Review: Against all odds, man of Steele soars
Musical theatre: The Glenn Miller Story, Bord Gais Energy Theatre
Published 05/02/2016 | 07:00
Tommy Steele is at first pass a ludicrous choice to play swing-era big band leader Glenn Miller. The British song and dance veteran is 79 where Miller was just 40 when his plane vanished mysteriously over the English channel en route to a performance for American servicemen in France.
Nor does he affect Miller's Iowa accent especially convincingly; no matter how earnestly he mugs, Steele's delivery cannot escape the smoggy London of his youth.
Yet for all these apparent flaws, Steele's charisma carries the day at the Dublin première of The Glenn Miller Story, as he presides over a winning evening of old-school, big-band escapism.
We begin on the stormy December 1944 morning when Miller, against all advice, insisted on being flown from Britain to Paris, and the GIs awaiting his performance. But in proper biopic mode the action soon sweeps back several decades to the musician's days as a struggling trombone player on the rough-and-tumble American live circuit and his get together with sassy Helen Burger.
In his eighth decade, Steele is a remarkably limber lead. Hailed in his youth as Britain's answer to Elvis and perhaps best known in Ireland for his turn as a leprechaun in Finian's Rainbow, in the twilight of his career he's a jack-of-all-theatrical trades.
He sings with gusto and nuance, is a graceful dancer and supple actor. But what shines through as he returns to BGE for the first time since starring in Scrooge in 2010 is his passion for Miller and the music he brought from the clubs of New York to the grey marches of wartime Britain (Steele attended a Miller performance at the Royal Albert Hall as a six-year-old).
Around him the production has arranged a more than serviceable biopic, with Sarah Soetaert agreeably straight-talking as love interest Helen and Ashley Knight charming by the bucketful as Miller's old piano-bashing mucker Chummy MacGregor.
However, this is really Steele's vehicle, the story of a wide-eyed youth maturing into an era-defining elder statesman, in a way, as much his as Miller's.