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4.7 out of 5 stars
Betty Blue Eyes
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17 of 17 people found the following review helpful
on 3 October 2011
A wonderful, joyous show from start to finish -'Betty Blue Eyes' had an outstanding critical reception when it opened at the Novello Theatre in April. Sadly & dispiritingly it didn't find a big enough audience to keep it in the West End for a long & successful run, which it truly deserved.

Therefore, this original London cast recording has particular resonance for those lucky enough to have seen the show - to help keep the memory of a wonderful show & an utterly brilliant cast. And for those who didn't manage to see it, the recording perfectly captures this witty, original, character lead, beguiling musical comedy in all its glory.

`Betty' is set in an Austerity Britain of 1947. An unlicensed pig is secretly being raised to be fed to an elite gathering of local council officials & their snobbish cohorts at a private function to mark the royal wedding of Princess Elizabeth & Prince Philip. Based on Alan Bennett's `A Private Function', it centres on the married couple of chiropodist Gilbert Chilvers and his socially ambitious wife Joyce - & their dreams, hopes and aspirations - in a post-war Britain still shaped by class distinction & snobbery.

`Betty Blue Eyes' poignancy & depth of feeling comes from a commitment to the importance of character at the heart of the show. The show is also suffused with a keen sense of the effects of rationing, deprivation, people's suffering & loss and the terrible times endured on the Home Front during the Second World War.

The very talented creative team behind `Betty' - the writers Ron Cowen and Daniel Lipman & its composer and lyricist, George Stiles & Anthony Drewe - have taken the premise of `A Private Function' & created a show which improves on the original film - an achievement in itself when it comes to theatrical adaptations of films.

Songs as touching as `Magic Fingers' & `The Kind of Man I Am' (movingly and beautifully performed by Reece Shearsmith) & scenes such as the wartime dance at the Primrose Ballroom & Gilbert & Joyce's moving reconciliation at the end (which did not happen in the film) are a measure of how 'Betty Blue Eyes' took its source material and became something wonderful & uniquely brilliant in and of itself.

The magnificent score is almost an embarrassment of riches. I can't remember hearing so many great songs in one show. Character lead songs such as the brilliant `Painting by Heart' & the already modern classic showstopper `Nobody' (superbly sung by Sarah Lancashire) are complimented by the aforementioned beautifully melodic 'Magic Fingers' & touching `The Kind of Man I Am'.

Then there are the songs which are a new zenith in musical comedy - `Another Little Victory' & `Pig No Pig'. `Pig No Pig' is in itself a beautifully crafted comedic farce set to music. It was a scene enacted to perfection on stage by Sarah Lancashire, Reece Shearsmith and Ann Emery, whose pitch perfect timing & physical skill were a joy to watch. And there has never been a more infectious and charmingly beguiling title song as `Betty Blue Eyes', sung in the show to its porcine leading lady.

I can't praise the cast of `Betty Blue Eyes' highly enough. It was great to have very good actors playing the parts. They helped add so much to their roles & really brought the residents of Shepardsford to life.

Its why `Betty' should be seen as a musical comedy or comedy with music rather than a straightforward musical. The cast was one of actors who can sing rather than vice versa & they were an exceptional cast of actors.

Sarah Lancashire and Reece Shearsmith made the roles of Joyce and Gilbert Chilvers completely their own. They played their parts to perfection - its impossible to imagine anyone as the Chilvers.

The class of actors in the supporting roles included Adrian Scarborough, David Bamber, Ann Emery, Mark Meadows & Jack Edwards. The whole company was made up of talented performers - Claire Machin, Dan Burton, Ian Conningham, Chris Howell, Andy Mace & Gemma Wardle to name but few.

'Betty Blue Eyes' will surely be remembered and rewarded during the theatrical awards season. I can think of no show more deserving of the Olivier `Best New Musical' with Sarah and Reece as Best Actress and Actor in a Musical.

Its depressing that a show as good as this didn't reside in the West End for a long time. A seemingly unstoppable juggernaut of safe, bland juke box musicals is a sad reflection on public taste.

Long live `Betty Blue Eyes' - "When I look into your two eyes, I see the heart and soul of God's creation".
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
I can't really improve on the last review written by a doting fan. But I feel that a show as good as this deserves as many 5 star reviews as it can get.

Let me just say that I am not, usually a fan of new musicals - particularly with the sort of semi-cellebrity cast we often seem to get in the west end. But this show was a completely different story. I was so impressed I had to muster up all my theatre loving friends and family and go see it a second time. Everyone (including my cynical, musical-theatre-hating cousin) loved it.

The cast were all amazing. The leads, as has been said, were really quite exceptional. Sarah had Maggie Smith's charactor and expressions down to a fine art. Her "Nobody" is sure to become a standard. The town council's quartet harmonies in "A Private Function" are perfect. And the wonderfully snobby "Ill Wind" is really quite brilliant. The 2 big comedy ensemble numbers ("Pig, No Pig" and "Confessions") show the strengths of this cast off beautifully and still make me cry with laughter (those who didn't get to see Ann do "Pig, No Pig" on stage will never quite know what you're missing).

From a musical point of view, the show is brilliantly executed. Stiles and Drewe always do an amazing job but the orchestrator and his wonderful use of accordian, euphonium and electric guitar to conjour up the sound-scape of 1940's Britain is really rather genious.

