The roaring twenties seem to be a fashionable era to reflect on these days and after Great Gatsby the musical, Ruby in the Dust presents Hutch.
Billed as a play with music, based on Charlotte Breese’s biography, it tells the story of Leslie ‘Hutch’ Hutchinson. A successful black singer who became involved with London’s high society and whose affair with Lady Mountbatten caused a scandal in the 1930’s.
Yet like the sequins and the glitter there is a lot that sparkles on Hutch’s exterior but it seemed to lack real substance.
The first half is great, the actors are musicians and the live music adds to the play, setting the atmosphere of gaiety. The four excellent show dancers and singers, who welcome the actual audience, are also an intrinsic part to this.
The Cole Porter songs reference Hutch’s personal and business involvement with Porter in his early days in the Café de Paris. Hutch managed to interpret his songs to commercial success, in turn Porter would write songs for Hutch and introduce him to the right people to aid his career.
It is a feast if you are into Porter’s repertoire. Sid Phoenix as Porter is mesmerising and his charisma sucks you in. He makes a great team with Nell Mooney as the long-suffering Mrs Linda Porter with all her complex emotions.
Sheldon Green as Hutch has a tough gig to play against this and though a gifted performer – he is convincing as the humble newcomer musician – I felt Hutch lacked growth throughout the play.
Hutch’s affair with Lady Mountbatten must have been complex on many levels. Still the emotional drama of this liaison is simplified to tabloid rumour highlights: The Cartier sheath she had made for him, poor Lord Mountbatten’s despair and the unfortunate case of vaginismus.
If it was mere lust from Lady Mountbatten what about Hutch? Misplaced gratitude? He still had to take the servants entrance at the places he played as a feted musician, despite dallying around with the highest society circles. Could he really just shrug his shoulders, get drunk and hope for the best?
Hutch still entertains the crowds, mere sad, mere disappointed – even when the affair escalates. We see the upset the scandal causes the Mountbatten’s, who sue for libel, but what about Hutch? He is accompanying a singer, slightly drunk but yet capable to play. The Mountbatten court case meant the end for Hutch’s stellar career and the start of his decline, and yet he only seems mourn his lover.
Hutch was an entertaining evening as the Porter songs are of course excellent, however there is potential for a great drama in dealing with such a contemporaneous scandal and the play left me feeling that there could have been more.