Judy Garland saunters through an empty film studio of Hollywood institution MGM, browsing through the unused costumes and camera equipment, while some stagehands sweep the premises. Or so it seems – the snappy start of the narration soon breaks the spell, and all cast burst into song. Less a musical or play than an educational homage, The MGM Story rejoices in the great films of MGM’s Golden Era from the 30s, to its disintegration in the 60s. The show is what could be expected at an exhibition, a museum, or a tribute show to a star.
The cast, consisting of Steven Dalziel, James Leece, Emmy Kayte Saunders and Miranda Wilford sing and dance their way through iconic routines from movies such as The Wizard of Oz, Meet Me in St Louis and An American In Paris, whilst channelling their inner Judy Garlands, Gene Kellys, Fred Astaire’s and many more symbols of a glamorous era long gone. The play follows the path of genius producer Arthur Freed who brought glory and money to MGM and is responsible for some of film history’s greatest hits. Props, lighting and costume powerfully evoke the sepia, vintage feeling associated with the times between the 1930s through 50s.
The book by Chris Burgess lovingly walks its audience through the highlights of class and glitz. Ironically, the only thing the MGM Story is really missing is….a story. It is a retelling, a showcase, a sort of rose-tinted documentary of backstage drama and interesting trivia that lives purely from the performances of the famous songs. But boy, do the cast deliver. Every single number is sure to produce goosebumps a-plenty, even when they tackle the most intricate, breath-taking tap dance choreographies. The cast easily rivals the silver screen legends they portray, and every single one of them belongs nowhere else but deeply rooted into the West End. Their charm and bubbly energy is so contagious, it is easily forgotten that The MGM Story is basically a lecture. Instead, it is a performance that will leave you with the same elevated feeling you get at the credit roll of a wonderfully light-hearted film – exactly the same feeling the movies they discussed elicit. There’s just no business like show business!
Reviewed by Lisa Theresa Downey-Dent
THE MGM STORY plays Upstairs at the Gatehouse until 25 September 2016