THE opening “summer show” at Bath Theatre Royal – a “new” musical with songs by Cole Porter – is a joyful, tender, funny and totally charming delight. It is a musical version of William Wyler’s 1953 romantic comedy Roman Holiday, which starred Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck and is now regarded as a classic of the genre. So what a good idea to add songs by the brilliant and hugely prolific Porter and re-imagine the film as a nostalgic musical show.
At Bath, Paul Blake and Kirsten Guenther got together with Theatre Royal Bath Productions to create this “new Cole Porter musical”, which is running until 1st July. And it’s terrific.
It’s not the first time Porter’s back catalogue has been trawled to great effect – he really did write songs for almost all occasions. Jeremy Sams directs this show, with its eight-piece band and company of 18 singing, dancing actors. The story is of Crown Princess Ann, travelling through post-war Europe schmoozing the governments and dignitaries on behalf of her father at home. Her schedule is tight and unyielding. Her chaperone-countess runs a tight ship, and there is no time for relaxation – let alone fun. But the final stop of their tour is Rome, and when in Rome…
On the night before an important press conference and a round of tedious meetings and ceremonies, Ann takes the opportunity to go out on the town, and the next we see she is collapsed on a bench, seriously the worse for winewear. Joe, a young American expatriate reporter finds this unknown girl, and takes pity on her, carrying her to his room and letting her sleep it off.
He’s supposed to be at the press conference, but he oversleeps only to be woken by his editor, who tells him the conference is cancelled as the Princess is indisposed. Joe recognises that the sleeping girl is the princess, and decides to trick her into an interview, which he agrees to sell to finance his longed-for trip back to New York.
It doesn’t quite go according to plan, as a charismatic nightclub singer, a gambling press photographer, a Vespa and a little winged angel with a bow and arrow get in the way.
The whole story is beautifully told, with lots of excellent dancing, a clutch of songs (some of which you will certainly know, and others whose words and rhymes are wonderfully clever.) Rebecca Collingwood captures the frustration and pent-up energy of Ann, and Michael D Xavier is the perfectly preppy and very honourable Joe. Adrian der Gregorian’s Irving couples sleazy opportunism with a heart of gold, and he’s powerfully matched by Tania Mathurin’s Francesca (a new character for the show). The company also includes the witty countess, the versatile Richenda Carey.
It’s full of joy and fun and charm and romance, with a big slice of timeless reality thrown in. It delighted the packed audience on the night I saw it, and it hope it will not only continue to do so for the rest of its Bath run, but will go on to captivate audiences around the country .