Born in 1904, Miller was an American big band musician, arranger, composer, and bandleader in the swing era. He was the best-selling recording artist from 1939 to 1943, leading one of the best known big bands. Miller’s recordings include “In the Mood”, “Moonlight Serenade”, “Chattanooga Choo Choo”, and “A String of Pearls”. Very popular in Great Britain, his link with our country was immortalised when he departed from RAF Twinwood Farm near Clapham, Bedford for France to entertain U.S. troops, but disappeared, presumed dead, in bad weather over the English Channel.
Theatre impresario Bill Kenwright is a shrewd judge of what is popular and what stories and performers will pull in the crowds. Glen Miller and his music is a safe bet for those of a certain age, but billing Tommy Steele as the lead, a man twice the age Miller was when he died, was a risk. Steele’s love of Miller and his music was a driving factor in his casting, but would it work? Particularly when Miller’s finest work is instrumental.
Director Bob Thompson sidesteps the age issue by using Steele to mainly narrate Miller’s story, which amounts to little more than stage directions to enable the next big band number as we are treated to a well selected slice of the Miller musical catalogue. He also re-imagines some scenes as Miller. Steele sings solo on “The Nearness of You” and duets with Miller’s wife-to-be Helen , energetically played by Sarah Soetaert on “Zing! Went the Strings of My Heart”. Soetaert is 50 years Steele’s junior, I half expected him to break into a rendition of “Some Guys Have All the Luck” ! The 16-piece onstage orchestra are terrific, the choreography snappy, delivered by a six-strong chorus whose tap dancing delighted an appreciative audience.
Flared forties skirts swirled and twired with the girls, Zoe Nicole Adkin, Siohban Diffen and Jessica Allen a visual and technical delight. Tap dancing is a lesser displayed skill in contemporary shows. Steele wisely left it to the youngsters, who excelled.
Steele transcends popular music culture like no-other, apart from Sir Cliff Richard. The affection Steele feels for performing and his audience was palpable, as was the affection returned on a very well attended Monday opening night. A fifties rock and roller, he has appeared in musicals pretty much non-stop since, with that energy always present in this lively show which runs till Saturday 24th October.