Experience Glenn Miller’s amazing big band sound with Tommy Steele

The Glenn Miller Story. Picture by Pamela Raith www.pamelaraith.com
The Glenn Miller Story. Picture by Pamela Raith www.pamelaraith.com

In the Mood for something slightly different? Well, how about a night with two of the very great musical legends in one show? Next month at the Congress Theatre, Eastbourne, Tommy Steele is Glenn Miller.

The prospect is an intriguing one. Glenn Miller, American GI bandleader, created a big-band sound that many say has never been bettered, and before his mysterious air-crash death in 1944, he had left behind a remarkable legacy of fabulous numbers.

Getting slightly ahead of myself (writes reviewer Kevin Anderson), I’ve been tracing the story of this Bill Kenwright production, ahead of its arrival in Eastbourne on February 16. Most of all, I wanted to explore that casting: yes, it really is Tommy Steele in the title role.

Tommy turns 80 later this year, although in the mind and memory of so many people, his image is ageless: the bright, irrepressibly cheerful face of a 1960s star who never seemed tarnished. It was the decade when pop and rock broke new ground and broke a few rules. But while some singers let fame go to their heads, and others turned rock into rebellion, Tommy Steele remained the likeable young man whom your daughter could have brought home to tea.

From that opening career as the lovable face of rock ’n’ roll, to equally engaging title-role performances in Scrooge and Singin’ in the Rain, Steele’s place in the hearts of the nation has never faded.

The Glenn Miller Story has been well received by UK audiences – a mixture, no doubt, of those who grew up tapping their feet to Miller’s rhythms, and others seizing a slightly unexpected chance to celebrate the talents of Mr Steele. Some arts reviewers have been just a bit more sceptical – raising perhaps that old question of whether the critic or the paying punter knows best.

Maybe it is simply their mild surprise that an almost-octogenarian, with little left to prove in career terms, should be covering the miles on a major tour.

Tommy has a typically ebullient response:

“You don’t really retire from showbiz and I’m doing what I love. You can’t ask for more than that, can you? It’s never that strenuous when you’re in a great show and you can’t wait to sing the songs, do the dances. I can’t really explain it but you walk on stage, do two and a half hours and you’ve got an audience listening. You can’t be luckier than that, can you?

“I have as much fun going from here to Manchester as I do from going to my house to the Palladium every day, it’s the excitement of going to the theatre. When you go out on tour and start going north, south, east and west of London there are loads of great theatres out there and the people in those towns, they want to see great shows but they can’t get to London every time to see a great musicals so the great musicals come to them.”

So why this particular production?

“It’s a show about a man looking for a sound, then finding it. And it is a fully blown song and dance musical, with a big orchestra. It’s got a wonderful ‘taste’ to it, that’s all I can say. But this is not a concert, it’s a musical. Age doesn’t matter as much in theatre as it does in film – people break out into song and dance, and that’s not real, so anything can happen.”

It’s no one-man show, of course, and reviewers have enthused over Sarah Soetaert’s sassy performance as Miller’s adoring wife with “a beautiful voice, immaculate timing and a trim figure on the dance floor”, in the words of one critic. There is also widespread approval of Mike Lloyd’s “magnificent” cameo of impresario Cy Shribman and Jon Bonner’s jovial Colonel Chambers.

Kenwright again enlists the talents of Bill Deamer, one of the UK’s best choreographers, to work his magic with the dance routines.

And all the great Glenn Miller classics are impeccably created by the utterly authentic 16-piece band: from a jaunty In the Mood, through the suave Moonlight Serenade to a rambunctious Chattanooga Choo-Choo.

With a catalogue of great numbers like that filling the Congress, they should be having an absolute blast.

Visit www.eastbournetheatres.co.uk.

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