I’m not sure quite how to define this show because I think it is a bit schizophrenic. On the one hand, if you are a Tommy Steele fan it is a kind of vaudeville turn for him, introducing the story of Glenn Miller as his reason for being there and then stepping into it and being Glenn Miller, sort of. I cannot find a writing credit in the programme notes, so I am assuming the director, Bob Tomson and Bill Kenwright, as well as the cast, kind of ad libbed it as they went along in rehearsal. For me the problem arises that the scripting of the tale is pretty minimalistic. Also that Glenn Miller died in his early forties and the story is mostly about how he put together his band and his sound in his thirties, but Tommy Steele is undoubtedly 79 going on 80. So if you are looking for suspension of disbelief, you have to try very, very hard to think that this is a telling of a tale in any way similar to the way musicals like The Sound of Music, The EddyDuchin Story or even Annie Get Your Gun present a character to you and unfold a life story before your very eyes.
Tommy Steele is not playing the character of Glenn Miller; he is being that cheeky Tommy reading lines supposedly spoken by Glenn Miller, in his own inimitable style that has pleased crowds since the 1950s. So if you are a huge Tommy Steele fan who wants to see that he can still more or less do it at 79 (he tap dances, he sings, he holds the stage for about 80% of the time of the show, he does little monologues to the audience and teases his fans) then this is a five star evening.
If you are looking for a coherent stage musical, forget it! On the other hand, there are good things to note. Abigail Jaye is pleasing and convincing and has a good voice for her songs as Helen Burger Miller and is a very winning performer. I wish she had had more to do! The six dancers, three men and three women, are superbly energetic, on stage almost as much as Tommy Steele; and the choreography is pleasingly and convincingly evocative of the era of the swing bands.
Above all, the recreated Glenn Miller band itself is superb. It sounds authentic and is exciting and ear catching and memorable. Today I am still humming the tunes to myself. The band is the real star of the show for me (and some of the musicians double up acting parts) and I would happily go to any venue to hear them play. The recreation of the Glenn Miller sound live is to be experienced and the best reason to go to this show. Hearing that re-creation of the Miller Band sound felt to me that it must be for someone who likes the swing era an equivalent to hearoing for the first time the ear cleansing acoustic of Wagner’s Bayreuth Festspielhaus if you are a devoted Wagnerian. I kid you not! Using Tommy Steele as the headliner probably brought in most of the audience (distinctly post-middle-aged: I wonder how the lighting people for the show managed the glare off all the bald pates and white hair) but the swing band on that stage with its mellow, piercing, exciting sound balanced in the Glenn Miller style is what kept us all excited and got us to return to our seats after the interval – except for a few people who were really disappointed that this was not atually a book show telling the story.
The music is simply wonderful. It includes: It Don’t Mean a Thing if it Ain’t Got that Swing; the Music Goes Round and Round; Sing, Sing, Sing; Basin Street Blues; Moonlight Serenade; Pwedisi,PwnnaylciNI6- 5000. And many more! What’s not to like? And stay around for the finale when you actually do get a truncated Glenn Miller concert.
There was a film with James Stewart and June Allyson in 1954 for the tenth anniversary of the disappearance of Glenn Miller over the English Channel during World War II that you might want to look for if you want more of the story – and an actor who actually embodies the character. This show is split between being a vaudeville routine for Tommy Steele and a compilation of the best Glenn Miller hits played by a superb band recreating the sound of the original. Add in the energetic choreography of Bill Deamer and you will have an enjoyable evening; as long as you do not go in expecting the wrong thing. You have to accept “the given”;and this gives you something quite different from the musical you might be expecting.
Personally, I would have preferred two hours of nothing but the band and the dancers; the Tommy Steele aspect is merely awkward in the context for me,. However, it was clearly the whole reason to be there for about 85% of the audience the night that I attended.
So think of this as a compilation show of the Glenn Miller music and dance styles hosted by Tommy Steele who does double duty by moving in and out of the story while you pretend that he is really Glenn Miller at more than half his age.
- Compilation Musical
- Director: Bob Tomson and Bill Kenwright
- Choreographer: Bill Deamer
- Cast Includes: Tommy Steele, Abigail Jaye, Ashley Knight, Mike Lloyd, Michael Anthony Zoe Nicole Adkin, Siobhan Diffin, Jessica Ellen, Jordan Oliver, Alex Tranter
- New Theatre, Oxford
- Until 3 September 2016 then touring
- Review by Mel Cooper
- 1 September 2016