Review: Caroline or Change, Playhouse Theatre

The extraordinary Caroline or Change makes the leap into the West End at the Playhouse Theatre, with a titanic Sharon D Clarke at the helm

“The Devil made the dryer.
Everything else, God made”

For the assiduous theatregoer, this is the third opportunity to catch this stirring Chichester Festival Theatre production of Caroline or Change. From its original run at the Minerva last year to the Hampstead Theatre this spring, this idiosyncratic musical now arrives in the West End in the relative intimacy of the Playhouse Theatre.

And it is an intimacy that is needed to draw you into the true shape of Michael Longhurst’s production – to be confronted with that Confederate statue, the sweltering isolation of that basement, the knots of tension on furrowed brows. The winds of change may be starting to blow across the US of the early 1960s but here in this Louisiana household, societal change has yet to filter down to the individual.  Continue reading “Review: Caroline or Change, Playhouse Theatre”

Review: Caroline, or Change, Hampstead

With the magnificent Sharon D Clarke at the helm, Caroline, or Change transfers to the Hampstead Theatre London with all its power intact

“Dressed in white and feelin’ low,
talkin’ to the washer and the radio”

Tony Kushner and Jeanine Tesori’s complex and challenging civil rights musical Caroline, or Change makes its long-awaited London return to the Hampstead theatre, more than a decade after its well-received National Theatre production took the Olivier for Best New Musical but found no further life.

Michael Longhurst’s production was first seen in Chichester last May (here’s my review) and whilst it is a shame that that original cast aren’t all present here (the glorious Nicola Hughes, Gloria Onitiri, Jennifer Saayeng all now elsewhere), it holds on to the titanic talents of Sharon D Clarke as Caroline Thibideaux. Continue reading “Review: Caroline, or Change, Hampstead”

Album Review: Cabaret (2006 London Cast Recording)

“No use permitting some prophet of doom”

Cabaret is a show which has had many a revival and many a cast recording made from those productions but it is Rufus Norris’ 2006 interpretation that seems to have lingered the longest, a new touring version starring Louise Redknapp and Will Young starts at the New Wimbledon in late September, one of many such revivals of this revival (I caught it in the West End in 2012 and the 2013 tour). And just to be clear, my comments are UK-based, for it is Mendes’ 1993 production that was most recently revived in the US (which I saw with Emma Stone at Studio 54).

And I have to say I love this particular cast recording – the sharpness of David Steadman’s musical direction is captured brightly and well on the record, and the performances sound pointed and fresh, a real testament to the recording process here. It’s a strong cast to be sure, led by the canny decision to cast Anna Maxwell Martin in the lead role of Sally Bowles. By no means a predictable choice, the decision to go for a shit-hot actress who can really focus on the character elevates the role entirely from all Liza Minnelli-based connotations and its notions that the role should be belted. Continue reading “Album Review: Cabaret (2006 London Cast Recording)”

Review: A Little Night Music, Watermill

“It’s but a pleasurable means
To a measurable end”

Sondheim’s reputation as one of our finest living composers rests not only on the delicious complexity of his music but also on the superlative performances that it draws from actors who must delve extraordinarily deep to rise to its challenges. Not every performer is able to ascend these heady heights but it gives me enormous pleasure to report that Josefina Gabrielle delivers one of those utterly transcendent moments with a nigh-on perfect interpretation of Desiree Armfeldt at the Watermill. 

As a once-famed actress not quite getting the gigs she believes she should, she presents the facade of ‘The Glamourous Life’ beautifully – a touch self-deprecating, two touches self-assured, she knows how to rule a room. But try as she might, she can’t always rule the hearts of others as evinced in the bittersweet ‘Send In The Clowns’ which is made to feel brand new here, Gabrielle finding fresh textures and feeling (the startled emotion of ‘I thought that you’d want what I want’ seems to surprise even her) to completely and utterly break the heart (the song’s final line has never been delivered more affectingly, and I’m including the Dench in there!). 

