IT was the strains of Clannad’s Celtic classic The Hooded Man that played over and over in my head as I entered Dublin’s Bord Gais Energy Theatre to watch High Society, last month.
The theme from the 1980s TV series Robin of Sherwood had sprung to mind earlier that day on spotting a poster advertising the musical, in which Michael Praed, Robin himself, stars.
However, settling into my seat, it wasn’t long before Clannad’s haunting melodies had been replaced by a raft of catchy Cole Porter classics.
It’s easy to forget how many great songs Porter was responsible for – High Society reminds you.
Adapted from both the 1939 Broadway hit The Philadelphia Story and the classic 1956 musical film of the same name, the touring production of High Society stops off at the Festival Theatre, this week – read the review in Friday’s Evening News.
Explaining the continuing appeal of the show, Praed, who last performed in the Capital as Captain Von Trapp in The Sound of Music, says: “Its endurance is down to a couple of things. First there’s the story, a love story, so there’s a theme that anyone can understand.
“Then, of course, there’s Cole Porter. Now, there are many composers. Some are not so good, some are good and some great, but there are very few iconic ones and Porter really is up there with the George Gershwins and the Richard Rodgers in terms of writing songs that still have a currency 60 years later.”
High Society boasts a score of those ballads, including True Love, You’re Sensational and the unforgettable Did You Evah!, but there was one song Praed didn’t know. “The one song I had never heard is actually my favourite song in the whole show now. It’s called He’s A Right Guy, and it’s absolutely beautiful,” says the actor, who famously quit Robin of Sherwood at the height of its success to head to Hollywood, where he was soon cast as Prince Michael of Moldavia, in Dynasty. Curiously, Praed’s real name is Michael Prince.
It was as a child that the actor was first introduced to High Society, when it received its first TV screening.
He recalls, “How charming is this? When the film had its first showing on television, my mother got her friend over and they both dressed up to watch it. I thought they were mad, but I watched it with them and I loved it. So I was well versed in the story when I was asked to play Dexter Haven.”
For those unfamiliar with the musical, it centres on wealthy socialite Tracy Lord.
In the midst of planning a lavish summer wedding, her ex-husband Dexter Haven turns up and attempts to win her back.
A further twist arrives in the form of the charming reporter Mike Connor who falls instantly for Tracy, and she for him. As the day of the wedding draws closer, which groom will the bride choose?
Having made a career playing the suave, sophisticated characters, Praed is at home in the role made famous by Bing Crosby, in the movie.
“Dexter is a laid-back guy, an honourable romantic. He has recognised his failings and corrected them. He’s also recognised that she needs to address hers, and that if she can, she will have a better life,” says the 52-year-old father of two.
Praed is joined on stage by Sophie Bould as Tracy Lord and Daniel Boys as Mike Connor, the roles played in the film by Grace Kelly and Frank Sinatra.
Other principals include Keiron Crook as George Kittredge, Marilyn Cutts as Margaret Lord and the hilarious Teddy Kempner as Uncle Willie, who are supported by a strong chorus line.
“The choreography is very clever actually, and really allows the chorus to become characters in their own rights,” says Praed, before confessing dancing isn’t his forte.
“I don’t have to do too much dancing, thank god,” he says, “apart from making carnage of the routine at the end.”
Perhaps that’s why they all appear to be having so much fun during the curtain call, I suggest.
“Or maybe we’re really glad the show is over so that we can go to the bar and get down to the serious end of the day,” he jokes.
High Society, Festival Theatre, Nicolson Street, until Saturday, 7.30pm (matinees 2.30pm), £17-£29, 0131-529 6000