Album Review: Pal Joey (Highlights from Original 1980 London Cast)

“I’ll plant you now, dig you later”

Rodgers and Hart musical Pal Joey hasn’t had a major London production since this 1980 revival at the Albery (now the Noël Coward) and on the evidence of this selection of highlights from that production, it’s not terribly difficult to see why it might not seem the most likely target for revitalisation. It has a very old-fashioned heart, not a problem in and of itself especially when that includes songs like ‘Bewitched Bothered and Bewildered’ but the bigger problem is the style of orchestration which has a somewhat tinny sound, possibly just a legacy of its early 80s genesis.

It’s hard to truly warm to Denis Lawson’s performance as the title character though, a very expansive and swaggering vocal that feels rather forced – the accent doesn’t work for me – and thus a crucial part in the success of the show falling flat from the off. Siân Phillips is much more effective as Vera, her gravelly voice always touching to listen to as she puts infuses acres of heart into her character but I do wonder how much not knowing the show affects my judgement in both these cases (Joey seems an unlikeable sort, and I’ve long loved Phillips anyway).

Still, it was worth the 50p from the charity shop that it cost me!

Review: Burlesque, Jermyn Street

“What are you going to do, tap dance me to death?”

Burlesque is a new musical with book and lyrics written by Adam Meggido and Roy Smiles and music by Meggido as well. Adam Meggido might well be a recognisable face as he is part of the Showstopper! ensemble, a team that improvise a new musical from scratch every night, but he finally decided to write one down and over several years, Burlesque has developed into its current format at the Jermyn Street Theatre where it now has its world premiere. Set in 1952 America, it looks at how the culture of fear encouraged by McCarthy’s anti-Communist witch-hunts impacted on the lives of a set of performers in a burlesque show.

At the heart of the story is Johnny Reno, a comic trying to keep his head down after being black-listed due to his father’s connections and his unwillingness to co-operate with the FBI. His girlfriend, one of the dancers, has just announced she’s pregnant, his comedy partner Rags is hitting the bottle way too hard and the lusty theatre owner Freddie is struggling to find financial backers whilst being distracted by one of his new recruits. With the pressure on him increasing on all sides in an increasingly paranoid society, Johnny is forced to decide what, and who, is most important to him. Continue reading “Review: Burlesque, Jermyn Street”

Review: Bernarda Alba, Union Theatre

“Where will you turn when the house of Bernarda falls”

After establishing quite the name for itself with its all-male interpretations of Gilbert and Sullivan’s work, the Union Theatre are now letting the women have their turn with Triptic’s production of Michael John LaChiusa’s chamber musical Bernarda Alba. Based on García Lorca‘s The House of Bernarda Alba set in 1930s Spain, this condensed version – directed by Katherine Hare in 90 minutes without interval – captures the claustrophobia and the knife’s-edge balance of this group of women with a score replete with Iberian influences and near-operatic intensity.

Following the death of her husband, Bernarda Alba rises to the position of head of her household of five daughters and team of female servants but her strict matriarchal rule is challenged by the arrival of a man – unseen – into their lives. In Hilary Statt’s wonderfully austere, white-washed design, we explore the repressed desires of each of these women, all bristling in their different ways under the harshness of their mother’s rule as old resentments simmer, sexuality promises to burst loose and mental fragility seriously threatened in this tale of “a happy, happy family”. Continue reading “Review: Bernarda Alba, Union Theatre”