So, in a word: AMAZING. Even the Times gave this show a glowing review. It's a tragedy it didn't run for longer. I am so grateful that this terrific show and the stunningly tallented cast are captured here on this CD.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 30 July 2014
I didn't see the show so can't say whether the book was to blame for the show closing. My inkling is that it's a show that will work better with a regional tour. The story of a chiropodist (Reece Shearsmith) and his wife (Sarah Lancashire) in a small post-war Yorkshire town still under rationing who steals a pig doesn't exactly sound like one for the Londoners. It's decidedly silly and unsophisticated, which probably put people off spending top-whack prices, and isn't based on something well-known (it's based on an Alan Bennett film called A Private Function). Others have mentioned that the name is a bit cringy, which I don't think helped. It's not so much a question of the musical's worth but that new shows simply cannot compete with jukebox musicals, 'the old favourites' and the mega Broadway imports.

What struck me listening to the soundtrack is that it's very catchy. Composers George Stiles and Anthony Drewe have a knack for this; I saw an amateur performance of their musical version of Peter Pan, which was awfully cheesy and yet really good fun. It also has a warm innocent charm that comes through very strongly; I guess you could call it 'feel good'.

The best tracks are:
- Magic Fingers: possibly a little innuendo here but genuinely touching, as three women sing about how they miss their husbands, who have either been killed or severely injured in the war. It shows that the show isn't completely about broad humour.
- Nobody: the chiropodist's wife's big brassy number. Apparantly Liza Minelli's now doing it in her set and it's a very Liza/Streisand diva song.
- Betty Blue Eyes: the song that you come out singing. Cute and ridiculous- even more so when you YouTube the creepy anamatronic pig that played Betty.
- Lionheart: nice bit of period music here and again, really cute.
- Another Little Victory: jolly little small town feel to this one. Plus, sounds of the pig pooping!

Sarah Lancashire is suitably feisty, with Northern grit and rolled up sleeves, and Reece Shearsmith (one of The League of Gentlemen) is adorable. Best known for playing Papa Lazarou and Edward in TLOG but he also played sweet innocent characters like Benjamin (housebound nephew of hygeine and toad-obsessed Dentons) and Ross (one of Pauline's 'dole scum'). It's lovely to hear Lancashire and Shearsmith's accents come through in the song, as these are very much characters songs. They may not be Elaine Page and Michael Ball but the show requires people who sound suitably ordinary.

It may not be hard-hitting satire but its lack of intellectualism makes it refreshing and very accessible. Personally I love the tweeness but then, I live in a small rural town; towns which tend not to have changed much from the post-war era. I don't think London audiences could really appreciate this or identify with it.

I would definitely recommend a listen of this- maybe quickly Wikipedia it first for the story but it's not as complex as something like Grand Hotel. You can happily follow it along with a basic knowledge of the story.
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on 30 July 2012
So sad the show died an early death but the cast recording lives on. The fun and charm I read about in theatre reviews are reflected in the recording -- because unlike typical cast recordings recorded in a studio, Betty Blue Eyes was recorded live over several performances -- you hear audience reaction and applause. This takes a little getting use to but the more I listen to the recording I think doing so was a wise decision so non-British listeners are better clued into the humor, which is considerable and a little cheeky. The cast is first-rate.

The show and songs are a throwback to the 1950s and the versisimilitude to the era is one reason why people never fully embraced it. I have enjoyed many hours listening to the recording but the show may come off to some as somewhat stuffy. The audience reviews were uniformily positive but from what I've read, audiences didn't love it to the degree as people who see Wicked, i.e. seeing the show in multiples. Swinging big band numbers, yes. Power ballad rock anthems, no.

CD comes with lyrics and several production photos.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 20 December 2012
This seems to be a recording from a 'try out' performance but all of the songs are performed to perfection
by an excellent cast including those included in the West End production - this was one of the best British musicals
for years - such a pity it has such a short run!
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on 12 November 2011
This cast recording is unusual in that it is live - and, while I usually prefer studio recordings, I have to say that the decision works brilliantly here. I saw the show in August and I am so pleased I got to see it before it closed - this recording now stands as a record of one of the best theatre nights out I've ever had.
The score is wonderfully catchy, the lyrics archly clever and the performances top-notch - especially Reece Shearsmith as the downtrodden chiropodist (!). I suppose a show like this was always going to have limited appeal in the era of overblown blockbusters and money-spinning jukebox shows, but it really is a little gem - any musical that features a chorus line of grumpy northern women in scarves, an animatronic pig voiced by Kylie Minogue and a song about veroucas has my vote!!!
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on 17 November 2011
The one crime in the West End this year was the demise of Betty Blue Eyes. A funny, clever and brilliant version of the film A Private Function. This CD is a more than fitting tribute to the show. The cast is picture and sound perfect. Sarah Lancashire is absolutely wonderful, as is Reece Shearsmith as her husband, along with the wonderful Ann Emery as the dotty mother. I will not bore you with a blow by blow description of the CD suffice to say that it was one of the most pleasurable nights I have spent in the musical theatre and am more than delighted to have this in my collection.
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on 3 February 2013
This is a wonderful musical,and such a shame it closed after such a short time,I wish when they make a cast recording that they would make a film as well then when it closes others could see it,after all we don't all live near the west end or have the money.I can only think the reason it closed was it is perhaps a bit to northern for a London theatre.The joy with this recording,apart from the wonderfull songs and cast,is the fact that it was recorded live.You get the feeling that they are preforming to you,wish we had more live recordings.
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on 27 January 2013
This is a good recording of this little gem of a musical which just needs a bit of tweaking to make it a more entertaining theatre show. Don't buy this if you haven't seen the show because the songs wouldn't stand alone. i mean who would generally listen to a song about being a chiropodist? If you have seen the show ,then buy this little memory in case it doesn't get get revived.
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on 15 June 2014
If you like the story and the older type musical you will love this and the songs are so catchy
Have seen the musical and it is now on tour. Glad they brought all the tunes out onto CD
Lovely to sing-a-long too.Good value too.Enoy
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