For years there has been speculation regarding the disappearance of popular American composer/bandleader Major Glenn Miller.
His light aircraft left Bedfordshire’s RAF Twinwoods wartime airfield bound for Paris back in December 1944, only for it to disappear without trace somewhere over the English Channel.
But even before Milton Keynes Theatre staged a new show featuring Miller’s most popular music, there was just as much speculation as to how 78-year-old Tommy Steele was going to play a man who died at 40?
But fear not, for the cheeky ageing song and dance man somehow manages to pull it off with his usual aplomb, although his portrayal of Major Miller was perhaps a little odd, given that his leading lady is at least 50 years younger!
The show is based along the lines of an old-fashioned musical – an out-of-work musician with the dream of creating a new sound goes knocking on doors in New York in the hope of finding a job.
Having played trombone with the likes of US legends Benny Goodman, Harry James and Tommy Dorsey, Miller joins up with clarinet playing Mark Minton (Tim Maxwell-Clarke) and his band but he is always experimenting as he looks to find that special sound.
Despite an on-off relationship with Helen Burger (Sarah Soetaert), he gets her to leave her home in Boulder, Colorado and marry him in the Big Apple despite him being penniless.
Miller was an instrumentalist and not a singer or dancer so it’s a strange concept that was dreamt up by West End directors Bill Kenwright and Bob Tomson to put Tommy Steele in the lead role… yet it seems to work on all fronts.
Act One features song from the pre-1940s period which allows Tommy to perform ‘It Don’t Mean A Thing If It Ain’t Got That Zing’ and ‘Sing Sing Sing’ while accompanied by six dynamic dancers.
Sarah Soetaert has a wonderful voice and her rendition of ‘Moonloight Serenade’ and ‘At Last’ are two of the show’s highlights.
However that only paved the way for a more entertaining second act when the on-stage 16-piece orchestra really came into their own.
Under the direction of pianist Andrew Corcoran, they belt out all Miller’s golden disc numbers like ‘In The Mood’, ‘Chatatanooga Choo Choo’, ‘Little Brown Jug’, ‘Pennsylvania 6-5000’ and ‘Tuxedo Junction’.
Ashley Knight plays Miller’s sidekick Chummy MacGregor and gets to sing ‘Perfidia’ accompanied by those singing dancers who dazzle throughout as does Mark Bailey’s colourful set which switches easily from the Twinwood’s aircraft hangar to the Basin Street club.
Miller’s big break comes after a Boston dancehall booking when Jewish impresario Cy Shribman (Mike Lloyd) employs him and what was really a non-existent band to play the following weekend!
But with a new band quickly assembled featuring four trombones, five saxaphones and four trumpets, the Glenn Miller sound becomes an instant hit.
A Hollywood film followed as the band’s popularity grew while after war broke out for the Americans in 1941 following the attack on Pearl Harbour by the Japanese, Miller volunteered to go to Europe to entertain the troops … and the rest as they say is history.
The Glenn Miller Story plays Milton Keynes Theatre until this Saturday (October 31) at 7.30pm each evening with matinees at 2.30pm on Wednesday and Saturday.
The show runs for just 2 hours (less a 20 minute intermission) and ticket can be booked by calling the box office on 0844 871 7652 or online at www.atgtickets.com/miltonkeynes