“Julie Andrews was my inspiration,” gushed Ruthie Henshall as she steeled herself to wrestle another semi-anecdote to the ground before it could emit a punchline.
While the musical theatre cognoscenti were packed into the Queen’s Theatre yesterday afternoon the Whingers – ever determined to plough their own pointless furrow – were at the Royal Festival Hall to witness Ruthie Henshall Sounds of Hollywood which is apparently doing a little tour.
Our furrow unearthed a valuable lesson: always read the small print, especially if there isn’t any.
Yes, Mr Raymond Gubbay, one of the men who brought us The Gift Of Music is on to a winner with his new formula. The Whingers went to see Ruthie Henshall Sounds of Hollywood and ended up seeing Ruthie Henshall Sounds of Hollywood “backed by a talented cast”.
When Ruthie wasn’t around (about half the time) and sometimes when she was, they sung, they danced, they wore hats. Who were they? No idea. Their identities don’t even make it onto Gubbay’s website. Ruthie mangled another semi-anecdote by saying that the singers were brilliant and that she had asked Gubbay to get singers that made her look brilliant. If we had bought a copy of the programme for £4 we might have found out but from a glance at the cover we had assumed they were selling paper doll books.
When the Whingers emerged blinking into what was left of the light during the interval Phil expected to find the Royal Festival Hall had been converted into a cruise ship and had set sail for Hollywood but had run into difficulties and was aborting at 1972.
This was supposed to have been an off-duty “theatre for pure pleasure” day and the Whingers hadn’t intended to write anything about it but then ….
What went wrong? The Whingers are normally enthusiastic about Henshall, she was top of her game when they saw her earlier in the year when she returned to Chicago paired with the wonderful Anna Jane Casey, a performance which, for reasons we never really understood, we weren’t allowed to talk about at the time, which is a shame as they were both terrific. Heck,we even got an eyeful of one of her kazongas in Marguerite and still don’t hold it against her. We just hope she doesn’t hold it against us.
So, really, Henshall was comfortably in credit at the Whinger Bank of Goodwill (a very under-capitalised institution, as you might imagine) until yesterday.
Ruthie would come on ramble on about what Mickey Rooney said to her, do a couple of songs and then go off and let the four stooges take over. They were competent enough singers but they were redundant. To keep the audience entertained they were forced to move around the stage and dance a bit and – showing an astonishing lack of faith in the quality of the American Songbook – to mime the words for us. So in “The Trolley Song” they were all called upon to hold one hand up as though gripping onto overhead handles and bounce up and down. The relentless naffness of the whole thing was just draining and the Whingers came out feeling quite depressed.
To call the lumpen piles of words between the numbers “patter” would be misleading. It was as if Henshall were thinking of things to say on the spur of the moment. Is it really such a fine line between informal and incoherent? As she left the stage, she bid us “Safe home!” which is a new one on us. An Internet search reveals that it may be common in Ireland but Ruthie was born in Bromley.
There were satisfactory moments to be salvaged from the wreckage: Ruthie’s singing and in particular her renditions of “Don’t Rain On My Parade” and “The Man That Got Away” were rather thrilling. Oh and it turns out that she has a gift for impersonating people – including Julie Andrews.
But this was just too close for comfort.