Category Archives: musicals

Follies (National Theatre, Olivier)

Stephen Sondheim’s bittersweet musical of theatreland gone by has its first major revival in London in years, and the book by James Goldman has now been returned fairly closely to the original plot, with the songs added for the 1987 revival dropped and the likes of ‘The Road You Didn’t Take’ and ‘The Story of Lucy and Jessie’ returned to their rightful place.

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The set is a depiction of the decayed and partly demolished Weissman Theatre, where the neon still works but the walls are crumbling, the seats are distressed, and the auditorium is ruined.  For me, the opening scene and prologue takes too long to introduce everyone, but that would be true of every version of this show, and it is certainly touching to see the mature showgirls descend the ‘staircase’ (in reality, a less-than-glamorous fire escape) one last time, while their younger selves move in ghostly sequins and sparkles in from the stage.

This show is very much about those ladies who graced the Weissman Follies between the two World Wars, and although we are more focused on the story of two of them – Sally (Imelda Staunton), and Phyllis (Janie Dee) – we still feel invested in the others, from Carlotta the movie star (Tracie Bennett, done up as Joan Crawford in stern red, and decaying from despair, drink, and dallying with young men who ‘mean nothing’), ageing opera diva Heidi (Josephine Barstow, whose delicate depiction of sad memories of an affair with the boss, Mr Weissman (Gary Raymond, who makes an sobering impact in a nothing part, as lost in time as his girls), is as touching as her faded soprano voice in ‘One Last Kiss’, a duet with her younger self, played by Alison Langer), to the much-married and knowing Hattie (Di Boutcher, who knocks ‘Broadway Baby’ out of the park from the moment she removes her glasses, but who is surely far too young for the part), and the rather sad Solange (Geraldine Fitzgerald, with her memories of ‘Paree’).

Staunton has shone in a couple of award-winning Sondheims already – from 2012’s glorious ‘Sweeney Todd’, to 2015’s ‘Gypsy‘.  Further back she was a stunning Miss Adelaide in ‘Guys and Dolls’, so she has the musical credentials, and as an Oscar Best Actress nominee for ‘Vera Drake’, she is also known as a talented actress.  Both skills serve her well as Sally Plummer, a tiny housewife with a salesman husband, Buddy (Peter Forbes), who is cheating on her, and dreams which have never died for her former lover, Ben (Philip Quast, always a favourite of mine, and I’m delighted to see him back in a leading role), who rejected her for her friend Phyllis (perhaps sensing she would be more acceptable material for a politician’s wife).

follies-national-theatre-r009Adam Rhys-Charles, Zizi Strallen, Philip Quast – rehearsal photo by Johan Persson

This Weissman reunion brings Sally and Ben back together for the first time in thirty years, and in ‘Don’t Look At Me’, Staunton attempts to make a connection which leads Ben to think back to the girl he used to know (Alex Young, who made such an impact in the ENO’s ‘Carousel‘ this summer, as Carrie, and previously in the New London’s ‘Show Boat’), and to look, for a moment, kindly on the disturbed and clingy woman she has become.  When Quast and Staunton duet in ‘Too Many Mornings’, there is a glorious blend of music, memories, and the magic of what could-have-been, however transient that feeling may be.  Staunton may be a little short, height-wise, for the pivotal kiss which she takes as a way out of her boring life with the Buddy she has ceased to see, but we do engage with their relationship from this point on.

Janie Dee’s Phyllis is the textbook example of a rich socialite whose life is totally empty, with a nice house bursting at the seams with ‘the Chagalls and all that’, but lacking love, attention, or the children she so desperately wanted.  She has grown so tired of life, that her ‘Would I Leave You’ is perfectly delivered and completely believable; theirs is a marriage of convenience that doesn’t even feel convenient anymore.  But yet, in the end, she is the one who shows the most strength, and who will, we feel, at least attempt to pick up the pieces.  Her younger shadow is played by the dazzling Zizi Strallen, who has the star quality and energy which must have turned the young Ben’s head while he and Buddy were ‘Waiting for the Girls Upstairs’.

follies-national-theatre-r007Liz Izen, Liz Ewing, Tracie Bennett, Imelda Staunton, Dawn Hope, Janie Dee, Julie Armstrong, Gemma Page – rehearsal photo by Johan Persson

Peter Forbes is Buddy, a salesman who is really no good, and who calls anywhere he lays his hat home.  His routine involves going out on the road to shack up with Margie, a bright young thing who idolises him (the character always makes me think of ‘Death of a Salesman’ and Willy Loman, who is stuck in a spiral of not quite reaching the American Dream), and then returning to Sally, who fantasises that in his eyes she’s ‘young and beautiful’.  Their marriage has children, but they have moved away to escape their mother’s neuroses and arguments, so you can imagine the echoes of their empty rooms where the boys once played and fought.

The last section of the show moves from the realism of the crumbling theatre of the past to a fantasy staging of ‘Loveland’, a sequence which I always find problematic, but which brings the young quartet to the fore (as well as Young and Strallen, the young Ben and Buddy are played well by Adam Rhys-Charles and Fred Haig) before moving into the individual follies of each as they are now: Buddy, dealing with a drag depiction of his mixed love-life done in a vaudevillian style; Sally, in a blonde wig and a sumptuous dressing room, ‘losing her mind’; Phyllis, in old and young versions, doing as well as she can to tell us about Lucy and Jessie; and Ben’s Fred Astaire pastiche which collapses into an emotional breakdown.  Although I love ‘Losing My Mind’, and Staunton did it well, this whole sequence remains a problem, and as much as I admire Quast, and he did all he could with the number, the breakdown felt rushed to me, which may well have been a directorial mis-step.

What else?  Bennett channels Judy Garland (again, but beautifully) in the caustic ‘I’m Still Here’.  The mirror number ‘Who’s That Woman’ weirdly has the young chlorines not mirroring their older counterparts, and I felt in this case the Royal Albert Hall concert did this number better (although I did like Dawn Hope’s Stella, and the chance to see Liz Izen’s Deedee in the line-up).  Billy Boyle and Norma Atallah are fun, and poignant, as the Whitmans.

This may not be a perfect revival, but it is a great show, and it is rare to see something done on this scale, with so much love and energy – an emotional powerhouse, with eminently hummable tunes.

Do go, and also grab a copy of the fantastic programme, which is full of information, articles, and pictures and can be yours for just a fiver.

 

 


Half a Sixpence (Noel Coward Theatre)

You may recall the jaunty film in which Tommy Steele hopped around with a gor-blimey accent, and this uses many of the songs from it, but with some new lyrics and seven new songs by George Stiles and Anthony Drewe.  So, confusingly, this is a musical with eleven songs by the original composer and lyricist David Heneker, from a book by Beverley Cross, with a kind-of new book by Julian Fellowes … and of course based on ‘Kipps’, by HG Wells!

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Charlie Stemp is on leave, so Arthur Kipps is currently being played by Sam O’Rourke, whose infectious energy brings the draper’s apprentice who comes into money sharply to life.  His childhood sweetheart Ann, who holds the ‘half a sixpence’ of the opening song, is played by Devon-Elise Johnson, who convinces as a gawky thirteen year-old as well as a growing women fighting her jealousy and irritation as Arthur becomes sideswept by his attraction to posh Helen (Emma Williams).

The toffs are fun, especially in a new number ‘Pick Out A Simple Tune’, and Ian Bartholomew offers good comic support as a Dickensian theatrical named Mr Chitterlow.  There is a lot of leaping, swinging and boisterousness, and this is definitely a musical in which you can just sit back and be entertained.

Others worth mentioning – John Foster is a joy as both Kipps’ stodgy employer and Lady Punnet’s butler; while Jane How is very funny indeed as Lady P.  Gerard Carey was better as the photographer in the ‘Flash, Bang, Wallop’ number than he was as crooked James, and Vivien Parry was all decaying aristocracy as Mrs Walsingham.   Alex Hope as the idealistic socialist Sid and Bethany Huckle as lovestruck Flo were very good, too, and I enjoyed the new duet which gave insight into the feelings both Ann and Flo seem to hold for Arthur.

