Making it grate: Strike Up The Band @GatehouseLondon
For many people, Gershwin songs conjure up sultry jazz singers in smokey basements singing in hushed deep tones about “the man I love”. So it might come as a surprise it’s sung by a soprano in a musical about a cheese war between the United States and Switzerland. But that’s not the only thing that jars in Strike Up The Band, currently playing at Upstairs At The Gatehouse.
The show is full of classic Gershwin songs such as The Man I Love and I’ve Got A Crush On You. Set to a bizarre book that’s intended to satirise the military industrial complex of the United States. But a plot featuring tariff wars, trade wars and real wars seem uncomfortably relevant today. After all we're in the era of slowbalisation, where nationalistic rhetoric and economic self-harm is the order of the day. To emphasise this point, there are some nice touches throughout the show, such as the “Make America Grate” caps enlisted to buy American cheese. So, on one hand, this revival is a stroke of genius.
On the other hand, the show is overlong (at three hours) and the book doesn’t make much sense. As a 1927 musical, there’s little connection between the dialogue and music. It’s likely to appeal to musical theatre aficionados out to see a Gershwin tune in its original setting.
But the production's assembled a strong cast of performers and the performances are a lot of fun. Richard Emerson as the cheese factory magnate who starts a war to protect his profits is hilarious in his quest for power. Paul Biggin as Jim and Beth Burrows as Joan have some great duets throughout the piece as the unlikely lovers. And Pippa Winslow gets plenty of laughs as the poor widow desperately seeking a new husband before her daughter does.
A cheesy musical fable of love and war if there ever was one. Directed by Mark Giesser with music direction by Bobby Goulder, Strike Up the Band is at Upstairs At The Gatehouse until 31 March.
Photos by Andreas Lambis