If you leave a show sighing; wishing you’d stayed at home and binge-watched TV instead, chances are, the show wasn’t worth seeing. I left The New Victoria Theatre after 'That's Entertainment' feeling exactly like that.
‘That’s Entertainment’ is a mish-mash of 40’s and 50’s hits from movies and musicals. It’s full of potential, but no amount of stellar choreography or knockout vocals could have saved this show. It wasn’t quite a cabaret night, nor was it a storyline show – it was all over the place. One moment we’re absorbed in the genius of Rodgers and Hammerstein, then all off a sudden, we’re thrown into the midst of a ‘Cockney Knees Up’.
Each song was performed without hitch, however, the backing tracks used were cringe-worthy. Tinny and synthesised orchestrations, (including a pop drum beat added to ‘Wash That Man Right Outa My Hair’ from South Pacific), ruined the songs. Furthermore, I am not convinced that all the vocals were live. As dancers were being spun around and thrown over their partner’s shoulders, the backing vocals didn’t waver for a moment. A live orchestra would have dramatically increased production value and improved the quality of the evening immeasurably.
Credit where it’s due – Emma Kate Nelson and Simon Schofield made a fantastic duo with their singing and tapping performances of ‘Good Morning’ (Nacio Herb Brown and Arthur Freed, 1952), and ‘A Couple of Swells’ (Irving Berlin, 1948). Loula Geater also offered a stunning version of ‘If I Loved You’ from ‘Carousel’; I wouldn’t be surprised to see her at the Queen’s Theatre as Cosette in the near future. Bethany Dows channelled Cyd Charisse perfectly in her featured role in Act II, while Charlie Barker shon in the ensemble dancing with real flair, attitude and je ne sais quoi.
Now, we move onto our special guest star, Ruthie Henshall. When someone says ‘legend’, typically you might be led to think about Hercules, King Arthur or Robin Hood. I think of Ruthie Henshall. She’s a real hero of mine and was the very first performer who ever sparked my interest in Musical Theatre. This five-time Olivier nominated (and one time winning) superstar is one of the most widely recognised performers in the world - to quote from her articulate introduction from Schofield in ‘That’s Entertainment’ – “She’s starred in … basically everything.”
Henshall graces the stage with good humour, endearing stories and took on
some big hits, but her execution left much to be desired. Her pitch was off all night, and
while I’m willing to accept it may have been technical issues which left her tone off-key, I’m hesitant, as no-one in the vocal ensemble missed a note all evening. I wouldn’t wince in my seat fearing that Imelda Staunton, Bernadette Peters, or Barbra Streisand wouldn’t hit high notes, but with Ruthie, I did. Yes, she is a legend, and she is fabulous, but as vocal performances go, this was disappointing.
The evening didn’t take itself too seriously – it was entertaining, so to that extent, the show lives up to its title however, ‘That’s Entertainment’ needs a serious amount of work before it becomes a must-see theatre event. It’s full of potential, but lacking in refinement and organisation.
Disjointed, and disappointing.
Review by Harriet Langdown