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”

Album reviews: Working / Bat out of Hell / 42nd Street

A trio of West End cast recordings (well, one’s off-West-End…) show that it is sometimes hard to recapture the stage magic 

© Robert Workman

Starting off with the best of this bunch, the Southwark Playhouse’s production of Working might not have seemed like the obvious choice for a cast recording but maybe the lure of a couple of new Lin-Manuel Miranda tracks was a real sweetener.

Truth is, it is the quality of the cast’s performances that make this a fantastic addition to the list of albums you need to hear. From Siubhan Harrison’s impassioned ‘Millwork’ to Dean Chisnall’s gleeful ‘Brother Trucker’, and the highly charismatic Liam Tamne nails both of Miranda’s contributions – the wilful ‘Delivery’ and a corking duet (with Harrison) on ‘A Very Good Day’.

Experience pays though, as Gillian Bevan and Peter Polycarpou take the honours with some scintillating work. The latter’s ‘Joe’ is beautifully judged, as is the former’s ‘Nobody Tells Me How’, both demonstrating the uncertainty that can come at the end of a long career, when retirement doesn’t necessarily hold the joyful promise it once did. Highly recommended.  Continue reading “Album reviews: Working / Bat out of Hell / 42nd Street”

Review: 42nd Street, Theatre Royal Drury Lane

“You’re going out a youngster, but you’ve got to come back a star”

In the rush to dole out the five star reviews that seem de rigueur for any big musical these days (22 for An American in Paris so their new poster shouts proudly), there appears to be a willingness to overlook storytelling for spectacle. As at the Dominion, the newly opened 42nd Street is a massive dance show which is undoubtedly hugely, well, spectacular. And it also suffers from not being particularly dramatically interesting, Michael Stewart and Mark Bramble’s book contains hardly any dramatic tension at all – will the show-within-the-show be alright on the night? What do you think?!

I start with this line of thought because as much as I was impressed by 42nd Street, it rarely moved me in the way that Golden Age musical theatre (my favourite genre of all, surprising no-one) at its best does. Based on a novel from the 1930s, the book here – as directed by Bramble – sacrifices any hint of suspense or meaningful character development for the headlong rush from production number to production number. And it just about gets away with it due to the sheer scale of what is being mounted here. 40+ bodies tap-dancing in unison in bucket-loads of sequins – bawdy and gaudy indeed.

Continue reading “Review: 42nd Street, Theatre Royal Drury Lane”

Preview – 42 reasons to see 42nd Street

“Where the underworld can meet the elite…
Naughty
Bawdy
Gaudy
Sporty
Forty-Second Street!”

I was lucky enough to be invited to the first preview of 42nd Street at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane and whilst any official opinions about the show are under embargo until press night, I thought I’d give you all some hints and teasers and a little sneak preview (assisted by these beautiful photographs courtesy of Brinkhoff & Moegenburg) through these 42 reasons to see 42nd Street. 


1 Where else are you going to see a cast of over 50?
2 Just look at them Continue reading “Preview – 42 reasons to see 42nd Street”

Review: Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, Open Air Theatre

“Secretly they was overjoyed”

Rachel Kavanaugh’s glorious take on The Sound of Music two years ago for the Open Air Theatre in Regent’s Park was a wonderful thing indeed so it is little surprise to see her welcomed back to this venue to tackle another Golden Age classic, this time Seven Brides for Seven Brothers. It’s a canny decision as her familiarity with the space shows, utterly unafraid to use its full width and depth for unexpected arrivals, slow reveals and thrilling chase sequences and of course, the coup de théâtre that is the pinnacle of Peter McKintosh’s design which is a real piece of old-fashioned theatre magic.

Kavanaugh also makes small but pointed attempts to address the dubious gender politics of the show, without ever sacrificing the spirit of fun that should always characterise such classic musical theatre. So from the first moment Adam and Milly clap eyes on each other, there’s no doubting that the erotic charge between them is mutual, her lustful glances perhaps even more overt than his. And the strength of Laura Pitt-Pulford’s performance is that she never lets us forget she’s a woman making her own choices, even if its just making the best of a bad lot. It’s not a perfect reconciliation of the issues but it feels enough for her, for now. Continue reading “Review: Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, Open Air Theatre”

Review: Cats, Palladium

“These modern productions are all very well…”

Taking your seat in the Palladium to see the musical theatre behemoth that is Cats – now 33 years old and receiving a 12 week revival here in one of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s own theatres – is an act of strangely calculated nostalgia. Famed for being one of the longest-running shows both on Broadway and the West End, its feline frolics remain entirely evocative of the 80s and as it reunites the original creative team – director Trevor Nunn, choreographer Gillian Lynne, designer John Napier – that should come as little surprise.
 