Running to early September, this is warmly recommended if you want an evening of fun, and if you can get to see O’Rourke have his moment in the spotlight, please do.


42nd Street (Theatre Royal Drury Lane)

This is a big show.  A big big big show which opens with a chorus of 42 pairs of tapping feet as the curtain rises as if to say, top this!


Sheena Easton is still out with the ‘flu, so CJ Johnson is playing the brittle and slightly past-it Dorothy Brock, and she’s a knockout.  The Boulevard of Broken Dreams number is marvellous, and I Only Have Eyes for You is sweet.

As the young juvenile Billy Lawlor, Stuart Neal has bags of energy, and his musical comedy made me think of the great vaudevillian Bert Wheeler, a comic hoofer who also sang and played the eternal youth.

The pivotal role of Peggy Sawyer, who ‘goes out a youngster, but has to come back a star’, only works if the actress has that sprinkling of fairy dust which makes you think she has it, and Clare Halse has the innocence of a Ruby Keeler as well as the steel of a Ginger Rogers.

Tom Lister’s Julian Marsh may well be charmed by this fresh young thing who still believes in her dreams: she makes him less jaded, he makes her more knowing.

Also of note in the leading cast are Jasna Ivir and Christopher Howell as writers and low comedians Maggie and Bert.  Howell teams with Emma Caffrey’s Anytime Annie (‘the only time she said no she didn’t hear the question’) for Shuffle Off To Buffalo, while Ivir leads the girls in Go Into Your Dance.

I also like Bruce Montague’s hick millionaire Abner and Graeme Henderson’s dance captain Andy, the former a good comic foil and the latter an accomplished showman.

As for those routines, we get big staircases, a railway station, a mirror which reflects reclining ladies in a sequence which apes the best of Busby Berkeley, chorus lines of high camp and high kicks, beautiful costumes and countless set changes.

The songs are by Harry Warren and Al Dubin, direction by Mark Bramble, and the fabulous orchestra is conducted by Jae Alexander.


Carousel (London Coliseum)

This musical is one of my firm favourites, but the lead casting choices didn’t fill me with joy when they were first announced.  I’m familiar with both Katherine Jenkins and Alfie Boe as popular singers of mainly operatic fare (although neither have ever sung in a full-length opera), and to me they were hardly the embodiment of Billy Bigelow and Julie Jordan.

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However, the supporting cast and the spectacular full-staging has been gathering praise despite some lukewarm reviews from both professional and blogging critics, and I do like the score, so I bit the bullet and bought a couple of tickets in the Upper Circle, which were overpriced and allowed fairly awful views and minimal leg room.

The show, though, has some great numbers and the ensemble pieces were well-delivered (‘June Is Bustin’ Out All Over’, ‘Blow High, Blow Low’, ‘What’s The Use of Wond’rin’), with some excellent chorus work and choreography.  Derek Hagen as Jigger, Brenda Edwards as Nettie, and Davide Fienauri as the dancing Carnival Boy need special mention as they lifted the energy and engagement levels whenever they appeared.

Gavin Spokes gives a real comic edge as well as some serious singing class to the role of Mr Snow, while Alex Young is a splendid Carrie, rightly getting warm applause for ‘When I Marry Mr Snow’ and ‘When The Children Are Asleep’.  This last song is a duet between Young and Spokes, who demonstrate the chemistry that is sadly lacking in the big lead duet ‘If I Loved You’, which should pull the audience in to the sudden emotional and deep love between Billy and Julie.

Let’s talk about Katherine Jenkins as Julie.  It’s been reported that as well as company voice coaching she has been receiving private acting lessons, and they have rubbed off as well as can be expected.  However she cannot both sing sweetly and put across the complex emotional range needed for the character, leaving her numbers to be simply very nice to listen to for the melody.  But in Act Two, where she has to engage with her wayward daughter, she’s fairly convincing, and her casting wasn’t the disaster I feared.

Which leaves Alfie Boe as Billy.  Reviews have not been kind, primarily to the wig which has now been replaced with something more in keeping to what a carnival barker might have worn.  His acting has been derided, too, with him being described as ‘a floorboard’, ‘a child pretending to be an adult’, and similar.

It may be the way the role was directed, but his stance is not in the least sexy or smouldering as it should be, and he’s just not convincing, and we don’t really understand what Julie sees in him.  In fact at the start of the big seven-minute Act One closer, ‘Soliloquy’, the way he stood made me think of the actors who taught thick Prince George how to deliver a speech in Blackadder.

The ‘Soliloquy’, though, is the undoubted highlight of the role, and by the end, the strength of the song came through and the effect was rather touching; we did, at last, believe that this man had found the heart within himself on discovering he was to become a father.

The staging though was odd, with the revolving circle which had been used to great effect in the opening ‘Carousel Waltz’ overture to introduce all the character and the show’s name itself, in letters revolving, oddly, backwards.  In the ‘Soliloquy’ Boe spent most of the number alone, as is right and proper for a number in which the character vocalises his thoughts,  but I expected a bit more use of both space and backdrops than we got.

Act Two started with some drama, as we were told that Alfie Boe had been feeling progressively ill during the first act and was unable to continue, leaving understudy Will Barrett to come on and deal with the tricky scenes of Billy’s death, engagement with the Starmarker (Nicholas Lyndhurst, in little more than a cameo), and as an invisible observer to his daughter’s childhood.  It would be hard to judge Barrett’s singing in Act Two as not much is required, but I felt he acted the part better, overall, and had a more believable engagement with Jenkins, as well as with Amy Everett, playing their daughter Louise.

Lonny Price directs, and Josh Rhodes is the choreographer, with David Charles Abell conducting the ENO Orchestra.  And no matter what the publicity says, this is most certainly not a semi-staged musical, there is a full set, costumes and flavour.  I can’t recommend it unreservedly due to the weakness of the two leads, but it is not the dud I thought it would be.


An American in Paris (Dominion Theatre)

The poster and publicity for this present it as ‘a new musical’, but that might surprise the Gershwins, who wrote this parade of songs (some from the 1951 film, some from other sources) which move along the story of Jerry Mulligan – here played by alternate Ashley Day in his debut in the role – and Lise Dassin, played by Leanne Cope, who also did the role on Broadway.

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He’s a soldier who stays in Paris after the Nazi occupation has been routed to become an artist, as idealistic Americans often do.  He keeps seeing pretty Lise and falls hard for her, knowing it cannot just be coincidence.  Soon they start meeting by the Seine, but she doesn’t want to discuss her past or personal circumstances.

Abrasive Adam Hochberg (David Seadon-Young) is the piano player and the commentator on the action, and it was fun to see him deal with a technical malfunction in the first scene which stopped the show at the big reveal of the video projection: we were soon off again, though, into the busy streets where Nazi sympathisers were still about and idealistic Frenchmen like Henri Baurel saw lucrative futures for them across the Channel.

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Jerry finds a patroness in the ‘international dilettante’ Milo Davenport (Zoë Rainey), a Ginger Rogers-like cougar who likes a lot more than his paintings, while on the periphery Henri’s parents M and Mme Baurel (Julian Forsyth and Jane Asher) worry about their son’s lack of interest in settling down to marriage, and slowly find their shared love of jazz music coming to the fore again.

The leads are required to mix styles from both grand ballet and musical theatre (Day is primarily from the latter, but his moves look stellar enough to me, and he has a glorious toothy smile which makes you warm to the character; Cope is a ballerina but displays a fine singing voice in her solo ‘The Man I Love’), and the show benefits from a talented company of dancers, swings and chorus.

