Monthly Archives: January 2012

Theatre review: Legally Blonde

Legally Blonde, a musical now running at the Savoy Theatre in London, is based on the hit movie starring Reese Witherspoon as a dumb blonde who becomes a savvy, successful lawyer.

Ripe for musical treatment and a successful one?  I’ll say.  Although the initial premise is about as far from feminism as you can find – Elle Woods gets into Harvard Law School to chase after her heel of an ex-boyfriend, Warner Huntingdon III – we get to an amusing and satisfying by way of a few hummable tunes, two very cute doggies, and a psycho hairdresser lusting after a parcel delivery boy!

In the lead as Elle is Carley Stenson, who looks and sounds the part (she’s a Hollyoaks graduate), while support comes from Stephen Ashfield as nice student Emmett, Ben Freeman (ex-Emmerdale) as Warner, Peter Davison in another musical role as Professor Callahan – channelling Jolson in his solo number, Natalie Casey as Paulette the hairdresser, Tricia Adele-Turner as Vivienne, and (on the night we went) Jane McMurtrie as Brooke, the keep fit expert and maybe murderess.

Legally Blonde is big, boisterous and fun, and although it is undemanding fare not requiring any thought from the spectator, it is hard not to leave without a smile on your face.

Theatre review: Dreamboats and Petticoats

This feel-good musical set in the early 1960s in a youth club has been running at the Playhouse Theatre in the West End of London for a couple of years now.  As with other examples of the sixties anthology musical (‘Shout!’, ‘Hold Tight!’) it is rather short on story but bursting with pep and energy.

The story, flimsy at best, shows Bobby finding his old gramophone in the loft and starting to explain to his granddaughter about his brief inclusion in a band while at school, singing ‘Let’s Dance’.  Brief, that is, because almost immediately after getting the job he is eclipsed by bad boy Norman who belts out ‘The Wanderer’ and gets the girls in a frenzy.  Bobby, with his school uniform and unrequited love for the pretty but flighty Sue, doesn’t get another look-in.

But there’s a songwriting competition coming up, and with the help of geeky swot Laura, can Bobby make good and produce something fit for his idol, Roy Orbison?

‘Dreamboats and Petticoats’ works best when it isn’t trying to be clever.  There’s a nice scene where Bobby and Laura sing each other their attempts at writing songs but skirt around their own feelings for each other, and another where Bobby’s dad talks of his own parents’ advice not to take the first girl who comes along, but to ‘Shop Around’.  Character names allow obvious songs to be incorporated – ‘Runaround Sue’, ‘Bobby’s Girl’ (but curiously not the early 1960s ‘Norman’) – while the good boy / bad boy, good girl / bad girl storyline really makes the ending obvious.

Still, the cast work hard: on the night we went, Norman, Sue, and Babs in the band where all understudies, but perfectly OK, and most of the crowd were on their feet for the final medley of  ‘Let’s Twist Again’ and ‘At The Hop’.

If you’d like a good time, and one which will put you firmly back in the time period that was the start of the swinging decade, this is the show for you.

To book tickets for this show visit Cheap Theatre Tickets – Playhouse Theatre and to see reviews please visit Dreamboats and Petticoats Tickets

Olympic test event: Gymnastics (Artistic), O2 Arena

The O2 Arena will be known as the North Greenwich Arena for the duration of the London 2012 Olympics this summer, and so it was announced as the venue for the ‘London Prepares’ test event last night, Artistic Gymnastics – men’s horizonal bar, parallel bars, and vault, and women’s floor and balance beam.

For me, although I can see there is likely to be interest in the show and dance components of the women’s musical floor routines, and their skill in balancing on the narrow beam, I found the men’s event much more enthralling in terms of physical prowess and skill.  It takes tremendous strength especially of the upper body to do the bar exercises which are almost ‘poetry in motion’.  All that, and Great Britain won bronze in the Vault and gold in the Horizonal Bar events, too.

£8.50 for a plate of fish and chips and a Coca-Cola, free programmes, and unreserved seating which put us very close to the action in what will be the £200+ seats for the event proper in July.

Classic cinema review: Jesus Christ Superstar (1973)

In 1970 a concept album appeared containing a rock opera based on the final days of the life of Jesus Christ, written by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice.  It was their second musical together following the production for schools of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.  Cast as Jesus was Deep Purple’s vocalist, Ian Gillan, with actor/singer Murray Head portraying Judas Iscariot.

It came to Broadway as a fully-fledged stage show in 1971, with Jeff Fenholt as Jesus and Ben Vereen as Judas, with a British production following in 1972 featuring Paul Nicholas as Jesus and Stephen Tate as Judas.  The interesting thing about the Broadway production was that the actors who eventually took the lead roles in the film version were understudies for the roles of Jesus and Judas (Ted Neeley, and Carl Anderson, who eventually took over the role of Judas when Ben Vereen fell ill).

Fast forward a year to 1973, and the film version.  The stage show had led to many protests from religious groups who felt that the treatment of Jesus as a ‘superstar’ was offensive – however, in following the story of Christ from the Bible through key scenes like the Temple, the beggars, and of course, trial and Crucifixion, the story was fairly reverent, using contemporary rock rhythms to put its message across.  It was more earthy and less of its time than Godspell, which was filmed around the same time, and which covered a wider story of Jesus choosing his disciples and eventually dying on the Cross.

