Back in March, I talked about an early preview of Betty Blue Eyes – whether or not it’s the UK’s most eagerly awaited musical in 2011, it was certainly mine (Shrek? Pah).
As I said at the time:
While still in its first week of previews, Betty Blue Eyes feels much closer to a finished show than, say, The Wizard of Oz did at the same stage. In that show, it felt like the audience was watching a rehearsal – here, we were watching something whole and complete, which maybe needs a little bit of tweaking here and there but won’t particularly change between now and press night. That doesn’t mean it has no flaws, but those it does have in my view prevent a four-star review becoming a five-star one.
Last night, I went back to see how the show had bedded in. And, if I did actualy give out star ratings, I’d say Betty Blue Eyes was still a solid four.
There have been some noticeable improvements since the preview I saw (I don’t know, of course, how far into the preview process they were changed). Adrian Scarborough’s big solo number as Inspector Wormold, Painting By Heart, has just enough of a lighter touch to it to make it work – while I previously thought his character should be darker, the production has gone the other way and that turns out to be a sound decision. This is one of the (many) reasons why I’m not a theatre director.
Both Scarborough and Reece Shearsmith as Gilbert, the lead, are clearly actors first and foremost whose singing talents aren’t as strong as actors who have spent their lives working in the musical theatre tradition. But both are so expert at exuding character, and they both seem to have found the right level at which to pitch their portrayal so that their performances work.
And even the pig, which I didn’t feel was as characterful as it could be, seemed a little better this time round. I still feel that some form of directly manipulated puppet, rather than an electronically controlled marvel, would deliver more character (at the expense of onstage portability) but it seemed to work better alongside the onstage humans this time round. That said, I do hope that’s not a byproduct of our vastly improved seats (last time we were in the rear third of the stalls; last night, we were in row E).
There are still some niggles: Act 1 is still very long (not that I’d want to cut any of the lovely numbers), and the wonderful Lindy Hop number’s abrupt end involves the world’s most slowly collapsing roof rafters – but I felt far more happy about the show, which I have wanted to do well ever since I first heard Magic Fingers, than I previously did. And it’s gratifying to hear that the Novello has just extended booking into January 2012.
Oh, and our improved seats helped us see that the ‘Keep Calm and Carry On’ slide being shown before each act wasn’t using Arial, as I suggested the last time. However, it’s still definitely not the “correct” (and aesthetically distinctive) Gill Sans, and still looks rubbish. And don’t even get me started on the supposed 1947 rationing poster that uses the Coolvetica typeface, designed in 1970…