Re-review: Follies 2019, National Theatre

Follies 2019 remains the show that I need right now

“I’m so glad I came”

Just a quickie for this revisit to Follies, which remains as perfect a piece of musical theatre as I could hope for. I loved it then but I really love it now, Joanna Riding is just heartbreakingly perfect as Sally, she really brings something to the role that somehow eluded Imelda Staunton (for me at least), Alexander Hanson is superb in tracing Ben’s tragic fall, and Janie Dee and Peter Forbes maintain their stellar work as Phyllis and Buddy (seriously, Dee is a proper showstopper).

And as is surely appropriate in Dominic Cooke’s production, ghosts of the past interplay with what we’re seeing from top to bottom. It was great to see Dame Felicity Lott as Heidi, a different but no less affecting proposition than Dame Josephine Barstow (there truly ain’t nothing like a…). And the young talents of Gemma Sutton, Ian McIntosh, Harry Hepple and Christine Tucker are eloquently elegant as the younger incarnations of the central quartet. Continue reading “Re-review: Follies 2019, National Theatre”

Review: Follies 2019, National Theatre

The Olivier Award-winning Follies returns to the National Theatre in richer, deeper, more resonant form and just blows me away

“It’s the cat’s pyjamas”

Like the ghosts of their younger selves that haunt the characters in Follies so beautifully in this production, for those who were lucky enough to catch its superlative Olivier Award-winning 2017 run, so too do our memories interplay with what we’re seeing, inducing some soul-shiveringly exceptional moments that are almost metatheatrical in the feelings they provoke. 

The tingle of anticipation is never far away but the show somehow feels richer, deeper, more resonant in the note of melancholy it strikes as it exposes nostalgia for the rose-tinted self-delusion it so often becomes. Janie Dee’s Phyllis somehow feels more desolate, especially in her bitterly brilliant ‘Could I Leave You’; Tracie Bennett scorches the roof once more in ‘I’m Still Here’ in what feels like a more internal performance now; we’re all at least a year older… Continue reading “Review: Follies 2019, National Theatre”

Re-review: 42nd Street, Theatre Royal Drury Lane

42nd Street is signing off at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane in quite some style as a perfectly-cast Bonnie Langford joins the company

“Musical comedy – the most glorious words in the English language”

I liked 42nd Street when I saw it last year but I can’t say that I truly loved it, it felt a 24 carat production of a gold-plate show. But upon revisiting, to celebrate Bonnie Langford’s arrival in the company for its final furlong before closing in the New Year, some kind of magic seems to have happened at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane (or maybe I was just less grumpy tonight!) as it has now matured into something spectacular.

The only major difference is Langford’s presence as Dorothy Brock, but there’s just something about her that shimmers with star quality and it is contagious. So even as she’s trying to dampen it down a bit as this particular fading star, her comic timing makes her scenes crackle with electricity, her singing is on point and she’s just a dream to watch. It’s a perfect role for her – who needs stunt casting when you have the right casting? And as for her surprise appearance in the finale? SWOON!

I also felt Clare Halse has really settled into the role of Peggy Sawyer. It’s a curious role in that she grows to become the leading lady of this musical as the understudy-come-good, but is given precious little time in which to do so and most of that is taken up with dance. Such amazing dance though, she really is effortless in her every graceful move, and she’s acting more through every movement too as her self-belief slowly blooms into the incandescent life of the finale.    Continue reading “Re-review: 42nd Street, Theatre Royal Drury Lane”

Review: An American in Paris, Dominion

“Who could ask for anything more”

True to its name, An American in Paris premiered in 2014 at the Théâtre du Châtelet in the French capital to ecstatic reviews before transferring to the Palace Theatre on Broadway for another well-received (and Tony-winning) run there. It now rocks up at the newly refurbished Dominion Theatre, just ahead of another huge dance-heavy Broadway musical in 42nd Street, producers clearly banking on audiences wanting distraction from the realities of the outside world.

And that it certainly provides – director and choreographer Christopher Wheeldon’s reinvention of the 1951 film (new book by Craig Lucas) is an absolute feast for the eyes and ears. George and Ira Gershwin’s score is beyond classic (‘I Got Rhythm’, ”S Wonderful’, ‘They Can’t Take That Away from Me’ et al) and sounds luscious in Rob Fisher’s new arrangements musically directed by John Rigby, and Bob Crowley’s set and costumes look divine in all their old-school charm. Continue reading “Review: An American in Paris, Dominion”

Review: 42nd Street, Théâtre du Châtelet

“Musical comedy — the most glorious words in the English language!”

