It's Swing Time for Dorothy Fields in the West End

Review by Paul Nelson

I FIRST met the late Dorothy Fields in the early 1970s through Maurice Levine who was MD for Broadway musicals and the producer of a series of evenings at the 92nd Street Y called Lyrics and Lyricists. These evenings presented well-known writers of Broadway shows talking about their life and career and the whole was illustrated with their songs.

Now at the Jermyn Street Theatre you can meet Dorothy Fields all over again in a bright show called Dorothy Fields Forever, which gives a fair crack of the whip to more than 30 of her numbers.

As with all compilation shows there is always that friction when numbers are included or not, according to the listeners' tastes but by and large this show is more satisfactory than most in that department.

It also has its surprises. It presents Rebecca Lock, a girl new to me who has all the promise of being a new musical star, and it reaffirms Angela Richards as being one.

An added bonus is the presence of Andrew Halliday, last seen at the same theatre in Over My Shoulder. Here he works the same magic with more familiar material.

Some of the Broadway musicals that Miss Fields was associated with but never made it to these shores are represented. Redhead for example, which starred Gwen Verdon as a cockney girl with an atrocious accent, was an Agatha Christie styled comedy which included police chases, a waxworks and so on. In it she sang a novelty number called 'Erbie Fitch's Twitch and the number gets a roof lifting performance by Halliday. It's not the sort of song you hear everyday, nor would want to, but it stands out like a gem in an evening of gems.

For those who have little knowledge of Dorothy Fields, she was born into a theatrical family, and was dissuaded from following in their footsteps. However, luckily for us she took little notice and with her brother Herbert, wrote for Broadway and films gaining a modicum of success initially then going on to really great things. In Hollywood she wrote for Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers (Swing Time) and in the theatre for such as Ethel Merman.

In the beginning she worked with Jimmy McHugh and their first song to make it was for a show called Delmar's Revels. It was written for a poor street boy and his girl friend (Bert Lahr and Patsy Kelly) who were in rags, then the curtains opened and all the chorus girls came down the stairs dressed in jewels. The song was I Can't Give You Anything But Love and was cut from the show, it did however resurface in Blackbirds of 1928 where it was a great hit.

She also collaborated with the great Jerome Kern, Arthur Schwartz, Sigmund Romberg, Albert Hague and even Fritz Kreisler.

Two of my favourite shows, which also never crossed the Atlantic, were A Tree Grows in Brooklyn and By The Beautiful Sea, both written for the star Shirley Booth. From the first of these Angela Richards absolutely sure footedly sings He Had Refinement, and from the second Susannah Fellows sings Lottie Gibson's Specialty. Both numbers hark back to the time when musicals had showstoppers that didn't necessarily involve the entire company doing acrobatics. An engaging performer could do it all.

Modern audiences however, will remember Dorothy Fields for her later collaboration with Cy Coleman on the shows, Sweet Charity and Seesaw. Both are represented at Jermyn Street by this talented company. They are brilliantly accompanied by Nathan Martin on piano, who also gets a chance to show off his voice in The Way You Look Tonight.

As I said at the beginning of this review, everyone would have their favourites and here it is for David Kernan to call the tunes. That he has chosen wisely can be seen for the next three weeks. It is certain that musical lovers would be sorry to miss it.

Dorothy Fields Forever, a celebration of the lyrics of Dorothy Fields, Devised and Directed by David Kernan, Co-devised and written by Eden Phillips. Choreography by Nick Winston with Musical Arrangements by Nathan Martin. Produced by Jermyn Street Theatre in association with Edenco.
With Angela Richards, Susannah Fellows, Andrew Halliday, Rebecca Lock, Daniel Crossley and Nathan Martin.