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The sets need to be mentioned: Bob Crowley (formerly with the National and the RSC) is scene and costume designer, and 59 Productions Ltd are responsible for the many projections which conjure up time and place, as well as a feeling of being in a city which celebrates the creative arts.  And the music by George Gershwin with lyrics by brother Ira both feel timeless and a world away, with the friend scene-setting of ‘I Got Rhythm’ rubbing shoulders with Jerry’s solo ‘I’ve Got Beginner’s Luck’ and the four-part ‘For You, For Me, For Everymore’.

A couple of things I would change: ‘Stairway to Paradise’ cries out to be a huge production number with showgirls from the start, and Adam’s part is really reduced (OK, he’s not Oscar Levant who was essentially playing himself in the film, but still) so we lose some of the humour and asides the character could make.  There’s also something of a running joke of Henri being possibly gay which felt forced.

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Christopher Wheeldon directs and choreographs in the old style, and he does brilliantly, using his cast and his orchestrations (by Christopher Austin and Bill Elliott, conducted by John Rigby).  This is just a good old-fashioned musical, with great tunes, more than competently performed.

And yes there is a long ballet to the ‘An American in Paris’ suite, full of eye-popping colours and flashy moves, punctuated by some tender pas de deux between Day and Cope.  Elsewhere, there are mirrors and windows, and misunderstandings, and even a Jew in hiding subplot, but the story isn’t really why we’re here.  Superlative.


Honeymoon in Vegas (London Palladium)

The London Musical Theatre Orchestra presented a special concert version of ‘Honeymoon in Vegas: The Musical’ last night at the London Palladium, conducted by the composer, Jason Robert Brown.

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Based on the 1992 film, this musical teams a rather silly story with an old-fashioned but punchy score from Jason Robert Brown, who also penned the lyrics, which are sometimes clever but now and again straying into the area of corn (a ballad ‘Out of the Sun’ provoked giggles across the auditorium with its SPF references and it didn’t quite hit the funny/touching vibe I suspect the song should have).

The book by Andrew Bergman is slight but keeps the action moving, and even in a concert version, images of Vegas showgirls and parachuting Elvii (a definite showstopping number referencing the stance and vocal inflections of the King) are effortlessly conjured up.

Arthur Darvill’s Jack opens up proceedings with one of those delightful list songs, ‘I Love Betsy’, which references all the things his girlfriend likes (“she likes hockey, no, I swear / she likes guys with thinning hair’) while celebrating his love for her.  He puts the song across well, with good engagement with the audience while acting out the text.  His singing was a nice surprise as well, with an old-timer charm.

Betsy is played by Samantha Barks who is slinky and playful, but stronger in her solo numbers (especially ‘Betsy’s Getting Married’ which sizzles and fizzes) than in her duets with Darvill.  Having said this, the whole cast feel more relaxed and comfortable in their roles and in the concert format as the show progresses, and everyone essentially does a good job.

Gangster sleazeball Tommy, who sees in Betsy a resemblance to his dead wife, is played well by Maxwell Caulfield, who makes up for a lack of singing ability with the right characterisation of a wealthy man who thinks he can buy happiness but eventually knows when he’s been bested – by Betsy!  Rosemary Ashe does her best to steal scenes as the ghost of Jack’s mother, while Simon Lipkin is both the Bublé-like lounge singer and the hip-shaking leader of the flying Elvises. 

This show, directed by Shaun Kerrison, is a lot of fun, with the kind of music that makes you want to tap your feet and click your fingers, while the songs move on the action just as they did in the golden age of stage musicals.

The London Musical Theatre Orchestra, now in its second full year, is packed with excellent musicians who can do anything from put on the jazz to provide a beautiful melody.  Their vision is to have fun with music, and also to develop new professional players, and they do both with aplomb.

Thanks to Premier PR for arranging this night out.


She Loves Me (Menier Chocolate Factory)

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A delightful revival of the Sheldon Harnick and Jerry Bock musical is running on London’s fringe right now, and I heartily recommend it.

You might have come across this story before, in the films ‘The Shop Around The Corner’, ‘In The Good Old Summertime’ or ‘You’ve Got Mail’.  You might have seen the versions shown on television in 1978 and on digital live-streaming last year.

Georg Nowack (played at the performance I saw by understudy Peter Dukes, who was rather good, if a little plain) is an awkward bachelor who serves as one of the sales clerks in the perfumery of Mr Maraczek (Les Dennis, whose decision to use a truly awful accent colours his role) in 1930s Budapest.  He’s been corresponding with an unknown lady after placing an ad in the lonely hearts column, and he’s going to meet her soon for the first time.

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Amalia Balash (a perky Scarlett Strallen, who steals the show with her “Vanilla Ice Cream”) comes to the shop for a job and instantly finds herself at odds with Nowack, and she is also corresponding with a ‘Dear Friend’ which we quickly find out, is her nemesis himself.  In the meantime, Ilona Ritter, a vision of bad hair dye and thick make-up (played with scene-stealing effervescence by Katherine Kingsley, who has a whole library of comic expressions and barely disguised malice) is dating smarmy cad and fellow shop-worker Steven Kodaly (Kingsley’s real-life spouse, Dominic Tighe, who is perfectly hissable) and watching her life slowly slip away.

The main cast is rounded out by Ladislav Sipos (Alastair Brookshaw, playing the twitchy family man who ‘never disagrees’, with aplomb) and a new discovery, Callum Howells as delivery boy Arpad Lazslow, whose “Try Me” is an Act 2 delight.  Norman Pace has joined the cast as Head Waiter, and he’s lots of fun in the restaurant scene, and surprisingly strong-voiced.  I also liked the couple who found romance through reading: “Victor!”  “Hugo!”

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For a fringe production in a small venue, a lot of thought has gone into the revolving sets and production design, and Paul Farnsworth definitely deserves praise for his sparkles, bright colours, and leaf/snow combination indicators of the change of the seasons.  Fine choreography too, and a more-than-decent house band give the fifty-something songs life and breadth (although the repetitive ‘Thank you madam’ refrains could easily be chopped after the first couple of times).  If only the wigs had looked a little more realistic, it would have been quite perfect; but this is a fun little confection that certainly raises a smile in this winter season.

‘She Loves Me’ continues at the Menier until the 4th March 2017.


Disney’s Aladdin (Prince Edward Theatre)

 

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On entering the auditorium of the Prince Edward Theatre, the curtain is flying carpet themed, and during the overture you realise this is going to be a show of many, vibrant colours, an Arabian splendour.

‘Aladdin’ was a Disney film from 1992, which notably had Robin Williams firing on all cylinders as the Genie, and here the huge frame and personality of Trevor Dion Nicholas brings this pivotal role to life, as he introduces the setting and the story at the top of the show.

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Aladdin himself, played by Dean John-Wilson, is  a little bland for my taste, although he has the physique and now and then his singing hits the spot (more so in ‘Proud Of Your Boy, a Menken-Ashman song which didn’t get included in the film, than in some of the wilder and more vibrant numbers).  As Princess Jasmine, Jade Ewen (a former Eurovision entrant and Sugababe, although neither are mentioned in her resume) , is good and feisty, but I didn’t sense any real chemistry between her and John-Wilson, while their big duet ‘A Whole New World’ was rather upstaged by the magic carpet they are flying on during the number.

The big spectacle closes Act One, in the catchy and fun ‘Friend Like Me’, in which Nicholas leads a whole troop of dancers doing ballroom, acrobatics, and eventually tap in a cheeky 42nd Street pastiche, all set in a cave lined with gold leaf.  Modest and understated, this isn’t.  As this is a Broadway show brought to the UK, we get lots of references which are uniquely British: in the Genie’s first scene, he pulls out an umbrella with the Union Flag when he is looking for the lamp, there is a call and response routine which uses Bruce Forsyth’s catchphrase, and there is a brief nod to ‘Strictly Come Dancing’, as well as a Tommy Cooper joke at the expense of Aladdin’s fez before his transformation into ‘Prince Ali’.