Given the name of this blog, it should come as little surprise that I find it hard to resist productions of A Little Night Music, even when they’re in deepest Berkshire. But Paul Foster is a director I admire and actor-musician productions are often superb in their ingenuity. And so it proves here, Sarah Travis’ arrangements for this company of 13 (playing piccolos to double basses) are meticulously done, losing none of the music’s majesty even as it is considerably reconfigured in some parts. Continue reading “Review: A Little Night Music, Watermill”

Review: She Loves Me, Menier

“It’s high time, time that I awoke”

The Menier’s festive musical is always to look forward to and this year’s is no exception – a revival of the classic She Loves Me, based on Miklós László’s play Parfumerie which has been remade more than once as films The Shop Around The Corner, In The Good Old Summertime, and You’ve Got Mail. Recently seen on Broadway in a superlative rendition that was the first ever show to be live-streamed there, Joe Masterhoff’s book pits warring Budapest shop employees Georg Nowack and Amalia Balash against each other, little knowing that they are corresponding anonymously through a lonely hearts column – will they get together in the end? What do you think?

Matthew White’s production is as pretty as a picture, as a music box in fact, Paul Farnsworth’s luxe design emerging as an exceptional piece of work, using four mini revolves to great effect – the shop’s interior looks particularly stunning. And blessed with such cachet, and the strong possibility of a West End transfer, the venue once again attracts a top-notch cast. Mark Umbers and Scarlet Strallen alternately spar and swoon as the main lovers, real life couple Dominic Tighe and Katherine Kingsley play fellow amorous employees Ilona and Kodaly, even relatively minor roles like Ladislav get the likes of Alastair Brookshaw playing them. Continue reading “Review: She Loves Me, Menier”

Review: Sweeney Todd, London Coliseum

“At the top of the hole sit the privileged few”

And it is mostly the privileged few who’ll get to see this lavish English National Opera production of Sondheim’s oft-revived Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street as stalls seats will set you back an eye-watering £95, £125 or £155. Somewhat cheaper seats are available from the upper circle upwards but still…* Lonny Price’s semi-staged production (with its nifty fake-out of a beginning) was first seen in New York in March 2014 but unsurprisingly, given it featured Emma Thompson and Bryn Terfel as Mrs Lovett and the demon barber himself, it declared “there’s no place like London” and has now taken up residence in the Coliseum alongside a cast of nearly 40 musical theatre veterans (and Thompson’s daughter) and a lush-sounding  orchestra of 60.

Thompson and Terfel may be the headline names but the real pleasure comes in the luxury casting that surrounds them. Philip Quast and John Owen-Jones bring a richness of vocal to Judge Turpin and Pirelli respectively, Alex Gaumond and Jack North both mine effectively Dickensian depths to Beadle and Toby and there’s something glorious about having the marvellous Rosalie Craig here, even in so relatively minor a role as the Beggar Woman as her quality shines through despite that wig. Matthew Seadon-Young and Katie Hall as Anthony and Johanna are both really impressive too, their voices marrying beautifully as they respond intuitively to the textures of David Charles Obell’s orchestra. Continue reading “Review: Sweeney Todd, London Coliseum”

Review: The Grand Tour, Finborough

“I think, I think…”

Jerry Herman’s The Grand Tour flopped on Broadway which explains a little of why it has taken 36 years for it to make its premiere in Europe. Another reason is the strange tone of Michael Stewart and Mark Bramble’s book, based on a play by SN Behrman, which plots an odd couple roadtrip and ensuing love triangle against the Nazi occupation of France in 1940. Polish compatriots Jewish intellectual SL Jacobowsky and Catholic aristocrat Colonel Stjerbinsky reluctantly join forces in Paris to make their escape, picking up the Colonel’s French lover Marianne on the way, and ending up in all sorts of jolly japes and adventures which are more Boy’s Own than Wilfred Owen.

