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Music by Jules Styne, lyrics by Leo Robin, book by Anita Loos and Joseph Fields, based on the book of the same title by Anita Loos. Directed by Ian Talbot.
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Revival of the 1949 musical which originally run for 740 performances on Broadway. The musical is about a blonde lady who seeks wealthy gentlemen who are able to keep her in the way she has become accustomed, and includes the songs 'Diamonds are a Girl's Best Friend', 'Bye Bye Baby', 'It's Delightful Down in Chile', 'Gentlemen Prefer Blonds', 'I'm Just a Little Girl From Little Rock', 'Homesick Blues', 'I Love What I'm Doing', 'Just a Kiss Apart', 'You Say You Care', 'I'm A Tingle, I'm Aglow', 'Mamie Is Mimi' and 'It's High Time'. The original Broadway production starred Carol Channing. The West End production, which starred Dora Byran, opened in 1962 and lasted for 223 performances. The film version featured Marilyn Monroe and Jane Russell.
Sara Crowe (last seen in The Real Inspector Hound / Black Comedy) makes her Open Air Theatre debut as Lorelei Lee, a role made famous on Broadway by Carol Channing in 1949, on screen by Marilyn Monroe in the 1950's, and also by Dora Bryan in the last London production in 1962. Gentlemen Prefer Blondes tells the story, set in the 1920's, of hedonistic gold-digger Lorelei Lee and her sail aboard the lle de France to Paris with her chum Dorothy Shaw. Lorelei, although engaged to multi-million dollar tycoon Gus Esmond (played by Clive Rowe, who recently played Smee in Peter Pan at the RNT and who won the 1997 Olivier Award for Best Supporting Actor for the role of Nicely Nicely in Guys and Dolls also at the RNT), employs her predatory character and natural assets to seek out all the rich gentlemen on and off ship. She is joined by Debby Bishop as Dorothy (played by Jane Russell in the screen version) and John Griffiths as Lorelei's potential sugar-daddy, Sir Frands. Musical numbers include 'Bye, Bye, Baby', 'Gentlemen Prefer Blondes' and 'Diamonds Are a Girls Best Friend'. The production is directed by Ian Talbot and designed by Paul Farnsworth.
OPEN AIR Theatre, Inner Circle, Regent's Park, London, NW1 4NP. Previewed 21 July, Opened 23 July 1998, Closed 1 September 1998
Extracts from the reviews:
"The chill of lifeless blondes - Actually, most of us on the press night - gentlemen, ladies and critics alike - seemed to prefer the distinctly un-blonde Debby Bishop in the best friend/ chaperone role to Sara Crowe's rather lifeless Lorelei Lee. Jule Styne and Leo Robin's 1949 musical of Anita Loos' classic 1920s novel ought to have enough pizzazz to raise the roof (possibly an ill-considered phrase for this particular venue), but tails off after the interval into a perfunctorily connected series of solo spots and contrived set-pieces, racing from cue to cue. In Ian Talbot's production, however, even the first act, set on a luxury liner, lumbers somewhat. Paul Farnsworth's art deco set and Catherine Jayes' musical direction are perfectly fine, Lisa Kent's choreography a little on the basic side, but the most serious deficiency is in the vibrancy department. As Lorelei wangles her way across the Atlantic to Paris, into possession of an aristocratic English battleaxe's tiara and finally to the altar with her "daddy", button king Gus Esmond Jr., an atmosphere of Prohibition-era high jinks ought to predominate - the opening number, for heaven's sake, exhorts, "let's get stinking". Yet, although almost all the right moves are made, we never lose the knowledge that we are merely watching people pretending to enjoy themselves. Crowe, unsure whether to play Lorelei as an outright vamp or a hard-edged innocent, falls between the two stools with an air of bewilderment and an unhelpful Sandra Dickinson voice, and is comprehensively outshone by Bishop as her right-hand girl. The upper-crust Brits are a cartoon middle-aged bounder and his equally two-dimensional foghorn-voiced wife; the fitness fiend with whom Lorelei takes up goes through his calisthenic motions and munches on his raw carrots without relish; the second-act French solicitor and his son speak in annoying strangulated falsettos. Not even the effortless energy and angelically sweet voice of Clive Rowe as Esmond can inject any life. The musical numbers themselves are lively and aware of their character as pastiches, and of course everyone knows "Diamonds Are A Girl's Best Friend". But as the show lurches towards its programmed close, the traditional Regent's Park chill is not at all dispelled by any warmth emanating from the production." Ian Shuttleworth, The Financial Times
