Bristol Hippodrome

Glenn Miller Story, February 2016


Nailsea makes a connection


Before I write a review of the Glenn Miller Story which opened at the Bristol Hippodrome this week I will say it is a very, very good show.

But in the style of controversial newspaper columnist and big mouth Katie Hopkins I am sorry Tommy Steele is too old to play the part of the legendary middle aged wartime band leader.

Why is he doing it – does he need the money or did the promoters want a famous name for publicity purposes?

Okay let’s turn the conundrum on its head – Maggie Smith, aged 81 recently starred in The Lady in the Van, written by Alan Bennett.

In it she played Mary Shepherd, an elderly woman who lived in a dilapidated van on Bennett's driveway in London for 15 years.

And the late Jessica Tandy who was born in 1909 was the oldest actress to receive the Academy Award for best actress for her 1989 role in Driving Miss Daisy.

But the difference is the roles they were playing were aged appropriate.

Multi-talented Meryl Streep at 59-years got loads of flak and mixed reviews for wearing ‘dungarees’ and playing the love interest in the blockbusting 2008 film Mamma Mia.

Now I am not saying pensionable people should just play senior citizens but make it real and believable.

Tommy Steele reminded me of a cross between someone doing the embarrassing (grand)dad shuffle at a wedding wearing Simon Cowell trousers and a slightly stooped Richard Hearne character Mr Pastry.

There you go I’ve said it and I’m no spring chicken.

Luckily most of the audience didn’t share my views.

Sitting behind me in the stalls was Eddie Large the loveable funny man and his delightful wife Patsy who live at Portishead.

So I posed the question to Eddie – why is someone of that age still on a stage in a gruelling musical?

He said: “Because it is in the blood.”

And while we both agreed at 79 Tommy was putting in a sprightly performance Eddie wondered what younger people who didn’t know the amazing 1950s rock’n’roller would think.

Eddie said: “Tommy learned to dance with the best – no Saturday morning village hall classes for him he trained with American-Irish dancer, actor, singer, film director, producer and choreographer Gene Kelly.

“For a man of this age his performance is awe-inspiring.”

For more than half a century Tommy Steele has rubbed shoulders and kicked heels with the greatest in the industry and to deny him this extended 13-week tour I suppose would be mean.

Perhaps as his swansong he wants to be like fellow thespians who have taken their final steps on stage?

In 1958 Tyrone Power suffered a heart attack while filming a fencing scene for the film entitled Solomon and Sheba but his early demise was due to life style rather than age.

And in 1967 actor and singer Nelson Eddy suffered a stroke while performing in a Palm Beach, Florida hotel, dying a few hours later aged 66.

Closer to home Sir Bruce Forsyth-the front man for Strictly Come Dancing has only just hung up his tap shoes aged 88.

Well the set and the supporting cast are fantastic.

The stage looks like a giant aircraft hanger with superb lighting and imaginative props used to change the scene.

The military and swing costumes are great but the best bit is the marvellous 16-piece big band.

When watching the Michael Jackson tribute recently I knew none of the words but on Tuesday night I knew them all (mostly).

My father an ex RAF flight sergeant who loved The Mills Brothers and The Ink Spots and collected the old fashioned gramophone records from this era so my feet were tapping and body swaying nearly all the way through.

World War 2 hits including swing ballad Moonlight Serenade, A String Of Pearls and Chattanooga Choo Choo.

The show ends with a sing-a-long finale including I've Got a Girl from Kalamazoo and an encore demanded by an appreciative audience of Sing, Sing, Sing all recorded by Glenn Miller in the 1940s.

Portishead resident Jerry Lander was another person of pensionable age in the audience.

He said: “The concept of a 79-year-old singer playing the role of Glen Miller with a cast half or in some cases one third of his age seems on the face of it doomed to failure but when that singer it is Tommy Steele it works.

“Would it have worked with an unknown actor, probably not.

“Steele sets up the story as himself and goes on to take the part of Miller.

“His clear love for the subject , enthusiasm and energy carries the production along.

“He still has a strong voice and is ably supported by a talented cast of singers dancers and musicians.

“His sheer professionalism and stagecraft shines through culminating in a finale and encore where he has the audience in the palm of his hand.

“Fans of Steele and Miller will be well satisfied with this musical show.”

While the voice was strong the accent did vacillate from mid West US drawl to Cockney.

Nailsea resident Pete Stamp who was a children's entertainer come projectionist at the Curzon cinema, Clevedon, is a lifelong fan and got a surprise meeting with the star backstage after the show - see photo below.

It was arranged by Backwell dancer Siobhan Diffin who was making her professional debut playing telephonist Babs and shared a brilliant connection skit during the jazz pop number Pennsylvania 6-5000 between Major Miller and his wife Helen played by a much younger Sarah Soetaert.

Siobhan, 22, went to dance lessons with Pete’s daughter Jeanette.

Pete, his wife Dawn and Jeanette accompanied Siobhan’s parents Clinton and Fiona to the show.

Pete, 78, said he first saw Tommy Steele perform in Singin In The Rain back in the mid-1980s also at the Bristol Hippodrome and is a fellow Londoner although he was evacuated to Somerset from his Canning Town home as a toddler.

He said: “It made my day – it was fantastic, he was so nice it was unbelievable and he is such a big star.”

It’s been 70 years since Glenn Miller vanished over the English Channel as he flew to Paris to entertain the troops during the war and while there have been theories no one knows whether his plane crashed or was shot down.

The Glenn Miller Story plays the Bristol Hippodrome until Saturday, February 27.

Carol Deacon