Director Thom Southerland has great form with musical revivals though and aspects of his work here are superb. Phil Lindley’s approach to designing this show should be studied by all aspiring designers as an inspired way of dealing with the intimacy of a space such as the Finborough. His European map-featuring set unfolds multipally like the pages of a pop-up book to take us from the front seat of a car to the heights of a high-wire, the stillness of a church and the bracing winds of a harbour amongst many other locations, and it does so with real elegance. I’d only question why Belgium appears to have been erased from the map and given how much Saint-Nazaire is referred to in the show, whether that might have been added too. Continue reading “Review: The Grand Tour, Finborough”

Review: De Profundis, Leicester Square Theatre

“Hang the night with stars so that I may wait abroad in the darkness without stumbling”

It is rather pleasing to see that the winner of a new musical theatre prize – inspiringly named the New Musical Project – is something that tests the boundaries of what we conventionally see labelled as musicals and hopefully will inspire others to consider more adventurous work. The winner of the inaugural prize was De Profundis, Paul Dale Vickers’ adaptation of the letter written by Oscar Wilde from his prison cell in Reading jail to his lover Lord Alfred Douglas, the man who helped to put him there.

As such, it forms a musical monologue, just shy of an hour as Wilde recounts the state of affairs that has led him here, the hurts inflicted on him by Bosie, Bosie’s father and an unflinchingly moralistic society that has broken up his own family. But he also speaks of the power of love, and with typically philosophical élan, even forgiveness as he explores the more spiritual dimension of the punishment he has been forced to endure. It would certainly help to know a little of the circumstances in advance but this is powerful material regardless.

Continue reading “Review: De Profundis, Leicester Square Theatre”

Review: Molly Wobbly, Phoenix Artists Club,

“My dreams are as dead as this romance is”

Molly Wobbly’s Tit Factory was originally scheduled to receive a full production at the Hackney Empire last year but a last minute financial crisis saw it cancelled. Now trimmed down to Molly Wobbly and slimmed down to a staged concert, it has resurfaced at the Phoenix Artists Club, with some of the cast returning together with some newcomers, to give Paul Boyd’s musical another chance at airing in London.

And it has to be said that the intimate venue feels a much better fit than the Empire would ever have been. The show clearly has visions of cult status, its bizarrely eccentric book incorporating boob jokes aplenty, cross-dressing angels and tales of sexual deviancy alongside the marital trials of three couples who live on Mammary Lane whose lives are changed with the arrival of a mysterious lime-green-haired stranger bearing a vial of orange potion. Continue reading “Review: Molly Wobbly, Phoenix Artists Club,”

Review: Carnival of the Animals, Riverside Studios

“C’est parfait!”

Little is it known that Paris actually has 21 districts. And that in the 21e arrondisement, humans and animals live side by side. And that in that corner of Paris, they put on a show every day – the Carnival of the Animals. But the animals are tired, they’ve lost their enthusiasm for the theatre, their star turn has gone missing and they can’t stop arguing. It is only when a chimpanzee, a zebra, a parrot and a lioness arrive breathlessly in the square, determined to join the carnival, that they decide to carry on, but the newcomers are hiding a secret. And watching over all of them is neighbourly dress-shop owner Mademoiselle Parfait, who despite her friendly demeanour perhaps isn’t quite all she seems either.

Inspired by Saint-Saëns’ musical opus of the same name, this Carnival of the Animals maintains a similar family friendly ambience to create a really rather charming piece of musical theatre. Andrew Marshall’s book weaves a likeable story about finding one’s own self-worth and appreciating others’ differences in with the slightly darker sub-plot – nothing too sinister, think pantomime villainry – and the whole thing is peppered with a bunch of amiable songs from composer Gavin Greenaway and lyricist Roger Hyams. Continue reading “Review: Carnival of the Animals, Riverside Studios”