This is a fairytale writ large, with lots of costume changes, magic special effects, and an amusing trio of pals for Aladdin replacing the monkey of the original film.  There are hissable bad guys too, in the shape of the vizier Jafar and his sidekick Iago (who was a bird in the film, I think).  They resemble Paul Daniels and Teller which added to the amusement for me, and they are both absolutely fine within the context of this admittedly thin plot.


The Go-Between (Apollo Theatre)

This new musical by Richard Taylor and David Wood takes its inspiration from the novel by LP Hartley (although many of the audience may be more familiar with the Joseph Losey film which starred Julie Christie, Alan Bates, and the young Dominic Guard).

This is a story of growing up, of first love, of grown-up ‘games’, of memories, of regrets, and about the stuffiness of the world in which young Leo Colston (‘my real name is Lionel, but don’t tell anyone’) finds himself when he goes to stay with his wealthy schoolmate Marcus and his family (mother, father, brother Dennis, and sister Marian).

We first meet Leo as an old man, fifty years on from his idyllic summer vacation, finding an old chest of memories and treasures in a dusty attic, and the moment of opening brings back the ghosts of the past of the Maudsley family, their servants, their friends, and the farmer Ted Burgess.  The young Leo is from poor stock and is overwhelmed by the convention of his surroundings, standing buttoned up and sweltering in his winter clothes until Marian plans to buy him a more fitting summer garb.

The only full song in the score, ‘Butterfly’, is sung by Crawford as older Leo while young Leo (last night, a marvellous Luka Green) parades his new suit of Lincoln Green, and it is an emotionally soaring moment – the singing might not be in as peak form as in Phantom days, but it fits with the character, and in fact Crawford, always on stage, always seeing when he saw when he was thirteen, and sometimes even interacting directly with his younger self, more and more urgently as act two strides towards the tragic conclusion, carries the show’s heart.

Leo becomes a ‘Mercury’, a messenger boy, a ‘postman’, first innocently taking a verbal message between the injured war veteran Trimingham and the object of his affections, Marian (Gemma Sutton, who previously appeared in ‘Gypsy’), and then, more dangerously, taking letters and messages between Marian at the great Hall and Ted, the tenant farmer who had been previously dismissed as ‘someone we don’t know socially’ by Mrs Maudsley.

The social gulf between Marian and Ted is accentuated even in the early scenes, where the dreadfully snobbish Marcus tells Leo not to leave clothes on the chair, but to throw them on the floor, ‘because that’s what Henry [the servant] is for’.  By the time the honour of the Hall is tested in the ‘gentlemen v tenants’ cricket match we know exactly where both sides stand, and why Leo, bored alone while Marcus is isolated by illness and keen to please the girl he is besotted by, gets embroiled in the forbidden love affair.

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Picture credit: Helen Maybanks.  Samuel Menhinick as Marcus, Luka Green as Leo.

The acting throughout this show is top-notch: Crawford is superb and your eyes might often drift to him, while you wonder what you would say to your own small self where you able to do so.  Sutton is good as the conventional miss who wants to break out from her restrictive dresses and the family tradition which means she cannot marry Ted, but has to marry Hugh Trimingham.

As Trimingham (‘nothing is ever a lady’s fault’), Stephen Carlile is excellent, keeping the stiff upper lip even when it becomes fairly clear he knows what is going on between the furtive lovers, tapping out a cigarette in a servant’s ashtray, and calmly answering Leo’s questions about the fickleness of women. Issy van Randwyck is the frighteningly icy Mrs Maudsley, although she may veer towards the pantomime at times.

The musical accompaniment is from one sole piano, played by Nigel Lilley.  This is supplemented at various points by the cast’s singing voices, which are beautifully arranged and performed, at times with their ‘Remember’ refrain a little reminiscent of ‘A Little Night Music’.   The voices are in Leo’s head but they are also living and breathing the moment he picks out a prop from the chest – his diary, a cricket bat, a ball, a branch of belladonna.

As farmer Ted, Stuart Ward is rough at the edges, but attractive enough to tempt the young Marian who has been surrounded all her life by stuffed shirts and the traditions where the men retreat to their port after dinner, and where she is expected to marry well and without complaint.  Ted offers her an escape from that, but it is an escape that can only be furtive and physical, which Leo starts to realise while remaining confused about the ways grown-ups believe (his discussion with Ted about the meaning of ‘spooning’ is as funny as it is toe-curling).

The Go-Between

Photo credit: Helen Maybanks.  Stuart Ward as Ted Burgess.

I liked the lighting in this production, and the way that a limited set became something different – a tailor’s shop, a statue, a farm, a cricket field, a church – often by a resetting of chairs or the use of the cast to provide details such as the straw stack Leo slides down prior to his first meeting with Ted.   This only misfires slightly in the climactic scene where Marian’s secret is discovered, which is ‘revealed’ by the cast pacing around with umbrellas.  The show does take a while to get going, and the pace throughout is probably slower than most other musicals running in the West End, both young and old, but it is definitely worth seeing.

Direction is by Roger Haines, and design by Michael Pavelka, Tim Lutkin, and Matt McKenzie.

Thanks to Theatre Bloggers and Stage Door for providing the tickets.

 

 


Show Boat (New London Theatre)

Captain Andy’s Show Boat, the Cotton Blossom, has come to town in Daniel Evans’ fabulous production (fresh from Sheffield), and the classic socre by Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein II sounds as a sharp and as tuneful as ever.  There’s plenty of wit and life in this production, which has a small but hard-working cast, with some notably outstanding work from Sandra Marvin (Queenie), Rebecca Trehearn (Julie), Emmanuel Kojo (Joe) and Alex Young (Ellie May Chipley).

Young Magnolia Hawks (Gina Beck) lives on the Cotton Blossom with her parents, and while the Captain (Malcolm Sinclair) lives for showbusiness, mother Parthy (Lucy Briers) sees herself a cut above the river rats and players she has been living alongside for years, and wants something better for her daughter.  Magnolia wants nothing more than to be a leading lady, and to fall in love, and when Gaylord Ravenal (Chris Peluso) turns up, all charm in his sharp suit, she finds the latter, and in a powerful sequence where Julie has to leave the show boat, finds she suddenly has the chance to become the star.

This musical premiered in the USA in 1927, and was the first modern musical to move away from the conventions of vaudeville and operetta; it also dealt with racial issues with a vibrant mixed cast.  If you’ve seen the 1936 film with the feted bass singer Paul Robeson as Joe you will know that any singer has big shoes to fill with ‘Old Man River’, but Kojo is excellent here in both that huge number and (a delight to see) the fun duet with Queenie which was written for the film, ‘Ah Still Suits Me’.

Go on, have a look at that number as it appeared in the film, here:

Julie La Verne is a tragic figure, which Trehearn catches very well.  Her exuberance leading the kitchen staff in the negro song ‘Can’t Help Lovin’ That Man of Mine’ gives way in the second half to her touching delivery of ‘Bill’ (not an original song for the show, it was written by Kern with PG Wodehouse back in 1917 for another production, but never used).

Here’s Trehearn performing the number:

Julie gives two big chances to Magnolia, making her the kindest heart on the river.  Magnolia and Gay fall in love as they play opposite each other (they have first felt attraction through ‘Make Believe’ at their first meeting), and although they have a child and settle in Chicago, his gambling and drinking is his downfall, and she is left to make her own way in the world.

The Trocadero scene loses something here by having no sense of a packed New Year’s Eve: instead, actors playing waiters and punters are scattered through the auditorium, giving us a sense of being the exclusive audience there as 1899 gives way to 1900.  Beck’s singing of ‘After the Ball’ is eventually gutsy and triumphant, and the song remains sentimental enough to bring a tear to the eye, but it doesn’t touch the sequence )one of my favourites) in the 1952 film.

