instrumentalists; the attempt to overcome this with male dancers waving brass instruments around was slightly tacky. Not what you’d expect from a show branding itself as a ‘song and dance extravaganza’. The singers themselves were very talented, but a show like this inevitably causes one to draw a comparison to the much-loved originals, only to find them not up to par. That said the Hollywood anecdotes and enormous voice of Judy Garland’s guest-starring daughter, Lorna Luft, were brilliant.
Overall, the show lacked the charm, subtlety and wow-factor that came with music from this period; not so much a vivid recreation of a bygone age as a nostalgia show for the elderly, though the moments of true musicality from the singers and Lorna Luft meant that it was still an entertaining spectacle.