Chris Eldon Lee reviews ‘The Glenn Miller Story’, which is at Wolverhampton Grand Theatre until Saturday 24th October.
Tommy Steele will be 79 this Christmas. As a song and dance man, the years have much diminished him; but his bubbly magnetism is undimmed. He can still hold an audience with his enthusiasm and his boyish charm. It’s just that the legs and voice won’t do what they used to; to the extent that he is a cheery marionette in this show.
He’s cast as Glenn Miller and is playing opposite a woman at least a third of his age. The set up lets them get away with it – just. The Glenn Miller Admiration Society is visiting RAF Twinwood. It was here on December 15th 1944 that he boarded a transport plane that never reached Paris. 70 years later, we still don’t know what happens…and this show leaves us none the wiser. The Society decides to ‘do the show right here’, a device which also covers Steele’s inability to hold an American accent.
It probably doesn’t matter because the real star of the show is the superb band, authentically laying clarinet upon saxes upon trumpets and trombones, as Miller did when he found the sound that made him famous.
In the first half they roar through a repertoire of pre-Miller music. The second half is more concert than play, as they perform Miller’s tunes as he would demand they be performed; with solid vocals from Sarah Soetaert as Mrs Miller. It’s the music that excited my dad, and it excited me.
Glen Miller’s story is slight, spasmodic and hugely predictable. There’s a thin explanation of how Moonlight Serenade was composed; the confirmation of how many Gold Discs he won (including the first ever); a slight account of how he got his first booking for the Glenn Miller Orchestra before he’d actually formed it; and the tale of his big break in Boston. But you could have squeezed it all onto a postage stamp. It’s more a case of ‘The Glenn Miller Non-Story’.
But you can never put a good man down. When Tommy whispers a barely audible love song, “The Nearness of You”, this analytical critic lay down his pen and shed a tear. Steele still loves being on stage … and audiences will never stop loving him.
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