“He has magic fingers”
Before it came to an untimely end, the cast of Betty Blue Eyes were able to put down their vocals for an official live cast recording which provides something of a legacy for this Stiles + Drewe show. I went to see the show two times – reviews here and here – and loved it on each occasion as a fine exponent of a truly British new musical, but I have to admit I didn’t race to buy the soundtrack when it was first released. Part of it was due to the free taster CD that was released with the Evening Standard one Friday afternoon which meant I already had just under half the songs and though I enjoyed listening to it a couple of times, it was not one to which I returned.
Though I found it to be musically a very strong show, for some reason it doesn’t quite come across as well on the recording. Whether it was the lack of accompanying visuals to up the ante or the fact that I’d seen the show quite recently, the joy I got from watching the show didn’t quite translate into the listening experience I thought it would be. In its entirety, I found it to be so retro-infused and nostalgic as to almost be too much to listen to in one go, it doesn’t quite hit the same spot although there are moments of individual brilliance in some of the songs.
‘Magic Fingers’, sung here by Annalisa Rossi, Gemma Wardle and Rachael Archer with Reese Shearsmith, is a gorgeously bittersweet song which perfectly conveys the post-wartime challenges faced by women whilst lightening the mood with a little chiropodist-related humour and ‘Betty Blue Eyes’ is the kind of number that puts a cheesy grin on the face and makes you sway from side to side no matter where you are – Jack Edwards on fine form here. Other successful songs like Nobody – Sarah Lancashire’s Liza moment and the rollicking humour of ‘Pig, No Pig’ have also stood up rather well.
But elsewhere the choice to pick actors who can sing as opposed to established musical theatre people is exposed a little too much, the frailties in certain voices having nowhere to hide. And some of the other songs in the show just didn’t do it for me, shorn of their theatrical context. Maybe I need a little more distance from the show before I return to this soundtrack to fall back in love with the show again, or maybe it is just the case that sometimes the magic can’t be captured on a soundtrack – either way, there are some brilliant songs on here that would make a great edited highlights collection.