It may be in the English language but this production of 42nd Street is in a French theatre, the glorious Théâtre du Châtelet in Paris which, under Jean-Luc Choplin’s artistic directorship, has arguably entirely reshaped the Parisian relationship with musical theatre. He’s brought Sondheim there for the first time in a big way (Sunday in the Park with George, Into the Woods) and has staged a number of classic Broadway musicals like An American in Paris (soon to open in London after its New York transfer) and last year’s Singin’ in the Rain.
42nd Street actually marks Choplin’s final show here, as the theatre will soon shutter for a couple of years to undergo major renovations, and Stephen Mear’s production certainly has the visual flair of a fitting finale. With a company of over 40, the tap-dancing routines are a absolute vision, a joyously heart-swelling parade of well-drilled precision, the likes of which we see so rarely these days even in the biggest shows. Combined with dazzling visual effects and gorgeous costumes courtesy of Peter McKintosh, the lavish aesthetic is an absolute treat.
But there’s no hiding from the fact that Michael Stewart and Mark Bramble’s book, from Bradford Ropes’ novel, is paper thin, lacking real humour or grit in its script or any real sophistication in its plotting. Set during the Depression, director Julian Marsh is launching his new show Pretty Lady and when his leading lady breaks her ankle just before opening night, will inexperienced chorus girl Peggy be able to step in and save the day? It’s all rather hackneyed and lacking in any kind of suspense, more of a problem than one might expect with a classic.
Played entirely straight as it is here, 42nd Street just lacks a certain je ne sais quoi. An ironic edge might bring some humour, more earnestness might bring it real heart (although that’s questionable) and so it never catches fire as often as one feels it might. Monique Young’s Peggy sings and dances well without blossoming into the star she needs to be, Ria Jones and Alexander Hanson both play it a little too safe with their stagey characters, only Dan Burton of the leads really lives up to the star billing and Jennie Dale’s writer is a rare supporting character who stands out.
Musical director Gareth Valentine ensures his orchestra sound never less than superlative and even if you’re not buying the story, then the visual impact of Mears and McKintosh’s work is always on hand to bring the wow factor. With London getting its own production of the show next year though, directed by Bramble no less, I’d struggle to recommend making a trip especially to see this particular version, even with choreography delivered as well as this.

Running time: 2 hours 30 minutes (with interval)
Photo: Marie-Noelle Robert 
Booking until 8th January

Review: Miss Atomic Bomb, St James

“That’s just the fallout people”

Atomic bombs derive their destructive power from nuclear fission, when atoms split after being bombarded with other particles, and there’s a certain sense of random elements being thrown together in Miss Atomic Bomb, in the hope of reaching some kind of critical mass. Comedy gangsters, tap-dancing routines, comedy bank managers, dead sheep, comedy zucchini, pigs in clothes, comedy transvestites, hoedowns, comedy rabbi costumes, a Strallen and a character with a ridiculous surname because you can get a song out of it. Put them altogether and what do you get? A show that’s either a bomb or a blast.

Full disclosure, I saw a preview and I’m given to believe that a lot of work has happened to the show in the last couple of days, which is only natural for a new musical. For me though, the show feels fundamentally flawed in really not knowing what it wants to be. Writers Adam Long, Gabriel Vick and Alex Jackson-Long throw together satire and slapstick uneasily as a desperate Las Vegas hotel manager arranges the Miss Atomic Bomb beauty pageant to drum up tourist trade as the US military test their atomic arsenal in the Nevada desert. Continue reading “Review: Miss Atomic Bomb, St James”

Review: Top Hat, Aldwych

“You’ll declare it’s simply topping to be there”

On the face of it, Top Hat should have been a rip-roaring extravaganza of a show that tapped and waltzed and strutted its way right into my affections, featuring some of my favourite things like a healthy selection of classic songs from the Irving Berlin back catalogue and the kind of choreography from Bill Deamer that genuinely makes me wonder if it isn’t too late to find my inner Billy Elliot (don’t worry, I know it is…). But at this Tuesday matinée, I found it was particularly topping to be there and I was sadly left a little underwhelmed by the whole shebang.

It seems perverse to comment on the plot of a musical being far-fetched, especially one based on an old-school Broadway film as this is, but the book here – adapted by director Matthew White and Howard Jacques – is criminally lame. The story is a whole lot of silliness, which is fine – girl complains about guy dancing in the room above her, guy flirts with girl, girl gets cold feet when she think s guy is married to her best friend. Oh, and the guy is a leading Broadway star about to open a show. Where the problem lies is in the incredibly dated humour, which one can just about explain away as a period piece, but which just sags and droops with lame joke after overblown stereotype which was lapped up all too easily by this audience, of whom I was the youngest member by quite some margin.  Continue reading “Review: Top Hat, Aldwych”