Tommy Steele takes on Glenn Miller story

The Glen Miller Story comes to Eastbourne stage this month SUS-160126-144630001
The Glen Miller Story comes to Eastbourne stage this month SUS-160126-144630001

In the Mood for something slightly different? Well, how about two of the great musical legends in one show? Next month at the Congress Theatre, Tommy Steele is Glenn Miller, the American GI bandleader.

Miller created a unique sound which many would say has never been bettered, and before his tragic air-crash death in 1944, left behind a legacy of fabulous numbers that remain standards in band repertoires of today.

Getting slightly ahead of myself (writes Herald reviewer Kevin Anderson), I’ve been tracing the story of this Bill Kenwright production which arrives in Eastbourne on February 16. Most of all, I wanted to explore that casting: yes, it really is the great Tommy Steele in the title role. Tommy turns 80 later this year, although in the mind and memory of many, his image is ageless: the bright, cheerful face of a 1960s star never tarnished, Tommy remained the likeable young man whom your daughter could have brought home to tea.

From that opening career as the lovable face of rock ‘n roll, to equally engaging title-role performances in Scrooge, Half a Sixpence and Doctor Doolittle, Steele’s place in the hearts of the nation has never faded.

The Glenn Miller Story has been stormingly received by audiences up and down the country – a mixture, no doubt, of those who grew up tapping their feet to Miller’s rhythms, and others seizing an unexpected chance to celebrate the talents of Mr Steele. Some arts reviewers have been a bit more sceptical...Maybe it is simply their mild surprise that an almost-octogenarian, with little left to prove in career terms, should be covering the miles on a major tour.

Tommy has a typically ebullient response: “You don’t really retire from showbiz and I’m doing what I love. You can’t ask for more than that, can you? It’s never that strenuous when you’re in a great show and you can’t wait to sing the songs, do the dances. I can’t really explain it but you walk on stage, do two and a half hours and you’ve got an audience listening, you can’t be luckier than that, can you?

“I have as much fun going from here to Manchester as I do from going to my house to the Palladium every day, it’s the excitement of going to the theatre. When you go out on tour and start going north, south, east and west of London there are loads of great theatres out there and the people in those towns, they want to see great shows but they can’t get to London every time to see a great musicals so the great musicals come to them. I tour because I want to be on the stage and I love meeting people.”

And Tommy, why this particular production? “It’s a show about a man looking for a sound, then finding it. And it is a fully blown song and dance musical, with a big orchestra. It’s got a wonderful ‘taste’ to it, that’s all I can say. But this is not a concert, it’s a musical. Age doesn’t matter as much in theatre as it does in film – people break out into song and dance, and that’s not real, so anything can happen. It’s a great example of music from the swing era, when he started out in the ‘30s, and it works beautifully.”

It’s no one-man show, of course, and reviewers have enthused over Sarah Soetaert’s smart and sassy performance as Miller’s adoring wife. There is also widespread approval of Mike Lloyd’s “magnificent” cameo of impresario Cy Shribman and Jon Bonner’s jovial Colonel Chambers.