Whilst this latest in a long line of Chichester transfers may be a new reworking of the classic Tommy Steele vehicle – with new songs, music and deeper characterisation added – it remains a pure, unadulterated, unchallenging, cheese slice of musical theatre. But Goddamn, it's all done with such high energy and a tight slickness throughout by every single member of the ensemble cast, that it's a sumptuously flawless sure-fire classic that blows all cynicism out of the water. If you think this sort of theatre is too old-fashioned for you then you risk missing out on what must be the most exhilarating and uplifting show in the West End right now.
There's energy to see on every inch of the stage, whilst never feeling too busy with one of the tightest ensembles you could hope for.
The simple tale is of young working-class Arthur Kipps at the start of the twentieth century, happily struggling through life (and love) before he surprisingly comes into money and then struggles again to fit into the world of the gentry (and with love), while all he really wants is to play a banjo (such is the naturalism here!) If you want to seem clever, then you could suggest it is a satire on the shallowness of the upper-classes who value money more than people (acutely observed by those "working-class heroes" Cameron Mackintosh and Julian Fellowes (back to Downton territory here after his brief sojourn into the very different School of Rock). Or you could challenge its misogyny with the female characters having little more to them than the desire to find a man to love. But your cleverness will be missing the point by trying to add unnecessary depth to this lightest of delightful musical soufflés.
Everything here is tightly choreographed, high-kicking, thigh-slapping, seemingly endless dancing that moves the show along at a pace. Choreographer Andrew Wright and Director Rachel Kavanaugh knit their respective talents together seamlessly so that the dance is incorporated into every move within the show (as well as bringing alive the big numbers with a deft synchronisation where not a hand flick is out of place). Crowds burst in at any moment, couples waltz around the revolve as sets change, there's many a high-kicking line-up and even jumping up to swing from a chandelier. There's energy to see on every inch of the stage, whilst never feeling too busy with one of the tightest ensembles you could hope for.
Newcomer Charlie Stemp (unbelievably making his West End debut here) is a wondrous find to play Kipps – leading most of the dance numbers with dexterity and singing in 21 of the 23 musical numbers and so hardly gets a moment to himself to breathe. He's as cute, happy and innocent as a child – but a child that has just had way too much sugar intake. You don't need to empathise with the struggles of his journey - his performance isn't one of depth and I'm sure if you told him the world was about to end, he would simply give you a cheeky wink and a pirouette - you just need to enjoy him being there. Though I do hope that Stemp is able to relax when not on stage as after 10 minutes of being with someone that energetic you would possibly want to slap him to calm him down.
The comedy is light ("you're very punctual", "but I had a bath this morning"), the lyrics are simple ("reviewers may be critical... and over-analytical") and the plot lines flimsy (Kipps' childhood sweetheart Ann is also his workmate's sister though this isn't mentioned until near the end and without any surprise at the fact). But none of this matters as it's impossible not to get swept up by the sheer exuberance of it all. New song Pick out a Simple Tune fits right alongside the famous Flash, Bang, Wallop as group numbers that ignite the stage and bring the audience to its feet. And Paul Brown's design continually opens up whole new worlds – using video projection and a pagoda style backdrop to create fully detailed pubs, theatres, shops and a garden party amongst other settings – without us really noticing the scene is changing.
Pick any moral you like; money can't buy happiness... don't have ideas above your station or forget your roots... you will never better your first love. Pick a reason not to go; you're cleverer than this... you don't like old-fashioned show tunes... you want to see a Chekhov Trilogy. But you will be wasting your time picking the wrong things. Just pick up a ticket as soon as you can and I defy you not to feel all is good in the world by spending time basking in the sparkliness of this shiny sixpence.