Re-review: Wicked, Apollo Victoria

As Wicked powers towards its 13th year on the West End, Alice Fearn’s Elphaba ensures visitors to the Apollo Victoria won’t be disappointed

“Ah tum ah tum eleka nahmen…”

Off the top of my head, I couldn’t tell you how many times I’ve seen Wicked now – it feels like loads – so it’s useful that I have it all written down in a blog… I do know it is a good while since I last saw it, five years in fact, which was evidently my third visit to the Apollo Victoria and one which left me disappointed. So it has taken a little while for me to get interested in taking up an opportunity to go see it again but we got there, eventually.

And I have to say I enjoyed my return trip to Oz, mainly because of the sensational performance of Alice Fearn as Elphaba. It’s always nice to see a performer rewarded for paying their dues, working their way up through ensemble and chorus roles until they get that chance to shine. And because of that background, that experience, that starring role has the real sense of being a career-defining opportunity. Continue reading “Re-review: Wicked, Apollo Victoria”

Review: Porgy and Bess, Open Air Theatre

“I’m full of all commotion like an ocean full of rhum”

The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess (as it appears to be styled here, in case you confuse it with Jedward’s Porgy and Bess) made for a striking component of the Open Air Theatre’s programme this summer. More folk opera than musical, it is perhaps a more challenging choice than usual but none the worse for it, the musical and dramatic spectacle heightened by an impressionistically remarkable design by Katrina Lindsay and director Timothy Sheader’s resourceful production which hammers home its musical strength.

From its tragically inclined leads, Nicola Hughes’ sensational Bess with her substance abuse issues and Rufus Bonds Jr’s impassioned dignity as Porgy, through brilliant support from the likes of Golda Roshuevel’s Serena and Sharon D Clarke’s Mariah, to the polar opposites of Jade Ewen’s impossibly pure Clara to croons the iconic lullaby ‘Summertime’ and Cedric Neal’s sleazily cocky ‘Sportin’ Life’ who swaggers through ‘It Ain’t Necessarily So’ as he ensnares Bess with his wares, the sheer size and quality of this ensemble is truly something to behold. Continue reading “Review: Porgy and Bess, Open Air Theatre”

Review: Hairspray, Curve

“’Cause just to sit still would be a sin”

For the longest time, I resisted the charms of Hairspray both on screen and on stage. It was only my niece and nephew falling in love with the 2007 film and making me watch it with them and made me realise how much fun it is and just how tuneful Marc Shaiman’s score manages to be. So having missed the boat with the West End version (and resisted the temptation to see its seemingly never-ending touring incarnation), I was most pleased to see that Paul Kerryson was creating his own interpretation for the Curve, especially given how successfully Chicago had been reinvented there over Christmas. 

And it appears that lightning really can strike twice. Kerryson clearly has the knack for reconceiving large scale musicals for this Leicester stage and focusing on the qualities that make them so successful and here, in that respect, there’s an embarrassment of riches. Mark O’Donnell and Thomas Meehan’s book captures a crucial moment in US civil rights history but one with an enduringly powerful message in how societal pressure can result in lasting change when focused through the right media channel. And Lee Proud’s wonderfully expansive choreography educates as well as entertains, speaking volumes about the changing ways in which we interact. Continue reading “Review: Hairspray, Curve”

Review: Bare, Greenwich

“The boys have gonorrhea, now they burn for you each time they pee”

Not really being a fan of rock musicals, I didn’t make the journey to the Union Theatre to see Bare earlier this year and I was kind of reluctant to go and see its belated transfer to the Greenwich Theatre. And true to form, it really wasn’t my cup of tea. A cast of bright young things sing well and deliver a great level of performance but the show, written by Jon Hartmere and Damon Intrabartolo, feels dated both dramatically and musically, its off-Broadway high-school charms very much eluding me.

Set in the senior class of a Catholic high school, these 17 year olds race towards graduation whilst battling with issues of sexuality and identity, religion and reality, all the while rehearsing a production of Romeo and Juliet which ham-fistedly reflects the tortured inter-relations between this tangled group. Clunky comedy turns into deficient drama as boy meets closeted boy meets girl, but the nearly entirely sung-through lyrics rarely give such an emotive issue as homosexuality in high schools the sensitivity and complexity it deserves. Continue reading “Review: Bare, Greenwich”

Review: Ragtime, Open Air Theatre Regent’s Park

“Giving the nation a new syncopation”

Is there a greater opening number to a musical than the self-titled prologue to Ragtime? It surely has to be up there amongst the contenders as Stephen Flaherty’s music bursts open onto the stage at the Open Air Theatre in Regent’s Park in a blaze of syncopated rhythms and choreographic glory with one of those melodies destined to worm its way into your brain for days to come. It could be argued that the show never really reaches the same heights again, but it certainly tries hard.

Director Timothy Sheader’s high concept, supported by Jon Bausor’s eye-catching design, is of a contemporary society in the midst of the collapsed American Dream, looking back to its beginnings at the turn of the previous century in the stories taken from EL Doctorow’s novel and moulded into the book here by Terrence McNally. So in the ruins of an Obama-supporting billboard and the detritus of broken bits of Disney, McDonalds and Budweiser merchandise, the company enact the intertwining tales of 3 groups – African-Americans, WASPs and Latvian immigrants – at a moment in time where it seemed that great change was just on the horizon. Continue reading “Review: Ragtime, Open Air Theatre Regent’s Park”