REVIEW: COME FLY WITH ME, Wales Millennium Centre

By: Aug. 07, 2009

Sixties cool, big band swing and quick-fire tongue-in-cheek humour - those are the ingredients that combine to make the hearty musical fare served up for three performances at the Wales Millennium Centre's intimate Weston Studio on August 6-7 - the world premiere of Come Fly With Me, a musical comedy by writers Lee Gilbert and Steve Coleman.

The show, set in the 1960s, tells the (rather implausible) story of members of a Pan-Am cabin crew laid over for a weekend in Las Vegas in a style typical of the screwball screen romantic comedies of an era long ago, complete with smooth and suave womanising pilots aptly named Frank and Dean, sexy stewardesses, incompetent gangsters and Vegas showgirls. Some of the clichéd humour falls flat but on the whole the manic comedy sizzles along wonderfully, perfectly orchestrated by Richard Tunley's well-paced direction that aims for - and largely succeeds in getting - a series of laugh-out-loud moments.

It is a brand new show but those looking for brand new songs will be disappointed. It is a  jukebox musical, drawing on timeless classic songs to form its score - and, like most jukebox musicals, often the songs spring out of the Book from nowhere or conversely appear in a hugely contrived manner so you spot them coming from a mile away. But in this show that innate flaw hardly seems to matter because the songs - and the fantastic Big Band sound of the onstage Dave Barry Band - are so hugely enjoyable. It's hard to be disappointed when the score features an array of swing standards from most of the legendary songwriters of the genre - the Gershwins, Jule Styne, Jerome Kern, Cy Coleman, Rodgers and Hart and Jimmy Van Heusen and Sammy Cahn - a song from the latter pair's songbook, of course, providing the title number for the show.

One major reason that the show pushes most of the buttons needed to create an enjoyable theatrical event is the presence of a formidable cast of performers, each one of whom knows how to command the stage and has the ability to more than carry a tune.

Christina Richards is both beautifully bitchy and seductively attractive as chief stewardess Billie - and provides one of the show's most intimately beautiful moments with her rendition of "My Funny Valentine"; Daniela Valvano is sultry and appealing as stewardess Peggy; Lewis Cook is the epitome of cool as co-pilot Dean; Cathryn Davis as Vegas Diva Lola Lamont raises the roof with her great vocal "chops" in a couple of feel good numbers; Anthony Watson delivers a tour de force comic performance as the almost "Clouseauesque" gangster and "master of bad disguise", Bernie the Fence; Mark Moraghan (of BBC's Holby City fame) is perfectly cast as romantic lead Frank - equally at home with his up-beat swing numbers and with the show's most dramatic musical moment, Bricusse and Newley's "What Kind Of Fool Am I?". And there are two absolute knock-out performances by ingenue Kate Quinnell as the demure stewardess Angie who turns into something of a "man-eater" and Chris Jenkins as the naïve and boyish radio operator, Bobby, who - with hilarious facial expressions at all the right moments, superlative comic timing and an immense sense of charm - sings and dances his way into the hearts of the entire audience.

This is a show that is bound to leave the audience with smiles on their faces and great tunes in their heads after a hugely  enjoyable "flight".



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