The film version of Jesus Christ Superstar was directed by Norman Jewison, and retained some players from both the original concept album (Yvonne Elliman as Mary Magdelene) and Broadway (Barry Dennen as Pontius Pilate, Carl Anderson as Judas, Bob Bingham as Caiaphas).   For me, Ted Neeley is perhaps the greatest of all singers to have taken on the part – and his delicate looks and picture-perfect depiction of Jesus as seen in those Bible prints fit perfectly with the man who has ‘heaven on his mind’, according to Judas.  Anderson is also amazing in the role of Judas – and both men continued to portray the roles on stage for many years afterwards.

Filmed in Israel and other Middle Eastern locations, the film is atmospheric and offers much to believers and non-believers alike.  Perhaps it makes Judas a little too sympathetic (but it shows him as human being with a conscience, rather than a cardboard villain), and portrays Jesus as a misguided man with doubts (in his soliloquy song, Gethsemane, he asks God ‘why then am I scared to finish / what I started / what you started / I didn’t start it’), but that is all to its strength.

The music remains exceptional after all these years, although some of the period lyrics (‘what’s the buzz’, ‘cool it man’) sound rather anachronistic in the 21st century.  Elliman is touching as Mary in her big number (‘I Don’t Know How To Love Him’) and if her song with Peter (‘Could We Start Again, Please?) is a bit like a Coca-Cola advert, that is perhaps the only blip in an otherwise fine film.  Peter, by the way, is played by one Philip Toubas, who under the name of Paul Thomas followed quite a different career path as a successful porn actor and director.

Is Jesus Christ Superstar worth your time now?  Absolutely.  It opens out the stage production (which is powerful enough in its own right) and stands up as one of the last hurrahs of 1970s musical cinema.  Jewison, who had already brought Fiddler on the Roof to the screen, is a good choice for director, and the film benefits from Melvyn Bragg being involved on the screenplay, and Andre Previn on the musical scoring.

A further version was filmed for television in 2000 featuring Glenn Carter as Jesus and Jerome Pradon as Judas, which was closer to the stage production.



Archive TV review: Red Letter Day (1976), episodes 1-2

Red Letter Day was a series of one-off dramas which focused on a ‘big day’ in a character’s life.  It is now available on DVD in the UK, released by Network, and here are my thoughts on the first two episodes.

‘Ready When You Are, Mr McGill’, written by Jack Rosenthal – who also devised this series – is perhaps the best known of the plays as it has been shown the most and has enjoyed a previous release as part of the DVD boxset ‘Jack Rosenthal at ITV’.  It centres on a small television production shoot and the big day is for the extra, Joe McGill, who has been given a sixteen-word speaking part much to the chagrin of the other, more experienced extras on the coach.  It is a wickedly funny piece with the egotistical director (Jack Shepherd), the sound engineer with over-sensitive ears (Fred Feast, a familar face from 1970s Coronation Street), the harrassed assistant director (Mark Wing-Davey, Hitchhikers Guide’s Zaphod), and other familiar faces including Jill Summers as ‘gossiping housewife’.  A running gag throughout the play – aside from Joe’s attempt to get his line right – is a building being painted throughout the aborted attempts to film the one scene. 

‘The Five Pound Orange’, written by Donald Churchill, is a drama about a man who has had something of a mid-life crisis, having ten months previously left his wife for a younger model with terrible taste in interior decorating.  The title refers to a set of Queen Victoria stamps which he discovers are worth rather more than he imagined, and which currently reside in a tea chest at his old home.  This slight tale involves his attempts to get the stamps back and in doing so, realising that the grass might not be greener on the other side after all.  Peter Barkworth plays the errant husband, Natasha Parry his wife, and Sarah Badel the young mistress.  I rather enjoyed this thanks to the performance of Barkworth in particular (who might be a familiar face from ‘Melissa’) and it is generally nicely done, with the stamps just becoming a peripheral device in something far more of the heart than of the pocket.

Film review: Mission Impossible – Ghost Protocol (2011)

This is the fourth film in the Mission Impossible reboot, starring and produced by Tom Cruise and loosely based on the classic 1960s espionage series (and its 1980s version).  I haven’t seen all of the other films beyond a few set pieces glimpsed on the television, but am familar with both TV series and came to Ghost Protocol expecting an action thriller with lots of noise, CGI and not much in the way of talk, plot or script.

So I wasn’t disappointed.  The opening sequence set in a Russian prison where Simon Pegg as the dumbest of all secret agents in the IMF causes prisoners to riot and eventually, for Tom Cruise to escape triumphantly while Dean Martin’s ‘Ain’t That A Kick In The Head’ belts out over the sound system.  Meeting with the token female agent in a convenient tunnel, they all get away and then a bit of business in a phone booth and a hidden computer screen gives Cruise his mission (in the old days, it was cassette tapes and CDs, but this is a simple digital message, which still self-destructs).

The mission, of course, is accepted, cueing some comical business in the Kremlin before it all gets serious, there is an explosion, some gun play, the death of an important character, and a trip to Dubai to stop nuclear meltdown.  Cruise scales the tallest building in the city, an impressively high glass structure (you know how this was done, but it still looks impressive).  There’s a rubber mask gag nodding back to the original series.  There’s a bit of hi-tech blather and someone along for the ride might not be who they say they are.  Oh, and Cruise fights a sandstorm.  As you do.

Despite all the obstacles, the ending sets up a possible fifth entry in the series following a rather silly stunt with a car and a 100 foot drop.  It’s a daft, cartoonish film, but even given a slow middle and a rather unsatisfying plot, it delivers if this kind of action flick is your thing.


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