For those unfamiliar with the show, it was actually a feat of some daring. A through-sung, through-danced piece with no real narrative, save that taken from T.S.Eliot’s book of whimsical poetry, Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats. In essence, we meet the key characters of a tribe of cats who have gathered in a junkyard for a special night where one of them will be selected to be reborn into a new life in cat Heaven (or more accurately, be part of a rather dodgy bit of stagecraft, almost as naff as those cats’ eyes at the beginning).

Continue reading “Review: Cats, Palladium”

DVD Review: Mrs Henderson Presents

 “I’m bored with widowhood”

As the aristocratic Lady Conway, Thelma Barlow’s amusing run through the options open to a rich widow of nearly 70 sets up Mrs Henderson Presents succinctly in its opening moments – Laura Henderson pricks her thumb trying embroidery as a hobby and bristles at the snobbery of the ladies who run charities for the deserving and so is left to spend money as she sees fit, alighting on the derelict Windmill Theatre which she purchases in a moment of inspiration as she passes in her car. Martin Sherman’s script is based on the true story of this woman who became an unlikely theatrical impresario and in director Stephen Frears’ hands, Judi Dench delivers a heart-warmingly cracking performance at the centre of a lovely film.

Set in the late 1930s, the story follows Laura as she and her theatre manager, Bob Hoskins’ cantankerous but inspired Vivian van Damm, set up a continuous variety revue called Revudeville and trying to keep ahead of a market full of copycats, they introduce still tableaux of female nudity into the show which becomes a roaring success. The onset of war casts a heavy shadow though and whilst the show continues, providing much needed entertainment and respite, as the bombs fall on London, the determination that the show must go on puts everyone in serious peril. Continue reading “DVD Review: Mrs Henderson Presents”

Re-Review: Crazy For You, Novello

“Who could ask for anything more?!”

After a highly accomplished run at the Open Air Theatre, Crazy For You has transferred into the West End to take up residence in the Novello Theatre, taking advantage of the premature closing of Betty Blue Eyes. I saw it in Regents Park – review can be read here – and was easily seduced by its combination of Stephen Mears’ pulsating choreography and lively renditions of selections from the Gershwins’ considerable catalogue of songs. The show has been transplanted indoors pretty much in its entirety and continues to be a whole heap of uncomplicated entertainment.

I previously described the story as ‘pure hokum’ and little has changed in that respect but it really doesn’t matter in the end, because this really is a show that is all about the singing and dancing. It doesn’t so much reinvent this set of classic Gershwin songs, they are too well known for that, but it does present them in a fresh new setting which feels incredibly natural and well-fitted. Sometimes with jukebox shows there can be the feeling of songs being shoe-horned into the narrative but because this show wears its story quite lightly, that is rarely the case here. Instead, there’s a cheery skip through some of the best songs ever written that is guaranteed to lift the heart. Continue reading “Re-Review: Crazy For You, Novello”

Review: Crazy for You, Open Air Theatre

“Dancing makes my troubles all seem tiny”

There’s no hiding the fact that the Open Air Theatre’s Crazy for You is pure hokum but for sheer escapist fun and a feel-good atmosphere that will whisk you away from the troubles outside of Regent’s Park for an evening, this will pretty much do the trick. Based on the George and Ira Gershwin musical Girl Crazy, Ken Ludwig – he of the recently departed Lend Me A Tenor – wrote a new book in 1992, heavy on post-modern knowingness and light on substance: silly but fun – if you come here looking for authenticity you’re bound to be disappointed!

Banker Bobby Child is forced to abandon his Broadway dreams and is dispatched to Deadrock, Nevada to foreclose on a theatre there. Sensing an opportunity as he falls head over heels with the daughter of the theatre’s owner, he decides to impersonate the Broadway impresario he longs to work for and arranges for a benefit show to be put on to save the theatre: madcap fun ensues with mistaken identities – clearly a Ludwig fave – at the fore. Continue reading “Review: Crazy for You, Open Air Theatre”