I attended the final day of previews for this revival, and was thoroughly entertained by the story of Lorelei Lee and Dorothy Shaw, at sea and on land.
Gentlemen Prefer Blondes was written in 1949, taking inspiration from the flapper-era novel by Anita Loos. It’s a traditional book musical, composed by Jule Styne with lyrics by Leo Robin, and is inevitably living in the shadow of the 1953 film (in which Marilyn Monroe played Lorelei).
The Union Theatre has a reputation for punching above its weight with musicals, with creative use of their small performance space. Even the bar-cafe gets into the act in the interval, with a pianist, high kicking dancers and Parisian waiters enticing you back for the act two floor-show.
Lorelei is dating “the button king” heir, Gus Esmond, but he has to let her board a ship without him, and with her being a stereotypical bubble blonde, complete with Boop-a-Boop voice a la Helen Kane. When she is aboard, temptation is high with rich men and diamonds around – “Diamonds Are Girl’s Best Friend”, after all.
Of course, Loos’s book is dated, and her female characters are eother looking for a meal ticket, a drink, or a quick route to fame. The men are either ambitious but dysfunctional, or decorative dancers, and they are effective alone (Aaron Bannister-Davies as Gus, George Lennan as Gage “the zipper king”, Freddie King as idealist Henry, Tom Murphy as opportist rover Sir Francis) or as a team.
This aside, all the women in this show are played well, and I liked Eleanor Lakin’s laconic Dorothy and Virge Gilchrist’s tipsy Mrs Spofford in particular. Ashlee Young is a fine mover as serial “practiser” Gloria, and Maria Mosquera’s long-suffering Lady Beekman is a picture of English restraint.
Abigayle Honeywill, as Lorelei, has big shoes to fill but navigates the expectation without falling into imitation of her screen predecessor, with a winning “I’m Just a Little Girl From Little Rock” and a wisp of wide-eyed innocence.
This show sets out to be entertaining, and it does so with competence and a bit of naughty fun (there’s a hint as to how Lorelei, Dorothy, and Gloria might have clawed their way into the society set).
Gentlemen Prefer Blondes is directed by Sasha Regan, choreographed by Zak Nemorin, and designed by Justin Williams, with Henry Brennan as musical director.
It continues at the Union Theatre until 26 October. Production photo credits by Mark Senior.