Monday, 12 October 2015

Puttin' On The Ritz

Image Source: Puttin' On The Ritz
Written By: Mark Armstrong

Format: Musical
Genre: Musical
Date: October 7 2015
Location: Liverpool Empire Theatre

Back in the early days of cinema, motion pictures were a lot more simplified than they are nowadays. Even the use of audio was considered innovative back then, which perhaps partly explains why Hollywood exploded in the early 20th century when sound was added, and by the 1920s, films became even more popular with the influx of legendary and timeless music scores from Irving Berlin, George Gershwin and Cole Porter. They introduced new songs that had a familiar style to them, they were catchy, the lyrics were logical, and they were generally classic musical tunes and remain so to this very day. It also featured stellar singing and dancing, Fred Astaire being a perfect example of this. If anything, back in the day, the storyline of a movie often played second fiddle to the outstanding vocal skills and the visually superb dance routines.

And that's the formula which has been used for the theatre show which pays tribute to this Golden Age of Hollywood, Puttin' On The Ritz. There is no overriding plotline, or indeed any plotline, for this show. Instead, this puts a greater emphasis on the word "show"; although it takes place in a theatre setting, it is more appropriate to describe Puttin' On The Ritz as an extended tribute show, and it is a very enjoyable one at that. The production provides a variety of musical numbers complete with five-star dance efforts, all based on the song-writing of the aforementioned Berlin, Gershwin and Porter, along with a slightly updated feel to the singing of said tunes and a very contemporary twist to the dance routines.

The singing was varied and covered plenty of well-known tracks for the era, such as Let's Face The Music and Dance, Minnie The Moocher and, of course, Puttin' On The Ritz itself. Both males and females shone in this role, and the tones were at times quiet and dulcet, and at other times loud and high-pitched (some may say too high-pitched on occasions).

Each city being visited by the production includes a special guest singer for some of the more well-known hits, and the Liverpool show was no exception. Ray Quinn of The X-Factor and Dancing On Ice was the big name for the Liverpool Empire leg of the tour, performing such songs as Mack The Knife and Mr. Bo Jangles, with his best rendition of the night coming when performing Portrait Of My Love. Another nice touch in my opinion was the use of short comedy clips from the time, particularly those starring Laurel and Hardy, which were shown during intermission and were a logical and entertaining way to prepare the audience for the second half. The costumes were authentic for the time periods, with frequent changes adding a fresh layer to each performance.

But the highlight of Puttin' On The Ritz came in the form of the extravagant and perfectly-executed dance routines. The main dancers have previously had a wealth of first-class experience on Strictly Come Dancing, and it showed here as Trent Whiddan, teaming with Gordana Frandosek, and Robin Windsor (whose pre-show interview you can read by clicking here), partnering with Anya Garnis, both displayed a large number of superb and flashy dance manoeuvres. Oftentimes, their dances managed to overshadow the singing, which is no mean feat in an environment where the music is generally judged first. Although those with Strictly experience were the stars of the show, it's also worth noting that a crop of lesser-known dancers also delivered on the night, particularly with a simple-yet-visually impressive routine near the end of the show where almost a dozen dancers sat on the edge of the stage and delivered a thigh-slapping and hand-clapping sequence (the Maple Leaf Rag) which, at its climax, had the audience on its feet in applause.

Puttin' On The Ritz is definitely a show which will appeal to the older demographic. Not only will the songs be familiar and the dances be acceptable to that age range, but the emphasis on singing and dancing will not be unusual to people with vivid memories of a bygone era of Hollywood. Puttin' On The Ritz provides a fine night of feel-good entertainment, which should revive fond memories for the older audience and perhaps open eyes to a different (and many would say better) style of music and dance to a newer crowd.

Overall Rating: 7.5/10 - Good

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