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STORMING Southend performance

Theatre Review

The life of iconic 1940’s American bandleader Glenn Miller is the subject of a toe-tapping new musical Bugle Boy.

The admiration writer Den Stevenson clearly has for Glenn Miller shines through every line and note, and when this is combined with a fantastic ensemble cast – all of whom are clearly having an absolute ball – you cannot help wanting to jump out of your seat and dance.

From the Chattanooga Choo Choo to Kalamazoo; this fantastic new musical will certainly put you In The Mood!

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BLOWN AWAY by
Bugle Boy

Theatre Review

THIS is a triumphant toe-tapping treat that will blow you away.

Anyone ‘In the Mood’ for a hugely enjoyable musical experience need look no further than this production which tracks the life and times of the legendary band leader, Glenn Miller.

What is particularly appealing about this show is that you really don’t have to be a ‘certain age’ to appreciate and enjoy Miller’s music, a unique sound he made his own.

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Pure Malvern Magic

Theatre Review

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English playwright Den Stevenson has done a sterling job in tracing the life of Miller, a man who would enjoy just three short years of fame before his death in an air crash over the English Channel.

Stevenson cleverly captures the atmosphere of the time. Girls swoon over the GIs while small boys beg for chewing gum, and you can almost smell the petrol fumes as military vehicles career down hitherto quiet English country lanes.

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Bugle Boy, Darlington

Theatre Review

Writer: Den Stevenson

Director: Bruce James

Reviewer: Anna Ambelez

The Public Reviews Rating: ★★★★☆

Judging by the audience, Miller must be into his third generation of fans, all enthusiastic in their appreciation and enjoyment of the show; the cheering applause and shouts of encore being testament to this. His mother said of his horn playing “It got to the point where Pop and I used to wonder if he‘d ever amount to anything”…..

Oh ye of little faith! Miller was an original creative artist, who knows where he would have taken his music if he had lived, a great miss to the world of music. Last comment heard on leaving the theatre…”Eh it was brilliant” and his music still is.

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BUGLE BOY

The Bugle BoyBugle Boy written by UK Playwright Den Stevenson traces the life of Glenn Miller from leaving college to play in various bands, including his own, as he searches tirelessly for over twenty years, with the constant support and love of his wife Helen, for a unique band sound. When he eventually succeeds in his quest, he and his family only enjoy the fruits of fame for three short years. When America joins the Second World War, after the bombing of Pearl Harbour, he joins the Army, forms the subsequently famed A.E.F Band and flies to Europe to play to the Armed Forces; then goes missing in mysterious circumstances.

'Bugle Boy’ – ‘The Life story of Glenn Miller’ is a Musical packed with powerful and entertaining performance of great music. It is a rather diverse show: at some points it may resemble a serious concert, sometimes a well choreographed night-club number, a radio broadcast, a sketch show, heart-felt solo performances, revue, but first of all ‘Bugle Boy’ is a biography telling the story of Glenn Miller’s creative life which in many ways was defined by his search for the unique sound that sets his music apart from that of other great arrangers and band leaders of his time.

One cannot fail to feel playwright Den Stevenson’s overwhelming desire to tell this story in as much detail as possible, especially focusing on the creative aspect of Miller’s life. Whilst his wife Helen is very central and important in the play, the focus remains on the musician’s professional life which has seemingly overshadowed the private sphere: the price paid for finding ‘that sound’. We do get a glimpse of Miller’s family life as well, but Helen’s role in this production is above all that of her husband’s strong rock on his way to artistic success.

‘Bugle Boy’ is indeed a thorough biography: it shows the development of Miller’s career step by step, using different material and media to tell the story e.g. video projections with archive footage that convey the image of the respective time and space, or titles that communicate specific facts about Miller’s career. The audio visual material is also used to mark the collisions between Miller’s life and its historical / political background which was so important in this case. We get the chance to see Miller himself on screen in his musical habitat.

Although there’s a lot of successfully used visual material, the show is all about listening: listening to the music, and listening to the story which is told to us by the characters themselves, by music and video. The show quite understandably has a strong retrospective feel to it: not only in terms of its subject matter: a lot of the dialogue has the quality of recollection which is marked from the very beginning: the show starts as a radio broadcast – an interview with Helen Miller… and the storytelling can begin!

Radio plays a very important role in the show: it has several purposes; first of all – it is a medium within a medium – radio on stage – a concept that justifies the informative dialogue which otherwise might seem too wordy.

HelenThe concept of radio on stage also provides the interactive quality of the show. The theatre audience is allocated the role of that in a radio studio: they are ordered to adjust their applause to the signals of the radio host: to stop clapping after an agreed gesture ‘in order to save broadcasting time’. This audience participation element is used quite a few times and might be considered overused at some point if the audience did not genuinely enjoy it so much.

Some of Glenn Miller’s tunes have been woven into the story because of their message, either turning into means of expression for characters or revealing the biographical context of some of his work (e.g. ‘A String of Pearls’ as a symbolic present for his wife); whereas the context of a radio broadcast or a rehearsal allows the band and singers to simply perform some whole pieces of music without necessarily being thematically relevant to the plot. This creates a very relaxing and entertaining concert atmosphere at times.

There is a twist in the general mood of the show in Act 2 which focuses on Glenn Miller’s war-time experience: the search for artistic fulfilment as the drive of narrative in Act 1 is replaced by private emotion, sentiment, sense of duty and dedication. This change is reflected in the music: it becomes more sentimental and linked to a cause – army, morale-boosting music, music with a purpose to uplift, entertain or express deep emotion and longing.

However, although we do get closer to Miller’s humanity in Act 2, ‘Bugle Boy’ does not pretend to be a profound exploration of a struggling artist’s inner world. Stevenson does not introduce us to the personality of Glenn Miller through one turning-point experience. He does not show the sea of Miller’s career and life through a drop of water, he shows it wave by wave by simply telling the story about Glenn Miller, maintaining a light, comical, at times sentimental mood characteristic to the tradition of musical theatre.

Over ThereThere is however one character in the show who reveals themselves to us entirely, and linked to that – one truly cathartic turning-point in the show: it is the moment when ‘that sound’ is magically born once again on stage: when the audience can actually hear the instant change of colour in the band after Miller implements his new ‘formula’ which makes his music so distinct, recognizable and immortal.

The cast is slightly restricted in its use of stage space for a good reason: about 4/5 of the stage have been taken by the band, and rightly so – music plays the main part both in this production and Glenn Miller’s life, and there are good prospects for a discussion on whether Miller or his music plays the lead in ‘Bugle Boy’ or on how inseparable the two are. After all, Miller’s music is the reason why we want to know more about the man himself. In the times when author of any kind has been long pronounced dead, we still are endlessly curious about the hand, the ear, the eye behind art that moves us. When we listen to music, we communicate with its author, and if the communication is successful, we want to take it further and know them better. In ‘Bugle Boy’ we perhaps don’t get to know Glenn Miller as close as we would after two bottles of wine in a revealing conversation, but it is certainly a nice chat after a glass or two: a classy evening with amazing music.

When the band is playing and strong voices singing entertaining, moving, simply good music including all the most recognizable Glenn Miller tunes, one is more than happy to be able to ‘switch off’ and just listen without someone else’s demons running through their head.

The genuine appreciation of Miller’s work that shines through the play itself and the performance was certainly shared with the audience of Garrick Theatre: hence the unanimous standing ovation and obvious fulfilment of what the show promises to do – ‘to get you in the mood’.

Lynda Moncaster
1940′s UK Radio
www.1940smagazine.co.uk