26 March 2010

Shirley Jones in Concert - Arts Theatre, Wednesday 24th March 2010

The phone rang. It was Him Indoors, breathless with excitement. “I’ve got tickets for a concert that Shirley’s doing tonight!!” My heart missed a beat – had The Temptress from Tiger Bay slipped into London without my realising? Had Him Indoors pulled off a coup and got tickets to see Shirley Bassey? Was my greatest dream about to be realised? Alas no – he meant Shirley Jones. Who, you ask? Yes, I asked too. Apparently she played David Cassidy's mother in The Partridge Family. I can tell that you are as singularly underwhelmed as I was. I’d been looking forward to a nice quiet evening in, finishing up the original 1970s BBC series of Survivors that I’d bagged on Ebay. Still, duty calls. Apparently, Ms. Jones, now in her mid 70s herself, was a chorine in the original Broadway run of South Pacific and was plucked from the chorus line by Richard Rogers himself to play Laurie in the film version of Oklahoma, was in the film of The Music Man, went on to win an Oscar for her part in Elmer Gantry and then faded quietly from public view until she got cast as David Cassidy's mother - which was handy, seeing as she'd actually given birth to him.  And then she'd faded quitely from public view again - until now.

The Arts Theatre isn’t London’s most glamorous venue – it feels a bit like an old fleapit cinema and its seats are uncompromisingly uncomfortable, covered in velvet as faded  as Ms. Jones’s singing voice. Some vague attempt had been made to “jazz up” the stage with one of those curtains made of long strips of shiny material, but the effect was ruined not only by the moth-eaten looking quartet of old gits comprising the orchestra but also by the small table on stage holding two glasses, a dented plastic bottle of water and covered with what looked like somebody’s coat. The audience consisted mainly of doddery-looking pensioners and old musical queens. The show was nearly 10 minutes late starting but I was reassured by Him Indoors that “Broadway always starts late”. The lights dimmed, people two rows behind started unwrapping their humbugs from that particularly loud plastic used for theatre confectionery and, up on what looked like an old bath towel suspended above the stage, we were treated to Shirley’s “show reel” – clips of her from all her old films (mainly consisting of the kissing scenes). It went on and on and I began to wonder whether Ms. Jones might not eventually be joining us live via satellite link from the old folk’s home. Eventually the poor old cow came on stage (to give her her due, she looks damned good for 75 but I initially thought that she’d called in sick and Bea Arthur was covering for her). The band struck a chord, the microphone wailed and then cut out for a second and I knew instantly that I was going to have fun writing this review, if not actually sitting through what I needed to see in order to be able to write it.

The poor cow struggled with a couple of show toonz, ending both so off-key that I was amazed that bats weren’t falling out of the ceiling. There were a couple of minutes of “Oh my, you’re so wonderful, thank you, I love London”-type chit-chat and then Ms. Jones introduced her co-“star” – her son Patrick Cassidy. Scary, scary, scary. Looking like an American version of Patrick Kielty (with whom he shares a similar level of talent), Mr. Cassidy is obviously so in love with the image of himself that he has created that he really can’t tell he’s incredibly mediocre. You know things are going to be grim when people start emoting during “Danny Boy” – a song with no other connection to the evening than apparently Mr. Cassidy Senior quite liked it. Mr. Cassidy Junior then assured us that, although he listens to Oklahoma while on his running machine, he’s relentlessly heterosexual, a “comedy moment” that left most of the audience counting the buttons on their coat – never have sweet wrappers sounded so loud. Shirley had been “off” for so long by this point I wondered whether she’d dozed off backstage somewhere. But no – she tottered back on again, reminisced a bit (much of which was obviously rehearsed word for word - a raconteur she really ain’t), murdered a few more songs, and then tottered off and it was the Patrick Cassidy show yet again. There then followed an excruciating, tasteless and bitter “duet” called “You’re Nothing Without Me” from the show City of Angels (with him holding up a mask of his brother David – although “holding up” is not accurate; it was held at about hip level to mock David's height and “laughed off” with the line “Ah David, the older brother I always looked down to”). Half the audience found this entertaining, the remainder (including me) sat staring at our knees and wishing heartily that we’d stayed at home. A couple of brief duets with Mom, the announcement that “Shirley Jones will be signing copies of her CD in the foyer shortly. Ms Jones will only be signing merchandise purchased at this venue” and that was it – barely an hour and a half had passed and they are seriously expecting people to pay £42.50 to see something that you'd get on a third-rate cruise liner.

The evening was horribly misjudged from start to finish, and the major misjudgement was bringing that awful son of hers. The play-out music was “Have you met Miss Jones?” - an old Frank Sinatra number. Yes, I have – and I really wish I hadn’t. Shirley, darling, people fade into obscurity for good reasons. Take the hint.


Footnote: apparently the hint has been taken: http://westend.broadwayworld.com/article/Jones_and_Cassidys_West_End_Concert_to_Shutter_Early_on_327_20100326


DeeDee said...

Thank you for such a vivid review - it felt as if I were in the audience. Your hilarious descriptions make me thankful I wasn't though. (I feel bad for Jones but it's better that I hold fond memories of her much earlier work than witness this decline.)

Nitpick: Jones did not give birth to David Cassidy - she's his stepmother.

Anonymous said...

How DARE you? We are NOT musical. Expect to hear from our lawyers.

Joey said...

Typical British.
No clue and no class.
Well you have Amy Winehouse - yech!!!

rtb said...

Actually, I'm English, not British. I don't like Amy Winehouse either. But WE have Judi Dench.