Goodness. What with Jerusalem missing out on the Olivier Award for Best Play, there’s only so many shocks the Whingers can take in 24 hours.
But who would think that sweet, adorable Partridge Family mom, “legendary Hollywood and Broadway leading lady” and Academy Award winner Shirley Jones and her son Patrick Cassidy making their UK stage debuts would provide another?
There are of course people without the advanced seniority of the Whingers who have no idea who Shirley Jones is, but if they turned up at the Arts Theatre, (and let’s face it why would they if they hadn’t heard of her?) they would be in no doubt by the time Miss Jones finally stepped onto the stage.
Because helpfully Shirley Jones and Patrick Cassidy in Concert kicks off with her greatest moments through the medium of film clips projected onto a screen only slightly bigger than a tea tray. Highlights include Oklahoma!, Carousel, The Music Man, a montage of screen kisses with Hollywood greats (Cagney, Lancaster, Hope etc), duetting with Sinatra and beating Janet Leigh (for her role in Psycho) to the Best Supporting Actress Oscar (for Elmer Gantry), and receiving the award in a frock large enough to house the entire Partridge family.
But perhaps reminding us of Ms Jones in her prime when she sang those Rogers and Hammerstein classics beautifully was not the choicest way to prepare us for her entrance in a suitably showbizzy blue sparkly outtfit warbling “Tonight”. It was a bit like a variant on the I’m Sorry I Haven’t A Clue game of “One Song To The Tune Of Another” in which Miss Jones had been challenged to sing Sondheim in the style of a Gilbert & Sullivan operetta. The man in the row behind the Whingers gasped, “Oh my Lord!”.
Now we accept that “America’s First Lady Of Song” is 75 (going on 76 Trombones this month, a fact that more impressionable audience applauded for some reason) and that she wasn’t helped by a band that was horribly heavy on the Korg synthesiser producing voices unselected since the 1960s that would make Simon Bates‘ syrupy Our Tune theme sound like progressive rock, but surely someone should tell her? Not this audience. Half stared at their feet and the other half applauded enthusiastically. “You’re a wonderful audience” she enthused, perhaps not realising her decidedly elderly audience were, if not tone deaf, perhaps just deaf. The old woman next to Andrew had her fingers in her ears at one point and the one next to Phil was texting. Happily Miss Jones was oblivious to it all and sailed gamely onwards through the familiar waters of her oeuvre. Even when the technicians forgot to turn the reverb button off between songs (which was frequently) the redoubtable First Lady Of Tremolo was completely unfazed.
But worse was to come. After serially murdering a few of her classics like “If I Loved You” it was time for son Patrick to give mom some time off stage to allow both her and the audience to recover. Now, Mr Cassidy, is at 48 a good looking man, though you do sense that he’s horribly aware of the fact. But there’s something a bit scary about him and his very white teeth (Never trust a man with white teeth; he drinks neither red wine nor coffee and what kind of life is that?). With the aid of a head-set style microphone he took us on a musical journey through the family photographs, singing numbers to his mother, his father (Jack Cassidy), his wife and his brothers, culminating in a “duet” with a mask of his half-brother David Cassidy.
Now the Whingers have never been on an ocean liner (although Phil’s doormat these days is awash with Saga catalogues, so watch this space) but this show was turning out very like your worst cruise entertainment nightmares, the kind where you note with relief that the linen is embroidered with the words “SS Poseidon”.
Mister Cassidy went on to divulge to the audience that he is, in fact, heterosexual, explaining that despite “running on the treadmill to Oklahoma!” he is a red blooded male through and through. “Why can’t a man love listening to Judy Garland and want to have sex with her,” he asked, presumably rhetorically. “Because she’s dead,” hissed back a horrified Andrew.
Vanessa Feltz made the sensible decision to leave at the interval, but not the Whingers who are made of sterner stuff. Shirley returned after the break to deliver Oklahoma! selections, the lyric “the corn is as high as an elephant’s eye” gaining added piquancy from the showbiz schmaltz smothering the mostly startled London audience who were quite rightly embarrassed when she announced that she loved us. Somewhat redundantly she sang “Don’t throw bouquets at me”.
“It’s just a joy to sing those songs”, she reflected. If only that were true of listening to them. To be fair, she went on to provide a futher shock with a half-decent rendition of “Send In The Clowns”, acting the sentiment rather effectively.
Sadly it all went downhill with an ill-judged (on so many levels) “As Time Goes By” and a jaw-droppingly incoherent and inappropriate (despite her upcoming birthday) rendition of “76 Trombones” over the wheeze of the Korg.
Despite all this and the not-at-all-suitable-for-the-English gush, Jones does have a rather charming persona. But generous thoughts soon melted away when Cassidy returned to perform a rap version of “(Ya Got) Trouble (right here in River City)” from The Music Man and a “Till There Was You” in a slightly inappropriate duet with his mother.
The show is running at the Arts Theatre for only 12 performances and was half-full on Monday evening. The Whingers can assure you this will be your only opportunity to see Shirley Jones as it is difficult to imagine who might ask her back (aside from the dozen or so bachelors who gave her a standing ovation). Top price tickets are £42.50 and if we had paid we would have been spitting feathers.