Review: Follies in Concert, Royal Albert Hall

“Flawless charmers
Every one”

An early birthday from my Aunty Jean saw me get to revisit those wonderfully swiveling seats at the Royal Albert Hall for the matinée of Follies in Concert, a semi-staged version of the Sondheim show directed by Craig Revel-Horwood for just two performances with an all-star cast, featuring none other than Diane Lockhart herself, Christine Baranski. Having never seen the show before, I have nothing to compare it too but after hearing the score played by the City of London Philharmonic Orchestra and conducted by the inimitable Gareth Valentine, I suspect I may never need to hear another version! 

The set-up of a reunion concert for an old theatrical troupe as per James Goldman’s book works wonders for the show and especially this production. There seemed to be real joy and appreciation amongst the company as they watched their colleagues each take their turn to reprise their former glories – Anita Harris and Roy Hudd’s light-hearted skip through ‘Rain on the Roof’, Stefanie Powers’ glamorous swish through ‘Ah, Paris!’, Lorna Luft’s quirky take on ’Broadway Baby’, Betty Buckley raising the roof with a soaring ‘I’m Still Here’ – whether the onlookers were acting or not, seeing them give each turn hugs, kisses and standing ovations felt real. Continue reading “Review: Follies in Concert, Royal Albert Hall”

Review: Happy Days the musical, Churchill Bromley

“Sock hops, soda pops, going to the malt shop”

“Sunday Monday Happy Days…” It is 40 years since ‘50s-set sitcom Happy Days started on US television screens and rose to iconic status, not least because of the creation of one of TV’s most enduring characters in The Fonz. And though it is 30 years since it came off air, a stage musical based on the show is hoping to capitalise on its retro appeal and all-American charms, with a considerable UK tour kicking off here at the Churchill Bromley.

With a book by original creator Garry Marshall and music and lyrics by Paul Williams, the show’s pedigree is beyond question, not least in the presence of Henry Winkler, the Fonz himself as a creative consultant. And in reintroducing the world of Arnold’s diner, the chirpy high-school kids that go there and the mom and pop tolerance of their hi-jinks, the show certainly succeeds in the fold-out resourcefulness of Tom Roger’s set and period-bright costume design. Continue reading “Review: Happy Days the musical, Churchill Bromley”

Review: 9 to 5 The Musical, New Wimbledon Theatre

“It’s enough to drive you crazy if you let it”

With a score that incorporates both songs from her back catalogue and newly penned numbers by Dolly Parton and a book from Patricia Resnick, one of the co-writers of the film on which it based which also featured Parton’s screen debut, there was little danger of 9 to 5 The Musical ever veering too far from the template which saw it become a cinematic success. But though its crowd-pleasing adherence to the film brings a definite feel-good factor, which is best characterised by the effervescent opening rendition of the title song, it also imposes limits on just how successful a piece of musical theatre it can be.  

It’s 1979 and the office of Consolidated Companies, typical of most workplaces at the time, is a bearpit for the female of the species. But the tide is changing and as three women in this particular environment come together in the face of sexist adversity and an inadvertent deployment of some rat poison, an alternative way of running the company springs to mind and suggests that the future might not be so grim after all.  Continue reading “Review: 9 to 5 The Musical, New Wimbledon Theatre”

Review: Cinderella, Hackney Empire

“He wanted a fairytale romance – it ended up Grimm”

Last year was the first time that I re-engaged with the world of pantomime since being a kid and despite having heard many good things about the Hackney Empire panto over the past few years, in particular Clive Rowe’s various dames, I didn’t get there. And sod’s law dictates that as I booked for Cinderella – this year’s effort – Mr Rowe engaged himself in a production of The Ladykillers which is now previewing at the Gielgud. But you don’t miss what you never had and in any case, my history with pantomimes at the Hackney Empire actually stretches back to 19?? and one of my first genuine memories of being in a theatre with Peter Duncan playing Aladdin and clambering all over me and my cousins as he climbed through the audience as part of the show. So it was actually a fascinating opportunity to revisit a little piece of personal history as well as marking the beginning of my festive theatregoing season.

Writer/director Susie McKenna has refreshed the familiar tale of Cinderella to contemporise it for modern audiences, yet still maintaining much of the traditional feel of a pantomime that really is suitable for all ages. So we have all the familiar characters: a pair of hilarious pantomime dames as the Ugly Sisters – Tony Whittle and Kat B as Queeniqua and Victiqua respectively, a fairy-godmother who speaks in rhyme – Sophie Louise Dann in charming form and the children’s TV presenter affability of Matt Dempsey’s Buttons with his horse Clapton (complete with special song). The writing has lots of nice little local references that make it a nicely Hackney-located show and up-to-date references but not obtrusively so, there’s also the sweet-throwing out, audience shout-outs and a little onstage participation for one ‘lucky’ fellow that we’ve come to expect. Continue reading “Review: Cinderella, Hackney Empire”