Wednesday, 2 March 2016

The Glenn Miller Story

Image Source: ATG
Written By: Mark Armstrong

Format: Musical
Genre: Musical
Date: March 1 2016
Location: Liverpool Empire Theatre

The product of a conversation between Bill Kenwright and Tommy Steele, The Glenn Miller Story looks at the life and career of one of the most well-known musicians of the 1930s and 1940s, the Iowa-born Glenn Miller. Back in those days, the soothing sound of the music; the logical and catchy lyrics; and, of course, the strong vocal skills and unique voice were vital elements to the success of both a song and an artist. Glenn Miller's work had this in spades, and so this show celebrates that, with long-time theatre and entertainment performer Tommy Steele cast in the role of Miller.

It is a family-friendly show, but there is no doubt that the target audience consists of people in their 50s, 60s and older, who will either be familiar with Miller's music, or who will have fond memories of Steele in his heyday, and thus will enjoy the opportunity to see him perform again.

And does he ever perform. Steele, who turned 79 last December, is the heart and soul of this show. Very few scenes do not feature him, and many of those that do see him either displaying his singing talents, performing dance manoeuvres with the grace of a man many years younger than he, or delivering his non-musical lines with great enthusiasm and realism. This is a great example of a show where the star performer greatly elevates the standard and the enjoyment of the production. Even those who have never seen Tommy Steele before will come away with a new-found respect and an interest in learning more about Steele's own background in show business.

As for the plot of the show: we are given a musical history of Miller's career, with his most famous songs being highlights of the show (such as It Don't Mean A Thing If It Ain't Got That Swing); Sing Sing Sing; and In The Mood). In between the tunes, we are told the tale of Miller's relationship with Helen Burger (Sarah Soetaert), who he originally met at university, but a chance meeting years later leads to a blossoming relationship, albeit one where the couple rarely get to see each other, and eventually a happy marriage. Sarah Soetaert does a believable job of portraying your typical American girl from the pre-WWII era, and she also delivers a couple of strong musical performances of her own.

I also have to mention The Glenn Miller Orchestra. One of the positives about an orchestra show is that the songs are far more authentic, since the tunes can be performed to the exact notes. The orchestra featured in this show are spectacular, and they really do a great job of making you feel like you are watching Glenn Miller himself perform live, as opposed to watching a tribute to this work.

The only downsides for this show come towards its conclusion. I felt that the performance of Pennsylvania 6-5000, one of Miller's most famous songs, was a little on the short side, and the ending to the main show (excluding the encore) came out of nowhere and didn't really provide a true ending to the Glenn Miller biography. For those unaware, in December 1944, Miller boarded a plane to Paris, which would disappear over the English Channel, and Miller would never be seen again. Whilst I realised that the upbeat feel to the show would be harmed if this aspect was emphasised, I felt that more could have been done to at least partially explain what happened to Miller; there is a brief reference at the beginning, and it is slightly touched upon towards the end, but those who are not familiar with Glenn Miller will be left confused by the manner in which this production ends. Otherwise, though, the show is almost flawless in explaining who Glenn Miller was and in emphasising his greatest works; the audience will certainly not be disappointed.

Overall, The Glenn Miller Story is a very entertaining night of musical theatre for an older generation, who will not only enjoy the chance to relive some memorable songs from the early-to-mid 20th century, but to also see Tommy Steele still perform at a high level at the age of 79 and give his all to ensure that the audience are more than satisfied with the show.

Overall Rating: 8.5/10 - Excellent

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