A confession: I have never seen the classic film High Society. This could be a good thing, as it meant that I didn’t have to keep comparing it to Maria Friedman’s new version at the Old Vic. The show was created in 1998 with a book by Arthur Kopit, based directly on the original 1939 play The Philadelphia Story but with a clutch of Cole Porter songs, among them most of those that were present in the 1956 musical film. Performed in the round, the show immerses the audience into the world of glittering socialites, as Tracy Lord plans her wedding in the face of the disconcerting presence of her first husband CK Dexter Haven, as well as a couple of journalists.
It took me a long time to warm to the show. I disliked Kate Fleetwood’s spoilt Tracy and couldn’t bring myself to care about her forthcoming wedding. Even Rupert Young’s attractive Dexter couldn’t liven things up for me and the only character I really liked was Tracy’s straight-talking younger sister, played with sharp wit by Ellie Bamber. I largely passed the time admiring Tom Pye’s ingenious stage design (the show is performed in the round), though I very much enjoyed Jamie Parker’s scenes as Mike, the undercover reporter.
In the second half, things livened up a great deal. I warmed to Tracy, as Fleetwood demonstrated a talent for comedy that made her character seem much more appealing. The post-interval opening sequence, with a stunning piano duet and vibrant dancing, was memorable for all the right reasons, and from then until the end of the show I was hooked.
Packed with hits including “Well, Did You Evah?” and “True Love”, High Society took a while to get going but in the end proved a solid investment of my time.