Bury’s Theatre Royal hosts a ‘swell party’ and a High Society wedding

Uncle Willie (Mel Barnes) is a hit with the ladies in Bury AODS production of High Society Photo: Jo

Uncle Willie (Mel Barnes) is a hit with the ladies in Bury AODS production of High Society Photo: Joe Taylor Photography - Credit: Archant

High Society is a much-loved Cole Porter show, crammed with some of his best-known tunes. David Henshall puts on his best bib and tucker and takes a look at how The Philadephia Story became a dazzling musical showcase

Tracy (Katie Woodhouse) and Dexter (Alec Taylor) in Bury AODS production of High Society Photo: Joe

Tracy (Katie Woodhouse) and Dexter (Alec Taylor) in Bury AODS production of High Society Photo: Joe Taylor Photography - Credit: Archant

All’s set for the toff wedding of the year between two of Long Island’s top socialites, the uppity Tracy Lord and the stuck-up and superior George Kittredge. Big bucks have been spent to make sure this is a day to remember and everybody who is anybody will be there to mark the occasion.

Involved in the last-minute preparations are Tracy’s mother, her grumpy little sister, Dinah, and absent-minded Uncle Willy, who lives nearby and is hosting a major shindig for the bride, groom and guests that night – the evening before the marriage.

It’s going to be a swell party. But then Tracy’s former husband, C K Dexter Haven, a a jazz-loving, mad-keen yachtsman who has the house next door, sails back into their lives with the disturbing news that tabloid reporters Mike Connor and Liz Imbrie will be covering the wedding for Spy magazine as invited guests.

This is a blackmail arrangement to prevent Spy from publishing an expose on Tracy’s father Seth, who is estranged from her mother and has been having a fling with a showbiz dancer. Dexter’s reappearance fills Tracy with confusing memories of good times in their marriage. She is also a bit attracted to reporter Mike and after getting thoroughly sloshed at Uncle Willy’s party she goes skinny-dipping with him in the family pool.

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Snobby George Kittredge is not best pleased about this and there’s a lot of laughs, adjustments and accomodations to come before anybody is likely to say “I do” in the great Cole Porter musical comedy, High Society, being staged at the Theatre Royal by Bury St Edmunds Amateur Operatic and Dramatic Society.

With a book by Arthur Kopit and based on Philip Barry’s 1939 stage comedy The Philadelphia Story, and the Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra, Grace Kelly movie High Society, this is a more sumptious version of the musical with extra Cole Porter songs. In the way that Crazy For You was supplemented with other notable Gershwin numbers, High Society has done the same, adding a lot of oomph, colour and fun to an already successful show.

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The film songs like Who Wants To Be a Millionaire? and Well, Did You Evah? are still there and among the additions are Ridin’ High from Red, Hot and Blue in 1936 and Throwing a Ball Tonight (Panama Hattie 1940). I Love Paris and It’s All Right With Me are from Can Can in 1953, Just One of Those Things is from Jubilee in 1935, Say It With Gin from The New Yorkers in 1930 and there are several other goodies.

The movie of High Society came out in 1956 and it took a long time to transfer it to the stage, finally premiering on Broadway in 1998 and has since been revived. Quite apart from the skill needed to fit the fresh numbers into the script, it was felt that some of Porter’s original lyrics were a bit dated and Susan Birkenhead was called in to provide new or updated words.

Mel Barnes, a past president of Bury Operatic and who plays Uncle Willy, says High Society has never been seen locally. I know audiences are going to love the witty lyrics and incomparable Porter melodies and we have put together a great production team. Max Clay is directing with Michelle Parry as musical director and Heather Crouch handling the big dance and production numbers.”

It is Clay’s first show for Bury Operatic and he says: “We’ve assembled a superb cast and together we’ve been having a great time at rehearsals. I must confess I’ve never been a huge fan of the Crosby/Sinatra film, but when I was shown the libretto and score for this stage version I fell in love with it.”

Alex Taylor plays Dexter with Katie Woodhouse as Tracy, Jamie Maguire as Mike and Cat Dale as Liz . Fiona Barker is Mrs Lord and Polly Pateman is Dinah with Damon Morrish as George Kittredge and Steve Murray as Seth Lord.

High Society is at the Theatre Royal, Bury St Edmunds, 9 – 13 Oct 9 (7.30 with 2.30 Sat mat). Tickets: 01284 and www.theatreroyal.org

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