Beck reminded me very much of Irene Dunne (the 1936 Magnolia) in her acting, she is a mischievous little flirt in her innocence and a regal miss in her poverty.  It’s a strong performance; while Peluso is excellent as Gay and in fine voice.  Leo Roberts plays Steven Baker and Jim Greene (in the later role resembling the early talkie singer, John Boles, which was interesting, if a little distracting!).  As the Hawks’ senior, Sinclair is an excellent Andy, winking connivingly at the audience as he gets one over on his wife, while Briers is a marvellous Parthy, steering the part away from the comic shrew she is so often reduced to.

The second half, following the chimes for the new century, fast-forwards through nearly thirty years before we meet the aged Joe and Queenie, and she leads the chorus in a blistering version of the feel-good ‘Hey Feller!’.  It’s a problematic ending, but there is no true reconciliation between the returning Gay and the strong Magnolia, who has raised their daughter alone.  The hurt and the distance was well conveyed, and if the adult Kim runs to forgive her father, the mother might find it much harder.

Here’s Gay and Magnolia in happier times, courtesy of the 1951 film, and that first duet of ‘Make Believe’:

Go and see this show if at all possible.  It is closing in August, and it is probably one of the best shows in town right now.  It will make you smile, tap your feet, and maybe even cry just a little.  Not bad for a musical which is approaching its ninetieth birthday.


Shakespeare 400: Film and TV

There have been many, many screen versions of Shakespeare’s plays – please follow the links below to my lists on Letterboxd to find a range of straight adaptations and versions inspired by the Bard’s work.

Such a rich store of films, television and recordings from the RSC, the National Theatre, the Globe, and Digital Theatre exist to prove the Bard remains relevant 400 years after his passing.

tragedieshamlet

Shakespeare – The Tragedies (http://boxd.it/8yDy), covering 11 of the 37 plays: Antony and Cleopatra, Coriolanus, Hamlet, Julius Caesar, King Lear, Macbeth, Othello, Romeo and Juliet, Timon of Athens, Titus Andronicus, Troilus and Cressida.

Five to try:

  • Antony and Cleopatra (1974, dir Jon Scoffield, with Richard Johnson and Janet Suzman).  This will be released by Network Distributing later this year.
  • The Bad Sleep Well (1960, dir Akira Kurosawa).  A Japanese loose version of Hamlet.
  • Macbeth on the Estate (1997, dir Penny Woolcock, with James Frain).
  • Othello (1990, dir Trevor Nunn, with Willard White and Ian McKellen).
  • Romeo and Juliet (1984, from the Royal Ballet, with Wayne Eagling and Alessandra Ferri, to Kenneth Macmillan’s choreography).

comediescomedydench

Shakespeare – The Comedies (http://boxd.it/8yDS), covering 12 of the 37 plays: All’s Well That Ends Well, The Comedy of Errors, As You Like It, Love’s Labour’s Lost, Measure for Measure, Merry Wives of Windsor, The Merchant of Venice, Twelfth Night, Two Gentlemen of Verona, The Taming of the Shrew, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Much Ado About Nothing.

Five to try:

  • The Comedy of Errors (1976, dir Trevor Nunn, with Judi Dench, with music by Guy Woolfenden).
  • McLintock! (1963, dir Andrew V. McLaglen, with John Wayne and Maureen O’Hara).  A Western inspired by The Taming of the Shrew.
  • A Midsummer Night’s Dream (1935, dir Max Reinhardt and William Dieterle).  A Hollywood fantasy with Mickey Rooney as Puck.
  • Much Ado About Nothing (2012, dir Joss Whedon).
  • The Merchant of Venice (1972, dir Cedric Messina, with Frank Finlay as Shylock and Maggie Smith as Portia).

historiesrichardshaw

Shakespeare – The Histories (http://boxd.it/8yEc), covering 10 of the 37 plays: Richard II, Henry IV Part 1, Henry IV Part 2, Henry V, Henry VI Part 1, Henry VI Part 2, Henry VI Part 3, Richard III, Henry VIII, King John.

Five to try:

  • Richard III (1995, dir Richard Loncraine, with Ian McKellen).  Set in the Nazi era with a modern feel.
  • Henry V (1944, dir by and starring Laurence Olivier).  A stirring version made during the Second World War.
  • King John (1984, dir David Giles, with Leonard Rossiter, for the BBC Shakespeare).
  • Henry VIII (2010, dir Mark Rosenblatt, for Globe on Screen, with Dominic Rowan).
  • Richard II (1978, dir David Giles, with Derek Jacobi, for the BBC Shakespeare).

romancestempestglobe

Shakespeare – The Romances (http://boxd.it/8yEw), covering 4 of the 37 plays: Pericles, Cymbeline, The Winter’s Tale, The Tempest.

Five to try:

  • Prospero’s Books (1991, dir Peter Greenaway, with John Gielgud).  Inspired by The Tempest.
  • The Winter’s Tale (1999, dir Gregory Doran, with Antony Sher, for the RSC).
  • The Tempest (1908, dir Percy Stow).
  • Cymbeline (2013, dir Michael Almereyda, with Ethan Hawke).  With an urban gang setting.
  • The Winter’s Tale (1910, dir Thanhouser).

 

 


Shakespeare 400 in images

  • Marlon Brando plays Mark Antony in the 1953 film of ‘Julius Caesar’;
  • Olivia Hussey and Leonard Whiting in the 1968 film of ‘Romeo and Juliet’;
  • Kenneth Branagh in his 1996 film of ‘Hamlet’;
  • Laurence Olivier in his 1944 film of ‘Henry V’;
  • Wendy Hiller, Cyril Cusack, Michael Kitchen and Roger Daltrey in the 1983 BBC Shakespeare TV version of ‘The Comedy of Errors’;
  • Simon Russell Beale in the National Theatre’s 2012 production of ‘Timon of Athens’;
  • Dumaine (Adrian Lester), Berowne (Kenneth Branagh), Longaville (Matthew Lillard), and Ferdinand (Alessandro Nivola) in the 2000 film of ‘Love’s Labour’s Lost’;
  • Philip Quast as Achilles and Jeremy Sheffield as Patroclus in the RSC’s 1996 production of ‘Troilus and Cressida’;
  • Jonathan and Phoebe Pryce in the Globe Theatre’s 2015 production of ‘The Merchant of Venice’;
  • Judi Dench as Titania in the 1968 film of ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’;
  • Antony Sher as Falstaff in the RSC’s 2014 production of ‘Henry IV Part 1’;
  • Ian McKellen in the 1979 TV version of the RSC’s production of ‘Macbeth’;
  • Guy Henry in the RSC’s 2001 production of ‘King John’;
  • Robert Shaw (Leontes), Rosalie Crutchley (Hermoine) and Patrick McNee (Polixines) in the 1962 TV production of ‘A Winter’s Tale’;
  • Paul Robeson in a 1942 stage production of ‘Othello’;
  • Christopher Benjamin as Falstaff in the Globe’s 2010 production of ‘The Merry Wives of Windsor’;
  • Keenan Wynn and James Whitmore in the 1953 film of ‘Kiss Me Kate’ (based on ‘The Taming of the Shrew’);
  • Gary Bond and Irena Mayeska as Benedick and Beatrice in the 1970 Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre production of ‘Much Ado About Nothing’;
  • Anthony Hopkins in the 1999 film of ‘Titus’;
  • Heathcote Williams as Prospero and Toyah as Miranda in the 1979 film of ‘The Tempest’;
  • Romola Garai as Celia in the 2006 film of ‘As You Like It’;
  • Ben Miles as the Duke and Anna Maxwell-Martin as Isabella in the 2010 Almeida Theatre production of ‘Measure for Measure’;
  • Derek Jacobi in the BBC Shakespeare TV adaptation of ‘Richard II’ (1978);
  • Ian Charleson and cast of the BBC Shakespeare TV adaptation of ‘All’s Well That End’s Well’ (1980);
  • The National Theatre of Greece at the Globe in their 2012 production of ‘Pericles’;
  • Tom Courtenay in the Royal Exchange Theatre, Manchester, 1999 production of ‘King Lear’;
  • Alan Howard in the RSC’s 1978 production of ‘Coriolanus’;
  • Alan Bates and Frances de La Tour in the RSC’s 2000 production of ‘Antony and Cleopatra’;
  • William Houston as Prince Hal and David Troughton as Henry IV in the RSC’s 2000 production of ‘Henry IV Part 2’;
  • Mark Rylance in the Globe’s 2012 production of ‘Richard III’;
  • Richard Johnson in the BBC Shakespeare TV adaptation of ‘Cymbeline’ (1983);
  • Tommy Steele as Feste in the 1969 TV adaptation of ‘Twelfth Night’;
  • Dominic Rowan as Henry with Amanda Lawrence as his fool in the Globe’s 2010 production of ‘Henry VIII’.

