Theatre reviews: The Glenn Miller Story | Piaf! The Show

Tommy Steele takes us through the life of Glenn Miller with incredible chutzpah and a husky but fine voice. Picture: Contributed

Tommy Steele takes us through the life of Glenn Miller with incredible chutzpah and a husky but fine voice. Picture: Contributed

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When the veteran team of producer Bill Kenwright and star Tommy Steele announced their new stage version of The Glenn Miller Story – and let it be known that they had found a way to give the leading role to Tommy, who is four decades older than Miller was when he died in a wartime air crash over the Channel – all sorts of narrative solutions seemed possible.

The Glenn Miller Story | Rating *** | Playhouse, Edinburgh

Piaf! The Show | Rating **** Theatre Royal, Glasgow

When the veteran team of producer Bill Kenwright and star Tommy Steele announced their new stage version of The Glenn Miller Story – and let it be known that they had found a way to give the leading role to Tommy, who is four decades older than Miller was when he died in a wartime air crash over the Channel – all sorts of narrative solutions seemed possible.

And as the show opens – with a modern-day Glenn Miller Admiration Society gathering in the aircraft hangar from which Miller departed on his last flight – we wait for the moment when the sprightly 79-year-old Tommy, the leader of the group, will become our narrator and chanteur, and give way to the other actor who will surely play Glenn Miller in his 20s and 30s.

The change, though, never happens; because with incredible chutzpah, Tommy Steele simply continues to play Glenn throughout, starting out as a twentysomething young musician romancing his true love Helen. He sings huskily but in perfect tune, moves with a completely unimpaired sense of rhythm, and is brilliantly supported by a 12-strong cast – beautifully choreographed by Bill Deamer – and by a superb 16-piece onstage Glenn Miller Orchestra. And what emerges is an incongruous but likeable feast of nostalgia that presses all the right buttons – except the one that would have truly captured the vigour, glamour and tragedy of young Glenn Miller, in his brief prime.

If Miller had made it to Paris on that foggy night in 1944, he would have found a city increasingly in thrall to the voice and presence of Edith Piaf, then aged 29. Anne Carrere’s beautiful 2015 centenary tribute, Piaf! Le Spectacle (The Show), arrived at Celtic Connections as part of this year’s exploration of French music; and it is more of a concert than a biographical drama, with the chronological story conveyed entirely through the songs, and through stunning, giant black-and-white photographs of Piaf’s Paris.

Anne Carrere’s voice and presence are simply dazzling though, drawing the audience into some glorious moments of shared laughter and song. And she is backed by a superb three-piece band, whose work helps to emphasise the roots of Piaf’s music in the street sounds and rhythms of a city of so many traditions, and her absolute closeness to the voice of the people of France, at the heart of a turbulent century.

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