"This gentleman would prefer more sparkle - Nostalgia is not what it used to be. Yet oh how potent the atmosphere of this famous musical, created from Anita Loos's novel of a dance-crazy, care-free American Twenties. Despite the crudeness of Ian Talbot's rough and unready production the best of the songs hit home like a Wimbledon smash. Miss Loos conjures up a lost time when blondes were dumb, but cute enough to know gold-digging was what a girl had to do, and diamonds were essential, since unlike true love, they lasted forever. Gentlemen Prefer Blondes is a triumph of knowing cynicism, rather like Chicago at the Adelphi. Self-mockingly it concludes in a blaze of happiness, when the two gold-digging girls, unexceptionally played by Sara Crowe and Debby Bishop, get their men and presumably enough money to ensure a happy future with the promise of true jewellery. Jules Styne's music maintains a sophisticated, racy jauntiness. Leo Robin's anti-romantic lyrics are as bracing as whisky-sours, reaching a zenith in that great cautionary song Diamonds Are A Girl's Best Friend. If only this production fulfilled its potential. Paul Farnsworth's design - a chrome, art deco tracery of stairs and platform, with matching silver column - beautifully calls up the smart Twenties when Charlestoning was all the rage. "High time we were gay, high time we began to revel," they sing in unison, bound for pleasure and for Paris in a cruise liner. But there's not that much gayness - in either the old or new-fashioned sense of the word. The revelling has the frantic air of people who need basic lessons in how to have a fling. Lorelei Lee, the girl in hot pursuit of Gus, the young tycoon whose button business is threatened by the coming of the zip, ought be a dumbish innocent with flair, or a cunning man-hunter, or even as a combination of both. Sara Crowe, in shimmering apricot and turquoise, never shows herself quite convinced of what she is. Her far-from-robustly-sung Lorelei begins as a nice comic turn. She reacts to Clive Rowe's portly but dainty-dancing tycoon almost as if she were too dim to put on a light without assistance. And she wears a smile and little girl's voice like protective armour. She's at her humorous best when peddling a line in wronged innocence in quavering voice. "The gentlemen of the jury were lovely to me," she simpers as she explains away her murder trial. But when it comes to a song like Diamonds or Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, she does not strike up sufficient caustic ardour. Debby Bishop's Dorothy cuts a far more musical and sophisticated figure making up to Harry Burton's homme far-from fatale. It is, though, the production's quality of coarse caricature which damages the musical's air of sophistication John Griffiths's randy English knight, Delia Lindsay as his battleaxe wife who pulls the thin lines of the musical's plot together, Audrey Palmer's alcoholic mother, Gary Raymond's embarrassing falsetto French magistrate, Olympic athletes looking tough enough for ping-pong are so grossly presented that the musical's worldly cynicism is reduced to wooden, juvenile romping. There's a climactic, Charleston, evoking just the right, Loos spirit of sexy, exuberance. But it's a rare bright flash." Nicholas de Jongh, The London Evening Standard
"Jazz Age musical fails to go with a swing - The Jazz Age ocean liner looks swell in Ian Talbot's otherwise unimpressive staging of this Broadway musical comedy. Adapted from Anita Loos's 1925 novel, with a score by Jule Styne and lyrics by Leo Robin, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes was, of course, later made into a film starring Marilyn Monroe. As a musical, it's a mixed bag. The book's co-writers, Loos and Joseph Fields, turned out plenty of amusing one-liners, but the plot developments are jerky and the songs hit-and-miss. It charts the shenanigans of Lorelei Lee, the dumb blonde from Little Rock who's on board with her pal Dorothy, hunting for bachelors with big bucks. The art deco vessel docked in Regent's Park - designed by Paul Farnsworth - is a mass of gleaming silver, with curving walls, a towering funnel and a high walkway. Unfortunately, Talbot's cast seem lacklustre by comparison and the choreography (by Lisa Kent) is rather spartan. The company may get into the swing of things given time. One hopes so, since this production starts touring nationally in September. Sara Crowe in the starring role is far from dazzling. Her Lorelei, slightly pigeon-toed and her mouth hanging open, looks convincingly dumb, but she fails to combine that with pure sex appeal and canny seductive moves. Lorelei is meant to be so drop-dead gorgeous that guys let her get away with murder, both literally back in Little Rock and metaphorically as she "borrows" thousands of dollars from admirers' wallets. When breaking into song, Crowe offers Monroesque breathiness, but there's curiously little pzazz or technical fine-tuning. Her rendition of Diamonds Are A Girl's Best Friend sorely lacks polish. Clive Rowe, playing Lorelei's button-manufacturing fiancÚ, is on form. Big-voiced as ever, he takes Bye Bye Baby at an unusually yet emotionally apt slow pace. He's also very entertaining, getting coy when Lorelei starts fingering his fastenings. The real star of the show is Lorelei's sidekick; Debby Bishop is magnetic as Dorothy. She sings I Love What I'm Doing with panache, naughty sparkle and charming sweetness. The chorus may insist that gents prefer blondes, but judging by the whistles at the curtain call, the chaps in the park liked Bishop's Dorothy best." Kate Bassett, The Daily Telegraph
