High Society is one of those films that everyone has heard of, if not seen it. The classic film starred Bing Crosby, Grace Kelly and Frank Sinatra: with such a star billing, you know it had to be something special. The show has some iconic songs such as ‘True Love’, ‘Well, Did You Evah!’ and ‘You’re Sensational’.
It takes place on the day before the wedding of heiress Tracy Lord (Kate Fleetwood) and George Kittredge (Richard Grieve). On the day before her wedding she finds herself caught between her feelings for her fiancé and her ex-husband C K Dexter Haven (Rupert Young), who has just re-appeared on the scene, while on her wedding night she finds herself attracted to another man, reporter Mike Connor (Jamie Parker).
Maria Friedman has made the director’s choice to bring the show from 1939 to 1958. However there isn’t really much that gives this away, except perhaps a mention at some point throughout the show, and maybe the dancing is a bit more rock ‘n’ roll than usual.
Everything about the show has the wow factor: the actors, the choreography and the set. The set never ceases to amaze, whether it is an essentially self-setting table, or a piano that becomes part of the stage when it isn’t being played. How many shows do you know where you can actually smell the breakfast as they fry it there on stage? The in-the-round staging is often meant to make the audiences feel immersed in the show, but every sense is heightened here so that the audience actually feel like they’re in the Lords’ ‘high society’ world.
The second act has a far more upbeat dynamic than the first, and you might find yourself wondering why this “swell party” doesn’t start sooner? The actors don’t have much issue with avoiding the awkwardness that normally comes with an in-the-round staging and the choreography especially is sensational, given the tight staging. Joe Stilgoe’s fantastic piano-playing is an immediate audience-pleaser and immensely entertaining.
The cast represent the higher class’s obsession with presentation perfectly. Fleetwood plays a wonderful Tracy, going from the pedestal princess to the drunken mess. Although film lovers can never get Bing Crobsy’s Dexter out of their mind, Young gives great justice to the character. The rest of the cast is just as strong, and the especially entertaining reporters (played by Parker and Annabel Scholey) add extra liveliness to the show.
This production is a great credit to the original film and actors, and has everything you could want from a musical: unforgettable music, extraordinary dancing and an uplifting feeling that will stay with you for days.
High Society is playing at the Old Vic until 22 August. For more information and tickets, see the Old Vic website. Photo by Tristram Kenton.