Sunset Boulevard (ENO Coliseum)

sunsetprog

The posters proclaim ‘The theatrical event of 2016’ and indeed, bringing Glenn Close across for her London stage debut more than twenty years after she played the role of Norma Desmond on Broadway is quite a coup.

This is one of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s best scores, based on the superb Billy Wilder film which starred Gloria Swanson as Norma and William Holden as Joe, narrating the film opener as a corpse face down in a swimming pool.  This production takes its own opener from that, with a dummy which is highlighted in what is usually the orchestra pit in cool blue light, and then hoisted to hang prone above proceedings for the whole show.

joesunset

Joe Gillis (Michael Xavier) is a studio hack, a writer who hasn’t had that much success but who knows a lot of young and hungry performers and creatives who litter Tinseltown, waiting for their big breaks.  Early on his script pitch is knocked back by Betty Shaffer (Siobhan Dillon), a twenty-two year old idealist who grew up on studio lots, and so it is that trying to escape from loan sharks, he drives his car into the vast palazzo of fading star Norma Desmond, Cecil B De Mille’s ‘young fellow’ (the name De Mille in fact gave Swanson in their days of collaboration).

Glenn Close’s Norma starts as big as she is, the star who may not always hit the notes but can certainly put across the key numbers, and her ‘With One Look’ rightly gets the first huge audience response of the night.  Later, when we know Norma better, and when we have seen how she has manipulated Joe into enjoying both her and her life of luxury, she is both luminous and delicate in ‘As If We Never Said Goodbye’, on the Paramount lot where the gateman and the lighting tech remember her, but the studio runner estimates she ‘is about a hundred years old’.

Xavier may be a little too chiseled, and although his Speedo appearance in Act 2 gives a bit of comedy, it is out of place for the period.  I enjoyed his singing, but the gold standard for this part, for me, remains John Barrowman who was close to perfect in his fatalistic attitude to the only way he can survive in the fake world of Hollywood.  Norma Desmond exists in a false sense of reality, kept there by her devoted servant (and ex-husband) Max (Fred Johanson, who I saw years ago when he played Judas in ‘Jesus Christ Superstar’).

Max’s solo song of obsession, ‘The Greatest Star of All’, is a big ask for any singer, with its large range and soaring line endings, and if Johanson didn’t quite nail the ‘fade’ line, it didn’t matter.  His acting, always in the background, observing, and, in this production, perhaps calling up the ghost of Young Norma from the past (she appears, touchingly, when Norma’s ‘Joan of Arc’ film is screened, and at the New Year’s Eve ball).  For him, his job is to keep the young girl he once knew alive, and happy.

Semi-staged as this production is, the orchestra (the ENO’s own) are centre stage, with metal staircases and walkways which double as different locations as we progress through the tale.  There’s a sofa for Norma to lounge on, a car for Max to drive on to the lot, and a bar for the bright young things to celebrate life in.   There’s also the love story which blossoms between Joe and Betty (they have their big duet ‘Too Much In Love To Care’, but they are within the cardboard lot and frontages, and we know that Norma is unbalanced, tragic, and jealous, and that their young love is doomed.

Joe said it himself in the title number which opens Act 2: “You think I’ve sold out?  Dead right I’ve sold out”.  And so, like half-forgotten director William Desmond Taylor, he winds up shot in the back and in a watery tomb, while a distraught Norma gets ready for her close-up and her devoted Max calls the invisible cameras to ‘action’ one last time.

Is this production worth your time?  Absolutely yes.  This musical demands a ‘Star’ and La Close is very much it.  But there are many other pleasures to enjoy as well in this excellent revival.


Jeff Wayne’s War of the Worlds (Dominion Theatre)

You may be familiar with the 1978 album which brought the progressive rock bombast to the words of HG Wells to tell the story of the journalist George Herbert’s encounter with invading martians threatening the Earth.

To give it its full title, ‘Jeff Wayne’s Musical Version of War of the Worlds’ has had several years touring arenas, first with a kind-of hologram presentation of an actor impersonating Richard Burton and mouthing his narration, and more recently, with screen presence of Liam Neeson, allowing additional segments of text to be included and the plot, such as it is, to be developed further.

Don’t expect a full musical presentation here.  What you do get is Jeff Wayne on stage with an all-female string ensemble and a rock band led by Chris Spedding on bass, driving through the familiar instrumental backing and synth wailing you’ll remember from that album.  You’ll get Neeson’s narration, sometimes as video inserts on cloth backdrops, sometimes as full holograms.

The on-stage cast includes Michael Praed (if you’re a certain age, you will remember him as Robin of Sherwood) as the journalist, singing ‘The Eve of the War’ and ‘Forever Autumn’, the musical’s two big numbers.  You have David Essex, there for nostalgia’s sake as he was the original recording’s Artilleryman, voice not quite there anymore but appearing as the ‘Voice of Humanity’ with Chris Thompson’s shoes to fill in the Thunder Child number.

The Artilleryman in this production is Daniel Bedingfield, but he was off the afternoon we saw this and we enjoyed understudy Simon Shorten’s performance instead, especially in the staging of a rather Village People-ish ‘Brave New World’, with a troupe of lads and lasses stomping around with shovels and rhythmic steps.  There are leading ladies, too, with Madalena Alberto as Carrie (a much extended role from the original), and Sugababe Heidi Range in Julie Covington’s old role as the Parson’s wife, Beth.

And then there’s Jimmy Nail, as the Parson, and he overacts like crazy whole trying to sing the role the way the late lamented Phil Lynott did back then.  The singing is OK, but he needs to tone down his portrayal, especially in one of the two new superfluous songs, ‘Life Begins Again’, which takes a musical coda from the original recording and develops it into a bloated number which works about as well as the intrusion of a group of candle-holding children signalling to the alien craft in Act One.

There is a bit of CGI, and a real cylinder and Martian pod, and a bit of artfully choreographed red weed, and, of course, autumn leaves.  There are tongues of fire which shoot up as fireballs at alarming close quarters to the cast, and a bit too much smoke spilling over the edge of the stage.

But you can’t fault this on spectacle, and you can’t fault Wayne on his rockingly good creation.


Beautiful: The Carole King Musical (Aldwych Theatre)

The pop music written by teenagers Carole King and Gerry Goffin contribute heavily to the great American songbook as it applies to number 1 hit records, and here we are treated to a parade of them, alongside songs by another pair of talented Brill Building songwriters, Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil.

A cynic might question the prominence of such songs as ‘On Broadway’, ‘You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling’ and ‘We’ve Gotta Get Out of This Place’ when they have nothing strictly to do with King, but in shaping the story of her rise to fame from humble Jewish beginnings (with Diane Keen playing the archetypal ambitious Momma) through to bubblegum songwriting, difficult marriage, and eventual breakthrough as a solo performer, this show delivers.

We first meet ‘Carole’ on the stage of Carnegie Hall, where she is about to perform her Tapestry album.  On the night we saw the show, understudy Joanna Woodward was playing the lead, and despite a dodgy wig or two, she is very good indeed at both putting across the songs and the situations in which the songwriter finds herself.  Her lack of piano playing ability is well disguised (there’s a small but hardworking band in the pit to drive things along), and her delivery of ‘You Make Me Feel Like a Natural Woman’, to pick just one, is excellent.