"Musical entertainment, all that jazz and pizazz, is invading the parks as warm weather arrives in the capital at last. You will know of this year's summer treat in Regents Park for three or four fine songs and the film starring Marilyn Monroe - as lisping Lorelei Lee and Jane Russell as her savvy sidekick Dorothy. lan Talbot's chirpy revival on a gleaming silver Art Deco set - we are aboard the Ile de France en route to Paris - has a gushing, pouting, silly-girl-giggling Sare Crowe as Lorelei and a much cooler, stronger Debby Bishop as Dorothy. They do their best, which is considerable. But it proves not enough. Lorelei is a gold-digging girl from Little Rock whose ship-board romance with a button tycoon, Gus Esmond threatened by the advent of zipper. Anita Loos's classic 1926 story in her own 1949 adaptation (with Joseph Fields) crackles with fun and high spirits as the company shimmies down the stairway in full anticipation of a gay old time on the ocean waves. And the songs of composer Jule Styne (he also wrote Gypsy and Funny Girl) and lyricist Leo Robin are less Hello, Sailor than Be Gone, Dull Care. From the melodious huskiness of Bye Bye Baby to the razor sharp rhyming in Diamonds Are A Girl's Best Friend, we are talking (and singing) fantasy happiness with an edge of rapacity. The second act collapses under the weightlessness of it all, and the presence in the audience of our very own Sandy Wilson reminded me how much more zestily plotted is his Twenties pastiche musical, The Boyfriend. Still, there is artistry stamped throughout, and support players such as Tony Whittle, as a preening doorman, and John Griffiths as a lecherous oldster (precursor of Mr Wilson's Lord Brockhurst) keep the chuckle muscles exerised. Best of all is Clive Rowe as Gus, a huge ban of nifty, roly-poly fun with a voice spun through silk and honey. I am amazed to read elsewhere that the colour of Mr Rowe's skin scuppers the social credibility of the production, as if we were in a Twenties time bubble where black people only served drinks or shone shoes. There was a similiar complaint when the admirable Mr Rowe played Enoch Snow (great name for a black character, what?) in Carousel. These are period musicals. But they are being performed at the end of the 20th century, not in a museum of ethnological history. The show tours nationally next month from Oxford to Brighton, Bath to Sheffield and Blackpool. Don't expect too much and you might enjoy it." Michael Coveney, The Daily Mail
"A few gems short of a treasure - Blame the English weather. Last year the first night of the Open Air's summer musical was interrupted by violent storms, depriving the Regent's Park audience of what was clearly a super Kiss Me Kate. This year the clouds cleared and the evening sun smiled on Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, allowing Ian Talbot's plucky but over-strenuous cast to expose it for what it is, a less-than-great example of the mid-century Broadway humalong. Nothing wrong with the songs, or at least several of them. Though Leo Robin's lyrics are mostly less accomplished than Jule Styne's music, both men excelled themselves when they composed Diamonds are a Girl's Best Friend and did pretty well when they turned to Just a Girl from Little Rock. But the book demands unusually skilful performances if it is not to seem skimpy and silly, and at the Open Air they just aren't unusual enough. In Gentlemen Prefer Blondes the gem-loving ingenue from Little Rock is a mildly revisionist, because slightly less go-getting, version of the protagonist of Anita Loos's original novel. She was acquitted of murder in Arkansas after shooting a man and christened Lorelei Lee by her besotted trial judge. "It's the name of a girl who became famous for sitting on a rock in Germany," she explains in what, oddly, turns out to be the show's one genuinely amusing spoken line. Her trip to Paris, her rejection by the rich, dim fiance who had known nothing of her past, her reconciliation and her belated wedding bells fail to produce the hilarity they should. Partly that is because the comic personnel tends to suffer from terminal crassness. The characters exploring the chrome columns and stairs of Paul Farnsworth's 1920s set include a crone with a mania for alcohol, a health freak who gorges carrots and, worst of all, a Drones-Club nob with an eye for the ladies and a ten-ton wife who oppresses him. There are a lot of Bernard Manning-style jokes at her expense, but even they seem more tolerable than the ribbing given the French, here a squawking, screeching pair of lawyers. But there is also trouble at the production's core. Clive Rowe, an affable softie, is fine as Lorelei's fiancÚ. Debby Bishop, playing her chaperone, is so splendidly brash when she sings and moves that you forgive her for what's anyway not her fault, failing to make crude insults sound witty. But Sara Crowe, whose comic guile I usually admire, is all wrong as Lorelei. Callow pouting is not enough for the part. Nor is the sub-Monroe shimmer Crowe gives while failing to bring style and weight to her ode to diamonds. No, the role needs vox, charm and sly fun; and without them the show founders, even without the rain." Benedict Nighingale, The Times