Leslie “Hutch” Hutchinson left his home in Grenada as a teenager and went on to become one of the greatest cabaret stars of the 1920s and ‘30s.
Songs like These Foolish Things, Begin The Beguine and Let’s Do It made him a household name and a favourite of royalty.
But his controversial life saw the bisexual singer having affairs that rocked the English aristocracy and showbusiness. Scandal brought about his downfall and when he died in 1969 he had been all but forgotten by his public.
Will Smith wants to make his story into a Hollywood movie – certainly it has all the ingredients – in fact it is astonishing that it hasn’t found its way onto the silver screen already.
But that may have something to do with his surviving children who are keen for the world to remember a great singer rather than someone who counted Edwina Mountbatten and Cole Porter among his lovers.
So on Friday night they wholeheartedly endorsed the world premiere of Joe Evan’s stage production of Hutch at the Riverside Studios, Hammersmith. Post show there were tears from fans in the audience and the Hutchinson family as his son Chris spoke movingly and with pride about his famous father.
The two hour show is a play with music, rather than a musical, although the difference is moot. We’re treated to a tremendous selection of Cole Porter classics amid an abridged story of the man’s life, told by a cast of enthusiastic though not experienced performers.
Sheldon Green, still in acting college, has the task of playing the star and he acquits himself well although it is the powerful voice of Sid Phoenix as Cole Porter that will stay with you.
Andrew Mathys and Imogen Daines as Lord and Lady Louis Mountbatten make a stylish and somewhat louche couple whose open marriage and frequent affairs prove to be the downfall of Hutch while there is superb support from Janna Yngwe as Jessie Matthews and Nell Mooney as Porter’s long-suffering wife Linda.
Chris Hutchinson told the audience that he’d like to see the production transfer to the West End but I’d say that this is more a work in progress that needs refinement and investment before taking that leap.
The more you discover about the man the more you want to learn.
Evans has taken Charlotte Breese’s book and attempted to condense a life packed with racism, sex and scandal, into about 115-minutes where dialogue and story vies for space with a lengthy playlist. There’s so much missing but, possibly, a lot of stories wouldn’t have found favour with the family.
There is the kernel of a great show here but its staging, in the tiny performance space in Studio 3 at Riverside, didn’t allow for a half decent set and the cast of more than a dozen were almost tripping over themselves as they performed.
Whatever, I found the subject absolutely fascinating and can’t wait for the film. It will win Oscars.
Hutch runs in rep until June 8. For tickets/info call the box office 020 8237 111 or go online www.riversidestudios.co.uk