The ensemble don’t disappoint either: Alan Morrissey as Goffin, weak with women but talented with words; tough cookie with the soft centre, Cynthia, played by Lorna Want; hypocondriac Barry, played by Ian McIntosh; and on the night we were there, understudy David O’Mahony as Don Kirshner.  Gavin Alex is an hilarious Neil Sedaka, and a powerfully voiced Bobby Hatfield (not Bill Medley, as the programme claims).  Matt Nalton has fun in a variety of roles, and ever-extending hair.  And The Drifters (as portrayed by Dom Hartley-Harris, Leo Ihenacho, Earl R Perkins, Jay Perry) put across the classic hits of the Rudy Lewis-led era with some style.

I love the music of this era, so could appreciate both the rough versions sung by ‘Carole and Gerry’ or ‘Cynthia and Barry’ just as much as the full versions depicting The Sherelles, The Chiffons (with the fictional Janelle on lead vocals).  There are inaccuracies here, from the idea that Carole’s first song sale at sixteen was ‘It Might As Well Rain Until September’, to Goffin’s affairs with ‘Janelle’ and ‘Marilyn’, to the very idea that it is so easy to write a song that it is done in one take (just as it was done in the Hollywood films about classical composers).

That being said, this is a very good show which manages to be both fun and an emotional powerhouse, with moments which will make you smile and others which might start a lump in the throat (the aforementioned ‘Natural Woman’).

 


Sunny Afternoon (Harold Pinter Theatre)

The Kinks were arguably the first band to play hard rock, and this show, loosely based on the true story of their rise to fame as told by lead singer Ray Davies, certainly delivers on the sound – at times it is ear-shatteringly loud, especially once the few teasing chords of ‘You Really Got Me’ turn into a full performance of the song.

sunny

Songs shoehorned into a story are only ever partially successful, which is probably why the big and loud numbers like ‘All Day And All Of The Night’, ‘Till The End of the Day’, and ‘Lola’ are presented in concert settings.  ‘Dead End Street’ is wittily repurposed to be sung by Ray and Dave’s dad, in their dingy flat, while ‘That Strange Effect’ (a favourite of the songs written by Ray Davies but best known for the version by Dave Berry) is used for an awkward love scene between ‘Ray’ and eventual first wife and Kinks back-up singer Rasa.  The two also have a trans-Atlantic duet over the ‘phone to ‘I Go To Sleep’ (best known these days for the version by a later girlfriend of Ray’s, Chrissie Hynde, with the Pretenders).

Performances are broadly good, with the central quartet of Danny Horn (Ray), Oliver Hoare (Dave), Tom Whitelock (Pete Quaife) and Damien Walsh (Mick Avory) evolving from gawky working-class louts to assured ‘followers of fashion’.  (Actually on the night we saw this, Walsh was replaced after the interval, by I think Alex Tosh, which was interesting in itself and proved that the cast was at least versatile in the face of change).  In supporting roles we have Jason Baughan as grasping publisher Eddie Kassner, Megan Leigh Mason (excellent) as Rasa, Charlie Tigh and Gabriel Vick as silly twit managers Grenville and Bobby, and Stephen Pallister in dual roles as Mr Davies and Allen Klein, their powerful late promoter.

It might be churlish to say that having closed the show, plot-wise, with ‘Waterloo Sunset’ and a curtain-call, we then switch to Madison Square Gardens for a performance of ‘Lola’ in which the audience is chivvied to its feet for a sneaky standing ovation, but there’s enough here to recommend this, if not at full-price, at least for any discount you can get during promotions.  We were in the front row of the dress circle, which was close up and high enough to give a good view of the moments which took place on the extended stage into the front stalls.

Amusing moment: ‘Dedicated Follower of Fashion’, where the band start to develop their sartorial style.  Moving moment: Ray and Dave’s duet ‘A Long Way From Home’ (the show closes in 1970 and so does not address the breakdown of the sibling relationship, or the decline of Ray and Rasa’s marriage).  The programme may be rather flowery about the Kinks’ back catalogue, but there is certainly enough here to give a flavour of their varied output.  Curiously, Edward Hall directs, and I still think of him as primarily a Shakespeare specialist.  On this evidence, he’s not bad with a musical hook either.


Oliviers in Concert (Royal Festival Hall)

One of the plus sides of living in London is access to a wide variety of music, theatre, cinema and other experiences.  So the last time we were at the Royal Festival Hall it was for a special concert to commemorate the 60th anniversary of Daniel Barenboim’s first appearance playing at the venue, with a wonderful pair of Brahms concertos played by the maestro, accompanied by the Simón Bolívar Symphony Orchestra of Venezuela, conducted by Gustavo Dudamel.

oliviers

I mention this to contrast with last night’s musical theatre extravaganza which was put together by Maria Friedman and Tim Jackson in order to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the Olivier Awards (formerly called the Society of West End Theatre awards).

The programme balanced standards from the musical repertoire (overtures from ‘Oklahoma’ and ‘Candide’, the snappy “You’re The Top” from ‘Anything Goes’, Clive Rowe’s show-stopping piece from ‘Guys and Dolls’: “Sit Down, You’re Rocking The Boat”) with items from the jukebox musicals ‘Beautiful’ (the title track), ‘Sunny Afternoon’ (“Waterloo Sunset”), and ‘Jersey Boys’ (a medley including “Sherry” and “Walk Like A Man”), by way of familiar modern pieces from ‘Phantom of the Opera’ (a lovely duet between former Raoul Michael Ball and sparky young Scarlett Strallen of “All I Ask Of You”), the title track of ‘Me and My Girl’, ‘Stars’ from ‘Les Miz’ (a decent if emotionless rendition by Ball) and five different pieces of Sondheim including two songs from perhaps his least accessible musical, ‘Sunday In the Park With George’, the fabulous “Our Time” from ‘Merrily We Roll Along’, which showcased the talents of the young Guildford School of Acting choir, and the highlight of the night for me, Maria Friedman’s “Losing My Mind” from ‘Follies’.

In a varied programme we also enjoyed Strallen’s perky “Ice Cream” from ‘She Loves Me’ (which is ripe for another revival), Friedman’s title song from Disney’s ‘Beauty and the Beast’ (not, as she told the listening radio audience, dressed as a teapot), and, showcasing the youngest of talents, “Quiet”, from ‘Matilda’, in which Lara McDonnell commanded the stage with effortless poise.  The ‘Me and My Girl’ duet gave Katie Brayben and John Dagleish a chance to show they could sing when they were not impersonating Carole King and Ray Davies respectively.   And I was happy to see Daniel Evans again performing the works of both wordsmiths, Cole Porter and Stephen Sondheim.

Lesley Manville performed the role of MC with charm and warmth, linking the numbers for both the audience in the Hall and the one at home.  And bringing back Petra Siniawski from the original cast of ‘A Chorus Line’ was a touching and effective opener.

I should also mention Elaine Paige, who came on in gold and glitter to try and bring back memories of her ‘Evita’.  It didn’t work for me, remembering when her voice was glorious when she was Eva and when she was Norma Desmond, but it seemed to be a crowd-pleaser.

A night of considerable polish, sparkle, and just a sprinkling of stardust.


Kinky Boots (Adelphi)

One of the best new musicals in years is currently playing at the Adelphi Theatre, where Killian Donnelly’s shoe baron reboots his failing family business with the help of the outrageous Lola (Matt  Henry), a raucous drag queen with a thing for red and sexy boots (‘The Sex is in the Heel’ being one of the showstopping songs).

Charlie (Donnelly) and Lola/Simon are both introduced in a powerhouse opening number (‘The Most Beautiful Thing in the World’), first as children, then as the young adults they have become – this works well, and Cyndi Lauper’s driving pop score sets the scene for a totally feel-good production.

