Out of this World continues at Ye Olde Rose and Crown, London until 30 April.
Star rating: four stars ★ ★ ★ ★ ✩
The consistently reliable Rose and Crown in Walthamstow works its magic again, turning its attention to a little-known Cole Porter show and covering it with almost enough glitter and glitz to hide the cracks in the book.
Out of this World opened on Broadway in 1950 and was one of Porter’s last shows written for the stage. The source material – the Greek myth of Amphitryon as dramatised by Plautus – was given a modern-day reinterpretation by Dwight Taylor and Reginald Lawrence. Porter provided the music and lyrics, and while the songs were much enjoyed at the time (although none becoming a hit) it was the book – seen as too vulgar and rambling – that brought the show to an early close after just 157 performances.
(Interestingly, the show did produce one lasting and memorable song – ‘From This Moment On’ – but the number was cut from the original production and re-used in the movie version of Kiss Me, Kate. The song has made it back into Out of this World for this new version.)
Watching it now in this, London’s first ever staged production, it’s fairly clear why the show is rarely revived in the US, and why it never made it over here at all. Its over-charged sex drive, surprisingly titillating for 1950s America, I imagine, would surely have been too much for the Lord Chamberlain. (I can’t imagine Sir Terence Nugent passing lyrics such as “I’m positively teeming, yes, positively screaming for sex”!) Yet by the time the Theatres Act was passed in 1968, it would have been considered something of a theatrical dinosaur, out of place in the post-West Side Story world.
But if there’s anywhere dinosaurs can survive the crunch, it’s at Ye Old Rose and Crown Theatre. Under director Randy Smartnick, MD Aaron Clingham and, crucially, choreographer Kate McPhee, this outdated curio comes sparkling back to life. The cast are terrific, too – not one missed beat among them – filling the stage with enthusiastically camp performances. And with this level of commitment and positivity, the show can’t help but be a joy to watch.
The hoary story mirrors the better-known myth of Orpheus in the Underworld. This time around, the sex-mad Jupiter (Cameron Bernard Jones) has his sights set on a mortal American beauty Helen (Ruth Betteridge), but she’s just been married to news reporter Art (Adam Hepworth).
Jupiter, desperately trying to stray from his wife Juno (Rhiannon Moushall), enlists the help of his son Mercury (Hugo Joss Catton) to distract Art and keep Juno from finding out. Mercury arranges for Art and Helen to spend their honeymoon in Athens, where gangster Niki Skolianos (Danny Becker) is evading the FBI under the guise of the owner of an inn… the inn where Helen and Art are honeymooning. Juno is convinced that Skolianos is Jupiter in disguise and drags him back to Mount Olympus, but Jupiter has taken the form of Art…
Anyway, other than one surprising turn of events – when [spoiler alert] Jupiter actually succeeds in having his wicked way with Helen – it’s a predictable sex comedy farce. In the hands of this talented cast, though, it’s all very engaging and enjoyable to watch. Catton does a great job as narrator Mercury, driving the show along at a cracking pace, and Moushall is fantastic as Juno – she is a really gifted comic actor. Nods, too, to Betteridge and Jones for their notable vocal contributions. Katie Deacon also is impressively en pointe for half the show, relishing McPhee’s outstanding choreography, as, in fact, do all of the triple-threat cast.
I have to confess to not being a huge fan of Cole Porter’s staged works. This show, in particular, has two or three too many of Porter’s signature list songs for my liking, the worst offender probably being ‘Nobody’s Chasing Me’, which glibly milked the idea endlessly before reprising.
Out of context – in a cabaret or songbook album – these shopping lists can be fun (I can listen to Ella Fitzgerald list her way through the Cole Porter Songbook for hours on end) but in a dramatic setting, they get tiresome. Do the songs drive the action forward? No, not really. Did we need that big tap routine to open Act II? Probably not. But with the help of Clingham’s excellent band – Ruth Whybrow (wind), Dominic Veal (cello) and Lanette Williams (percussion) – and all that great dancing, who cares!? Certainly not the Rose and Crown audience, who applauded enthusiastically.
Smartnick and Clingham must be commended for bringing shows like Out of this World into this world after years of obscurity. It’s a brave choice but one that’s appreciated, for how else would we fans of musical theatre get to experience these bygone works in full? It also helps when these flawed diamonds are as well polished and as affordable as they are here at the Rose and Crown. I urge you to give your support.