Review: The Glenn Miller Story at the Orchard Theatre

Guest review by Sarah Gaimster

The Glenn Miller Story was born over a series of lunches between Bill Kenwright and Tommy Steele, when Kenwright discovered his friend’s passion for Glenn Miller and his Orchestra – he’s such an enthusiast that he’s travelled around the world for snippets of the original orchestral sounds. 

Tommy was quick to point out (as have critics been) the obvious problem; at 79, he’s too old to play Glenn, who tragically died aged 40 when his plane disappeared whilst crossing the English Channel in December 1944. Three years later they came up with a solution, and a show was born under the careful direction of Bob Tomson and Bill Kenwright.

Photo credit: Pamela Raith
Photo credit: Pamela Raith

Act 1 is a nostalgic walk down memory lane, setting the story. In a Basin Street Jazz Club, a young Glenn Miller is trying to make his way in the world of music with his trusty buddy Chummy MacGregor (played by Ashley Knight) by his side. We’re treated to musical delights such as ‘It don’t mean a thing, if it ain’t got that swing’ and ‘Sing, sing, sing’ here.

Back home in Colorado, Miller bumps into childhood sweetheart Helen Burger (Abigail Jaye) and when he tells her of his musical passion, his new love encourages him to follow his dream to New York. Later, on their first anniversary, Miller presents his wife with the score for ‘Moonlight Serenade’, which he’s written for her. Abigail Jaye sings a heartfelt rendition of the song for us, accompanied by Tommy Steele on piano. 

Shortly afterwards Miller gets his big break, when dance hall owner Cy Shribman (Mike Lloyd) comes knocking; he hurriedly puts together a 16-piece orchestra and the unique Glenn Miller sound is born.

In Act 2 we’re treated to the classics we expect: ‘String of Pearls’, ‘Chattanooga Choo Choo’, ‘Pennsylvania 6-5000’ and more as the Miller sound spreads like wildfire around the world. The addition of the live Orchestra on stage throughout is a delight for our eyes and ears, as are the dance hall groovers who treat us to snippets of an array of dances such as tap, Charleston, tango, jive and jitterbug, to name a few. Ashley Knight thrills with his performance of ‘Perfidia’, performed with backing support of The Modernaires. The 1930s costume and hairstyling are delightful and transport us back to that era.

Photo credit: Pamela Raith
Photo credit: Pamela Raith

As World War II broke Miller enlisted in 1942, determined to rally the troops with his upbeat music. He gave military marching bands an injection of adventurousness and fun, which proved popular with his comrades as a morale booster both at home and abroad. It was during this time that travelling from the UK to Paris, tragedy struck. Miller was never to be seen again – and the rest is history.

It’s clear for all to see that Tommy Steele has a passion for the story, with charisma and enthusiasm for the role oozing out of him. He is a natural all-round entertainer, coming to life with a sparkle when in front of his audience. In addition to his speaking and singing roles we are treated to glimpses of his ability as a musician (piano and trombone), his comic sense of humour and eagerness to thrill his audience. At the end of his encore he seemed reluctant to leave the stage, to the audience’s delight. 

Come and decide for yourself if casting Tommy Steele in this role was a plausible decision, but even if you don’t agree you’ll be well entertained by one of our homegrown entertainers – so grab your ticket while you still can. 

Tommy Steele stars in The Glenn Miller Story at the Orchard Theatre, Dartford until Saturday 22nd October. 

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