Strike Up the Band at Upstairs at the Gatehouse
In this powerful revival of George and Ira Gershwin and George Kaufman’s Strike Up The Band from 1927, director Mark Giesser resuscitates a vision of 1920s USA dripping with absurd and comical situations. It’s cheesy, over-the-top and about as subtle as a stampede. And yet it’s equally entertaining, funny and moving, making this a hilarious nostalgia trip which will leave the audience with plenty of earworms for the next few weeks.
The musical tells the story of self-made millionaire cheese manufacturer Horace J Fletcher (Richard Emerson), who pushes the US government into a war with Switzerland after the country refuses to accept a 50% import tariff on cheese in order to protect his own business interests. Little does he know that his trusted manager George Spelvin (David Francis) is a Swiss spy and has been sabotaging his produce for years, while journalist Jim (Paul Biggin) gradually discovers the scheme and ultimately achieves a victory for the company-led US army.
The show is about as silly as it sounds, but the charming rendition nevertheless manages to be highly entertaining for the entirety of the almost three-hour runtime. In true classic musical style, there are even two romantic subplots. The production features many gorgeous songs, such as the well-known The Man I Love, but also lesser-known Gershwin pieces.
While the staging itself is rather conservative, with simple costumes and set designs, it doesn’t distract from the action, and the musical direction by Bobby Goulder is excellent throughout, aided by the pristine cast, who manage to perform one hit number after another, much to the delight of the onlookers.
While a contemporary audience may be put off by some of the old-fashioned plot points and depictions, this is to be expected in a revival, and it hardly detracts from the musical prowess, excellent casting choices and brilliant sense of humour on show. For those seeking to feel what a musical would have felt like in the late 1920s, Strike Up the Band is a must-see.
Photo: Andreas Lambis
Strike Up the Band is at Upstairs from 6th March until 31st March 2019. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.