Dorothy Fields, who died in 1974 at the age of 69, was one of the great Jewish contributors to the great American songbook. She collaborated with leading musical composers, most notably Jerome Kern on such creations as The Way You Look Tonight and A Fine Romance.
In The Sunny Side of the Street, Tim McArthur and Sarah Travis offer a generous slice of Fields’s work. However, in the first half especially, it is smothered with an excess of frenetic stage business to justify the setting — an apparently working-class London hairdressing salon.
Here, five female performers, with Travis at the piano, deliver an unbroken sequence of songs in wayward accents that dart back and forth across the Atlantic. I Won’t Dance, is sung, English- style, as “Dahnce”, but the same soloist later reverts to “can’t” rhyming with “pant”. We also get a glottal-stop version of I’m In The Mood for Love.
It is almost as if they do not trust the songs to speak for themselves. But they most certainly do: Fields wrote witty, touching material, frequently giving voice to the vulnerable woman.
It is to the production’s credit that many fine, lesser-known numbers are aired and the second half is much better balanced, with Shona White’s tender version of the haunting Make the Man Love Me, and a rousing A Lady Needs a Change by Rosemary Ashe.
Wonderful material, ambitiously staged, but they should cut the curls and keep it straighter.