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The Tailor-Made Man – Arts Theatre, London

Book: Amy Rosenthal, with Claudio Macor

Music: Duncan Walsh Atkins and Adam Meggido

Lyrics: Adam Meggido

Director: Claudio Macor

Reviewer: Ian Foster

The Public Reviews Rating: ★★★★☆

Described by Joan Crawford as “the happiest married couple in Hollywood”, new musical The Tailor-Made Man focuses on the 50 year love affair between Hollywood star of the 1920s William Haines and interior designer in the making, Jimmy Shields. Discovered in a talent competition, Haines signed for MGM, who accepted his homosexuality as long as he kept it under wraps. When a liaison with a sailor led to his arrest, MGM boss Louis B (LB) Mayer demanded he marry a woman to save his career and maintain his clean-cut image but Haines, with the support of his lover Shields, walked away from Hollywood and together they set up a hugely successful interior design business.

Amy Rosenthal and Claudio Macor’s book whips through events with a keen sense of pace, the story covers a substantial number of years, and uses a flashback framing device of an older version of Jimmy is interviewed by a keen young reporter who makes him reflect on a life past. There’s an element of drama for sure, but where the show really blossoms is in the evocation of the gossipy environment of Hollywood stars off-duty and the perfectly pitched depiction of a loving gay relationship. Dylan Turner makes a chisel-jawed Haines and Bradley Clarkson is a puppyish Shields but they both show several sides to the lovers, making them complex but likeable individuals who are clearly better together and they have a sincere, beautiful chemistry together.

It is a curiously put-together musical though, spreading its appealing songs – written by Duncan Walsh Atkins and Adam Meggido – much wider than just its leading men. Jimmy and William get a handful of the key numbers and the crucial second-half reprises which confirm the earworm potential of at least two of the songs. But several other characters get show-stopping numbers: Mike McShane’s LB rips through the vituperative Family which lays bare the mogul’s self-involved ethos; Kay Murphy sizzles as the decadent Pola Negri with a stylishly choreographed routine from Nathan M Wright; and Michael Cotton – an actor who has been quietly working his way into contention as one to watch – is wonderfully touching as screenwriter Victor, hapless in his unrequited love.

It isn’t immediately clear what the show gains from its framing device of the interview with the elder Jimmy. It brings an overly melancholy note to proceedings, especially in its final scene, which sits rather at odds with the story at large and also skews the focus a little away from its celebration of a love story. But make no mistake, The Tailor-Made Man is a deeply charming piece of musical theatre, unashamedly old-fashioned in spirit but winningly modern enough to win over even the most jaded of souls. From the vivacious portrayal of fag hag Marion Davies by Faye Tozer who shares a wonderfully witty song with her men at the tail end of the show, to the pulsing bass of the onstage band led by Walsh Atkins, there are delights aplenty in this well-acted, well-sung ode to love.

Runs until 6th April

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The Public Reviews was set up in 2007. We aim to review all professional types of theatre, whether that be Commercial, Repertory or Fringe as well as Comedy, Music, Gigs etc.
  • Dean Ismail

    I also love this show.
    The characters may not be “likeable” in the traditional sense of the word.
    However, I found that I do like the characters, even though they are far from flawless. In fact, this is one of the many things about this play that I find endearing: the characters are three dimensional which is a rare feat I think in musicals.

    And I found the juxtaposition between the quaint setting of the show with the risque subject matter rather interesting. The show is set in the 30s (if I remember correctly), and the musical style of the era is one that was always set to “safe”, non-controversial lyrics. However, in this musical, the music is of course, usually set to “difficult” subject matters that would not have been talked about in public domain in the 30s.
    I found that this contrast works well for the show.

    The ensemble numbers are fun and the cast is good. The main cast – playing the characters of Billy, Jimmy and Marion were amazing. They are all more than capable and each has their own allure.

    I really love the songs. I tried to purchase the soundtrack, but none is available. It’s been almost two weeks now since I went to see the show, but I still have at least two of the numbers in my head: We’ve Got Time, which is one of the most romantic new songs for some time; and the last song, Life By Design. “Design” is just AMAZING. This is a great, fun song, but also rather poignant and inspiring. I think this song works for Tailor-Made Man like the song “The Best Of Times Is Now” works for “La Cage Aux Folles”. In fact, maybe even better.

    In short, I wish Tailor-Made Man is given more chance by audiences. I knew nothing about this show when I booked my ticket the other day and I came out feeling exhilarated, entertained, inspired… but also a little sad, only because the situation faced by Billy” in 1930 is still faced by some people today, 80 years on. (I hope my Maths i right?)
    This makes this musical even more significant to me, as I believe this is a story that needs to be told. And it does so in such an entertaining way is a huge plus indeed.

    Thank you all involved, and well done.