Every theatre-goer is aware of the pulling power of a famous name. A packed out Grand Theatre in Wolverhampton, tonight was a testament to the power of two. Tommy Steele is the man charged with bringing the story of notorious bandleader Glenn Miller to life and this born showman warms the audience with his fantastic personality and stage presence. I was initially sceptical about the casting of Steele (some 38 years older than miller at the time of his disappearance) but his experience really shone through and delivered a charming performance, which was part telling of the story and part salute to the veteran star.
The show opens with the moments just prior to Miller's departure on his final journey then flashes suddenly back tothe beginning of Miller’s career as a poor trombonist desperately trying to find an ear for his “sound”. Instead of the mellow tunes of the late 30’s, the beleaguered musician brings a new element to the music of the day – Swing. Enter the show’s unbelievably talented band, which are the lifeblood of this show. The balance, texture and richness of the sound they created had me on the edge of my seat all night. They treated us to all of Miller’s most famous hits as the show charts his rise to fame, his romance and marriage to Helen Burger (Sarah Soetaert) through his joining the military and his final moments before taking his final journey to Paris. The story was handled well, right until the ending which seemed somewhat rushed and extra scene showing her reaction to the news of Miller’s death would have been welcome. Following the conclusion of the story we were treated to more of his most famous songs which were excellently sung by a really tight company.
Particular mention needs to go to Sarah Soetaert as Helen Burger who gave an accomplished performance opposite Steele. She showed off her rich, powerful alto and exemplary vocal technique with a gorgeous rendition of At Last. The company were also extremely tight and delivered well-rounded harmonies and excellently choreographed routines. The two tap routines were especially pleasing on the eye and filled the stage, despite there only being six of them. I also enjoyed the onstage cameos from members of the band – Mike Lloyd in particular gave a hilarious turn as Ballroom proprietor Cy Schreibmann.
Aspects of the production really enhanced the telling of the story, in particular the decision to have the band on stage really added to the authenticity of the piece, as well as giving us an unadulterated sound which was so enjoyable to everyone in the theatre. The only flaw with this was that there were large spells where Steele was left with not much to do. He excelled, however, when he was either delivering his traditionally powerful vocal performances, or when he was breaking the fourth wall and engaging with the audience.
All in all, this was a charming and fun production where the performer’s energy and enjoyment swept the audience along and gave them a great night out.
The Glenn Miller Story runs at the Wolverhampton Grand until Saturday 24 October.
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