Jerry Hall smiles her way through the new London revival of “High Society,” though it seems unlikely too many patrons will return the grin. A touring production tarted up as a star vehicle for a celebrity who’s barely an actress, let alone a star, show may appeal to those thirsting for something different amid an otherwise parched musical climate. Everyone else is likely to nod in agreement when one character remarks to another, “It is now almost 5 a.m.”
“High Society” only seems to go on longer than Hall’s quite astonishing legs, her general elongation amplified by that cascading blond hair. Those tresses are swept back for much of Hall’s occupancy of the smallish role of Mother Lord, no doubt so she can keep her eyes focused on the modest dancing required of her.
It makes about as much sense to promote “High Society” around your Mother Lord as it would to revive “Guys and Dolls” with the production’s only major name playing Big Jule. Even when she’s on stage, Hall tends to melt into the scenic topiary in a gesture of (forgivable) deference.
If Ian Talbot’s production were brought low by its biggest name, there might be cause for more than minor irritation. But reprising an Olivier-nommed staging first seen two summers ago al fresco in Regent’s Park, Talbot seems to have encouraged everyone to out-act the elements — when we are, in fact, indoors.
How else to explain the imperiously self-regarding Tracy of newcomer Katherine Kingsley, who rivals Hall for height but isn’t for a moment likable? Kingsley has a gorgeous voice without a trace of spontaneity. On that latter front, she’s clearly cut from the same familial cloth as Claire Redcliffe, playing the younger Lord sister Dinah. A pubescent fury in polka dots, this Dinah remarks that she’s been on earth “a few years,” which evidently is long enough to have become agelessly tiresome.
Very few of the cast do two things well. (Luckily, no one chews gum.) Graham Bickley’s stolid Dexter Haven has a proper singing voice, as does Ria Jones in a brazen attempt to steal the show as photographer Liz. But neither performer gives off the effortless, weightless charm that might lend fizz to this latest effort to get a tricky stage prospect right. (Richard Eyre’s 1987 West End version got some harsh reviews, while the 1998 Broadway version — the first to use Arthur Kopit’s book — quickly fell flat.)
Paul Robinson looks great and moves deftly as Mike Connor, he of the swimming pool assignation that here resembles a Playgirl photo shoot. But Robinson strikes no more genuine sparks with Kingsley’s ice-maiden, Tracy, than any two cast members do with one another. In song after song, the Cole Porter numbers are projected, chin upturned, across the footlights, leaving Royston Kean’s Uncle Willie to scurry lecherously, and unamusingly, about the stage.
Quite what Hall makes of all his — or the cast of her — one can only wonder, especially when her good cheer gives way to an hauteur not even faintly earned. Gillian Gregory’s choreography keeps the chorus of servants strutting about in predictably arch patterns, to which Hall, bless her, merely looks on. “High Society” achieves what lowdown comedy it does from the earnestness it grants even the most standard line. “The groom has fled,” she notices near the end. “That means you cannot marry him.”
OK, we’ll drink to that.