Based on the popular film, itself loosely based on the real Northampton factory which sold fetish footwear successfully for some years, Harvey Fierstein’s book fleshes out the role of Lola, whose solo Act 2 number ‘Hold Me In Your Heart’ and duet with Charlie (‘I’m Not My Father’s Son’) are emotionally engaging.

The numbers with Lola and her Angels are dragtastic which secondary characters like Lauren and Don have their own chances to shine.  You’ll know from the start that Charlie’s engagement to materialistic Nicola is doomed, and that there will be an Act 2 showdown, but the ending is life-affirming and touching.

Matt Henry in particular is a revelation – but I liked Amy Lennox as man-mad Lauren, Jamie Baughan as macho Don, and Michael Dobbs as sensible factory man George.  Donnelly’s character arc is not that believable but that doesn’t matter too much.

A gloriously fun night in the theatre which I would love to see again.


Guys and Dolls (Savoy Theatre)

Another musical comes into the West End via the Chichester Festival, following the phenomenally successful ‘Gypsy’: this time Frank Loesser’s saga of New York gamblers and mission dolls, ‘Guys and Dolls’ which was first presented on the stage in 1950, with its inspiration from the stories of Damon Runyon, and characters like Harry the Horse, Society Max, and Liver Lips Louie.

Those of you familiar with the film version of 1955 might be confused at some score changes here – Miss Adelaide’s original first act number ‘A Bushel and a Peck’; Sky’s solo ‘My Time of Day’ which leads into his duet with Sarah, ‘I’ve Never Been In Love Before’ (replacing ‘A Woman in Love’, which is briefly heard as a background tune); Arveit’s solo ‘More I Cannot Wish You’ (with more than a hint of Harry Lauder in this version); and towards the end of act two, Adelaide and Sarah’s duet ‘Marry The Man Today’ (a fun song, but one I have always felt never belonged with the rest of the show).  You may also miss the song ‘Adelaide’ which was created to give Nathan Detroit a solo number in the film.

However, the score is sound and well-performed throughout – by the four leads (Jamie Parker as Sky Masterson, a real find who gives the gambler a real soft heart beyond the bravado – he’s no Brando, but he is different, and very good; Sophie Thompson as a terrific Miss Adelaide, all faded pizazz at the Hot Box and distraught love with the man who still hasn’t married her after fourteen years; David Haig as Nathan Detroit, who dispels memories of Sinatra with his genuinely seedy violet-suited crap game; and Siubhan Harrison as Sarah Brown, the Mission sergeant who gets tipsy and finds herself and her true love) and supporting players alike.

This is a bright, brash and fun show, which highlights some of the rough edges (what do the Hot Box girls really do for their male clientele?) as well as showcasing some seriously talented performances from people who may otherwise not find musical leads – Ian Hughes as Benny Southstreet, for example, or Gavin Spokes who rightly brought the house down with act two’s knockout ‘Sit Down, You’re Rocking the Boat’ (which included some scat singing for General Cartwright, played at the show we saw by understudy Genevieve Nicole).

I must also mention Peter McKintosh’s set design, Tim Mitchell’s clever lighting, and Carlos Acosta’s choreography.  Catch this in its brief London stop or on the continuation of its tour if you can.


I Want My Hat Back (National Theatre Shed)

A short but fun children’s show is currently in residence at the National Theatre’s temporary performance space, The Shed.

‘I Want My Hat Back’ is a musical play about a bear who has a nice red pointy hat, falls asleep, and has it stolen by a passing rabbit.  He asks passing animals, birds and insects if they have seen it, before figuring out the culprit, taking revenge, and then, in penance, giving his special possession away to a friendly caterpillar who blossoms into a beautiful golden butterfly.

Based on the book written and illustrated by Jon Klassen, this is both funny and dark (perhaps some of the plot might upset sensitive children, both those in the audience in the performance we saw were having a great time).  There is even the panto element of a ‘he’s behind you’ moment which is hilarious.

Joel Horwood and Arthur Darvill have contributed fun songs, and the small ensemble – Marek Larwood as Bear, Steven Webb as Rabbit, with Natalie Klamar, Naana Agyei-Ampadu, Oliver Birch, Pieter Lawman, Richie Hart and Adam Pleeth – have the humour and energy required for a show billed as ‘for children aged 3 to 300’.


Retraction Watch

Tracking retractions as a window into the scientific process

Loud Alien Noize

Revealing the True Origins of Silence

Pfeiffer Pfilms and Meg Movies

Blog titling at its best

Emily Baycroft

Currently a final year English student at the University of Cambridge. Producing Intern for Fuel Theatre July-October 2016. Aspiring Arts Administrator/Theatre Producer, blogging about my projects (mostly).

MTAS

West End Reviews | West End Challenges | Exclusive West End News

A Red Lip And A Nude Shoe

Dior Dreams On A Kmart Budget

is there room for me to sew?

Quilting, Reading and the Movies

The Case for Jeanette and Nelson

"Whaddya gonna do? I love her. I think she loves me." -Nelson Eddy on the Jack Parr Show, 1960

STARDUST AND SHADOWS

Opinions on Classic Hollywood , B Movies, Grindhouse, SF film , Classic Horror, Film Noir, Books, and related subjects by Canadian film guy TERRY SHERWOOD. (This site is not affiliated with author Charles Foster and his book Stardust and Shadows.)

The Wonderful World of Cinema

This blog is all about cinema, movies and stars of every decades. It's wonderful!

Movie classics

Thoughts on older movies, especially those from the 1930s to 1950s.

Hiss and Tell

Featuring Gryff, the angry diabetic cat, and the humans who serve him

TESSA BARRIE'S LOST BLOGS

LIFE'S TOO SHORT TO BE NICHE ...

[insert title here]

just one of many things i'm still trying to figure out

buchanblog

A trip down Memorex lane

The Phantom Frame

Information about the creative works of Gareth Preston

West End Blog

Bringing you independent, honest, experienced reviews of current theatre shows. We believe theatre is something truly magical and can be enjoyed by everyone.

Archive Television Musings

"To waste one second of one's life is a betrayal of one's self! I wonder what's on television?"

Retraction Watch

Tracking retractions as a window into the scientific process

Loud Alien Noize

Revealing the True Origins of Silence

Pfeiffer Pfilms and Meg Movies

Blog titling at its best

Emily Baycroft

Currently a final year English student at the University of Cambridge. Producing Intern for Fuel Theatre July-October 2016. Aspiring Arts Administrator/Theatre Producer, blogging about my projects (mostly).

MTAS

West End Reviews | West End Challenges | Exclusive West End News

A Red Lip And A Nude Shoe

Dior Dreams On A Kmart Budget

is there room for me to sew?

Quilting, Reading and the Movies

The Case for Jeanette and Nelson

"Whaddya gonna do? I love her. I think she loves me." -Nelson Eddy on the Jack Parr Show, 1960

STARDUST AND SHADOWS

Opinions on Classic Hollywood , B Movies, Grindhouse, SF film , Classic Horror, Film Noir, Books, and related subjects by Canadian film guy TERRY SHERWOOD. (This site is not affiliated with author Charles Foster and his book Stardust and Shadows.)

The Wonderful World of Cinema

This blog is all about cinema, movies and stars of every decades. It's wonderful!

Movie classics

Thoughts on older movies, especially those from the 1930s to 1950s.

Hiss and Tell

Featuring Gryff, the angry diabetic cat, and the humans who serve him

TESSA BARRIE'S LOST BLOGS

LIFE'S TOO SHORT TO BE NICHE ...

[insert title here]

just one of many things i'm still trying to figure out

buchanblog

A trip down Memorex lane

The Phantom Frame

Information about the creative works of Gareth Preston

West End Blog

Bringing you independent, honest, experienced reviews of current theatre shows. We believe theatre is something truly magical and can be enjoyed by everyone.

Archive Television Musings

"To waste one second of one's life is a betrayal of one's self! I wonder what's on television?"

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