Printable CopyHIGH SOCIETY
The Metropolitan Musical Theatre Company of SA Inc (aka “The Met”)
The Arts Theatre
Until 19 May 2018

Review by Anthony Vawser

Old favourites of any variety – musical, theatrical, or otherwise – can easily cast a rosy glow in the memory, but they run the risk of seeming dusty and creaky if dragged into the light and subjected to a revival without first being given the required level of maintenance and a fresh injection of fuel. It’s a pleasure to report that the classical charms and craftsmanship of “High Society” are still capable of working their magic in 2018, thanks principally to a top-drawer cast under the generally deft direction of Barry Hill.

While 1940’s cinema version of source play “The Philadelphia Story” is yet to be displaced as this reviewer’s choice for the gold standard of Philip Barry’s story in any medium – Katherine Hepburn, Cary Grant, and Jimmy Stewart are a combination that would be near impossible for anyone anywhere to beat – here in Adelaide we are fortunate to have such a high-powered, professional-level pair of leading players as Tegan Gully and Andrew Crispe. Delivering performances that maintain their enviably stellar track record for charismatic, empathic protagonists, Gully and Crispe will make “High Society” veterans fall in love with Tracy Lord and C.K. Dexter Haven all over again – and newcomers to this show are certain to feel the same, even if their personal circumstances are as distant as could be from these examples of the American upper crust.

It’s great to see Chris Eaton on stage as frustrated writer Mike Connor, a part that highlights his natural, low-key charm, nifty dancing talents, and vocal potential (in spite of an occasional strained high note). Jenny Scarce is such an ideal choice, and so appealing a stage presence, as the smart, cynical photographer Liz Imbrie, that she overcomes the relative thinness of the role as presented in this version of the story – as well as such an outdated tradition as the lecherous antics of an insatiable elderly man pursuing a younger female of his choice being played for ‘wacky’ laughs. Fortunately, Scarce’s climactic musical assertion about her beloved Mike – that “He’s A Right Guy” – is a deserved triumph for this sparkling performer.

As the lecher in question – despite problematic aspects to his character of Uncle Willie – Andrew Crayford delivers steady laughs with the skill and timing that can be expected of someone who’s played the role before. Georgia Cosercas is an expert scene stealer in the plum role of young sister Dinah, injecting a fantastic sense of fun – and a necessary level of youthful vigour - into this show.

Graham Loveday has the tricky task of bringing believable humanity to the fairly stock character of cuckolded fiancé George Kittredge; while a capable performance, it was ultimately a little too broad for this reviewer’s taste (partly a consequence of costuming and make-up choices). Shelley Hampton and Lance Jones have strong stage presences which assist them in making an impact in the smaller roles of the Lord family parents.

The chorus of domestic servants may not have been the slickest of stage ensembles, but their presentation radiated a refreshing level of personality, with Celeste Barone’s choreography well-suited to the circumstances of these characters. Set design made particularly excellent use of some outstanding painted backdrops, lighting was supportive, and MD Ben Saunders’ eight-piece orchestra generated the kind of tuneful intimacy appropriate for Cole Porter’s timeless tunes.

In spite of displaying the occasional sign of a show that was conceived in a very different age to ours, The Met have done justice to the many evergreen attributes of “High Society”, giving audiences, on balance, a solidly satisfying musical entertainment.

Chris Eaton is Review Scheduling Coordinator for Adelaide Theatre Guide.