Review: Puttin’ on the Ritz at the Orchard Theatre

When it comes to glamour, you can’t really beat 1920s Hollywood. Puttin’ on the Ritz is an entertaining celebration of some of the best-loved music of the era, featuring a talented cast of singers and dancers, and an appearance by guest stars Trent Whiddan (who danced with Pixie Lott on last year’s Strictly Come Dancing) and Gordana Grandosek.

With music from Irving Berlin, George Gershwin and Cole Porter, it’s not surprising that this is a show bursting with classic, toe-tapping tunes: I Got Rhythm, Cheek to Cheek, Top Hat, Anything Goes… we’re whisked from one to the next with ruthless efficiency, pausing only occasionally for an introduction by one of the singers (and just once for a spot of awkward banter with the audience; our finger clicking was quite good for a Tuesday, apparently). The dance ensemble, meanwhile, fling themselves with great enthusiasm into Charleston, tap, jazz, ballroom and more, all choreographed by Emma Rogers, who also directs the show.

The latest offering from producer David King is a lively and entertaining evening, with some impressive performances from its cast, and a seemingly endless array of beautiful costumes (once again, I want all the dresses). The show is very much an ensemble production, although Lucy van Gasse’s beautiful rendition of Summertime is a particularly memorable moment. The same goes for the hand jive at the end of the show, even if it does bear a strong resemblance to the one that concluded Spirit of the Dance, another David King production, a few months ago (including the double encore).

Trent and Gordana

Trent and Gordana are welcomed on to the stage a few times to perform alone; unsurprisingly, they’re brilliant, although it’s perhaps a little too obvious that they’ve been slotted into the programme (the guest stars vary throughout the tour, so I guess it’s easier that way). This doesn’t take away at all from the enjoyment of either their appearance or the show as a whole – it just feels a bit like two shows in one, especially since Trent and Gordana never appear on stage with anyone else until the curtain call. Fortunately, both shows are great fun, so having the guest stars there is basically just a bit of a bonus.

If you love Hollywood glamour, high-energy performances, gorgeous costumes and catchy tunes, you’ll enjoy this show. Puttin’ on the Ritz is a highly polished production, which packs an incredible amount into its two-hour running time – so there’s no hanging around, but this at least ensures we get a bit of almost all the classics. And whatever your taste in music, it’s pretty much guaranteed that your foot will be tapping by the time the curtain falls.

Puttin’ on the Ritz is at the Orchard Theatre, Dartford, until Saturday 14th November.

Review: The Last Tango at the Orchard Theatre

If, like me, your Saturday evenings feel a bit empty during the summer months – when you’re forced to leave the house for entertainment instead of the infinitely preferable option of curling up on the sofa with a cup of tea and Strictly Come Dancing for company – then you need to get yourself along to see The Last Tango. Strictly favourites Vincent Simone and Flavia Cacace are performing together in their third and final theatre tour, and if you think that means it might get emotional… well, you’re right.

The Last Tango, directed by Olivier Award winner Karen Bruce, is a dance show, but it also tells a story – and what a story it is. The show opens with George (Teddy Kempner) poking around in the loft. What he’s actually looking for we never discover, but what he finds is a host of memories of the love story he shared with his wife, which then unfolds as George looks nostalgically on. Over the next two hours, we’re swept along on the couple’s enchanting, exhilarating journey, as they and an energetic ensemble tango, waltz, rumba and jive their way through the years, to a repertoire of classic tunes performed by a fantastic live band and singer Matthew Gent.

The Last Tango - credit Manuel Harlan
Photo credit: Manuel Harlan

Vincent and Flavia have been dancing together for 20 years (they were winning competitions long before they joined Strictly in 2006), and it really shows; they have the most amazing chemistry, particularly when it comes to their speciality, the Argentine tango. Everything we’ve learnt to look out for when judging Strictly contestants from the comfort of our sofas is there in abundance – beautiful arms, great shaping, intricate footwork (my friend was keeping an eye out for heel leads, apparently) and incredible storytelling. This is not just good acting; the closeness between the two is real, and that makes the story much more powerful to watch than if its stars were just two strangers pretending to care about each other.

There’s really nothing not to love about this show; even the story, which could have been shoehorned to fit the choreography, is an uplifting and enjoyable tale of enduring love that could quite easily stand on its own. It’s funny at times – my particular highlight is the moment Flavia pops out four babies without once losing her figure – and at others desperately sad; I doubt I was the only one who welled up when George had to leave for the war, leaving his brokenhearted bride behind. But throughout everything that life throws at them, the couple’s love for each other never falters – and if the end of the story feels a bit predictable, the journey to get there is worth every second.

Flavia Cacace - The Last Tango -
Photo credit: Manuel Harlan

Whether you’re a Strictly fan or not, it’s hard to deny that this is a pretty fabulous show. And though it may be the last we’ll see (in theatres, at least) of Vincent and Flavia as a partnership, it’s fair to say that with The Last Tango, they’ve ensured they won’t be forgotten in a hurry.

The Last Tango is at the Orchard Theatre, Dartford, until Saturday 31st October.