Preview: Assassins, Menier Chocolate Factory

“Angry men don’t write the rules and guns don’t right the wrongs”

The season to be jolly is fast approaching but if the idea of Christmas cheer in the theatre leaves you, well, less than cheerful, then the Menier Chocolate Factory’s festive offering this year may well be up your street. The highly prolific director Jamie Lloyd is taking on Stephen Sondheim’s Assassins, which sees Sondheim’s music and lyrics coiled around John Weidman’s book exploring the men and women who tried (whether successfully or not) to assassinate a President of the United States.

It’s hardly the most Christmassy of shows and I think that is pretty much the point. And Sondheim’s enduring popularity (especially at this venue) makes it a safe bet even before the luxurious quality of the cast and company comes into the equation. I saw the first preview on Friday, my booking radar having gone a little awry as I was away when the tickets were released, so instead of reviewing the production, I’m offering you 10 things to look forward to and look out for and if I get to see the show later in the run, I’ll review it ‘properly’ then. Here be mild production spoilers (all hidden behind links).

Continue reading “Preview: Assassins, Menier Chocolate Factory”

Re-review: Sweeney Todd, Adelphi

“There’s no place like London”

Last year was undoubtedly a great one for Chichester Festival Theatre’s musicals – Singin’ in the Rain and Sweeney Todd both figured very highly in end of year lists and both were granted West End transfers after their sell-out runs. But there’s always a danger in revisiting shows one has loved, there’s no guarantee that the magic will be recaptured again especially in larger theatres. So I’ve currently avoided going back to Singin’ in the Rain in its new home in the Palace (though never say never) and hadn’t thought I’d go back to Sweeney Todd which has just started previews at the Adelphi. But when kindly offered a ticket, I couldn’t resist the opportunity to return to the Demon Barber of Fleet Street.

My original review can be read here and in many ways, much of what I said still stands. It’s a highly atmospheric, effective production of Sondheim’s classic revenge tale which lives on its luxury lead casting in a transformed Michael Ball as the titular Todd and an incandescent Imelda Staunton as Mrs Lovett. Staunton truly is epic here, thoroughly attuned to the comedy especially in the one-upmanship of ‘A Little Priest’ but also movingly desperate as her inclinations remain unfulfilled and she is possibly better here than in Chichester. Michael Ball didn’t quite live up to the memory of his performance, missing some of the necessary malevolence, though he still sings the part well. Continue reading “Re-review: Sweeney Todd, Adelphi”

CD Review: Evita 2006 London Cast Recording

 “Just a little touch of star quality” 

 
I haven’t done many reviews of soundtracks to shows since starting to cover CDs on here, focusing more new writing and solo albums from MT performers, but I don’t know why not as I listen to them just as much. The first I’ll cover will be the OLCR of the 2006 revival of Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd-Webber’s Evita, a production which revitalised this stalwart of a show in a way that I didn’t think possible and introduced me, and the rest of London’s theatregoers, to the glories of Argentinean star performer Elena Roger.

 The soundtrack, edited highlights rather than the full score, captures much of what made that production so vibrant so that it doesn’t really matter that we don’t have any of the striking visuals and choreography that accompanied this Latin American infused remounting. The orchestrations have been totally refreshed in line with this re-envisioning and with Roger’s singing leading the company, there’s just a greater sense of authenticity about the whole shebang. Continue reading “CD Review: Evita 2006 London Cast Recording”

Review: Sweeney Todd, Chichester Festival Theatre

“No denying times is hard sir, even harder than the worst pies in London”

This may surprise some people but Sondheim’s Sweeney Todd is actually the same age as me given that I have been 29 for the last 3 years! As one of the few not to receive a major production in London in his 80th birthday year, the 1979 show Sweeney Todd – The Demon Barber of Fleet Street now receives attention from Chichester Festival Theatre with an excellent revival that will surely end up in the West End in due course. Jonathan Kent’s production relocates Hugh Wheeler’s book to the 1930s, playing on the overtones of economic crisis and undertones of emotional fascism, whilst Sondheim’s classic music and lyrics create worlds of emotional intensity. The story centres on Benjamin Barker, a skilled barber falsely charged and sentenced to transportation to Australia by a corrupt judge. Fifteen years later he returns to discover he has lost his wife and child, and so reinvents himself as Sweeney Todd, searching out for ways to be avenged. A chance meeting with former landlady Mrs Lovett sees him set up shop again as a barber in the room above her pie shop and the unlikely pair find a mutually convenient business arrangement as Todd finds it impossible to control his murderous urges and Lovett is in desperate need of cheap fillings for her pies…

Imelda Staunton is ideal casting for Mrs Lovett: younger readers will certainly recognise her as Dolores Umbridge but may not be aware of her outstanding musical theatre credentials which formed a major part of her earlier career, including an Olivier award winning turn as the Baker’s Wife in Into the Woods, also by Sondheim. The comic business of the first half with her discovery of the first body and the later ‘A Little Priest’ is as good as you would dare hope it could be, but where she really excels is in the second half as she delves into the darker side of this woman. The desperation exposed by Todd’s lack of enthusiasm for her seaside dream cuts deep but then as her young charge edges ever closer to the truth of what is going on, the ugly truth rears its head with a frankly terrifying rendition of ‘Not While I’m Around’ – don’t make eye contact with her at the end of the song, it will scar you for life! And Michael Ball as the titular Demon Barber is also terrifically good, he’s undergone quite the makeover and is virtually unrecognisable, looking more like a brownshirt than anything. He captures the laconic cruelty and the glowering menace of a man shorn of his moral framework and his rich voice swoops around Sondheim’s score with consummate ease. Continue reading “Review: Sweeney Todd, Chichester Festival Theatre”

Review: Evita, Adelphi

I was adamant that I didn’t want to see this production of Evita for so long and I am not really sure why. But having announced its closure and with some good ticket deals floating around, I finally took the plunge and boy, was I wrong. Central to this revival of the 1978 Andrew Lloyd-Webber and Tim Rice collaboration was the casting of the Argentinean Elena Roger to take on the title role of this rags to riches story of the second wife of Argentinean president Juan Perón, Eva Duarte, whose controversial rise to power captured the hearts of some, thoroughly alienated others but ensured her a lasting legacy as one of the most colourful political leaders.

From the opening number, I could feel something exciting happening, a certain energy on the stage, which then exploded in a joyous version of ‘Buenos Aires’ filled with ecstatic singing, tight Latin-inspired choreography and I just loved it, I was ready for giving a standing ovation from then on! The incorporation of a real Latin American feel into both the music and choreography gives the show a real injection of authenticity which lifts it into the stratosphere. Continue reading “Review: Evita, Adelphi”