Album Reviews: Company / Follies / Mythic

A trio of album reviews cover the (relatively) recently released cast recordings of Company, Follies and Mythic

“One more souvenir of bliss”

I adored Marianne Elliott’s reinterpretation of Stephen Sondheim and George Furth’s Company on my many visits and so the news of a cast recording was of course ecstatically received. And perhaps inevitably it doesn’t quite live up to the thrill of seeing it live but maybe that’s because the production is still so fresh in my mind. I mean we’re only talking a 4 instead of a 4.5…

© Brinkhoff Mogenburg

I swear Patti LuPone’s ‘Ladies Who Lunch’ was different every time I saw it but this version here is as good as any, with the glorious fullness of her voice pointedly sharpening its wit. Her contributions to ‘The Little Things We Do Together’ are inspired, Jonny Bailey’s ‘Not Getting Married’ is breathlessly affecting and the warmth of Rosalie Craig’s character and voice infuse the whole experience with real quality.  Continue reading “Album Reviews: Company / Follies / Mythic”

Re-review: Follies 2019, National Theatre

Follies 2019 remains the show that I need right now

“I’m so glad I came”

Just a quickie for this revisit to Follies, which remains as perfect a piece of musical theatre as I could hope for. I loved it then but I really love it now, Joanna Riding is just heartbreakingly perfect as Sally, she really brings something to the role that somehow eluded Imelda Staunton (for me at least), Alexander Hanson is superb in tracing Ben’s tragic fall, and Janie Dee and Peter Forbes maintain their stellar work as Phyllis and Buddy (seriously, Dee is a proper showstopper).

And as is surely appropriate in Dominic Cooke’s production, ghosts of the past interplay with what we’re seeing from top to bottom. It was great to see Dame Felicity Lott as Heidi, a different but no less affecting proposition than Dame Josephine Barstow (there truly ain’t nothing like a…). And the young talents of Gemma Sutton, Ian McIntosh, Harry Hepple and Christine Tucker are eloquently elegant as the younger incarnations of the central quartet. Continue reading “Re-review: Follies 2019, National Theatre”

Review: Follies 2019, National Theatre

The Olivier Award-winning Follies returns to the National Theatre in richer, deeper, more resonant form and just blows me away

“It’s the cat’s pyjamas”

Like the ghosts of their younger selves that haunt the characters in Follies so beautifully in this production, for those who were lucky enough to catch its superlative Olivier Award-winning 2017 run, so too do our memories interplay with what we’re seeing, inducing some soul-shiveringly exceptional moments that are almost metatheatrical in the feelings they provoke. 

The tingle of anticipation is never far away but the show somehow feels richer, deeper, more resonant in the note of melancholy it strikes as it exposes nostalgia for the rose-tinted self-delusion it so often becomes. Janie Dee’s Phyllis somehow feels more desolate, especially in her bitterly brilliant ‘Could I Leave You’; Tracie Bennett scorches the roof once more in ‘I’m Still Here’ in what feels like a more internal performance now; we’re all at least a year older… Continue reading “Review: Follies 2019, National Theatre”

Review: Miss Littlewood, Swan Theatre

A hugely fascinating new musical from the RSC, Miss Littlewood impresses at the Swan Theatre – might we see it London before too long?

“I’ve come about the theatre”

The last musical to come out of the RSC is a little know thing that is still kicking around somewhere, Matilda I think it’s called… So Miss Littlewood might have a little expectation carrying on its shoulders, although it is clearly a completely different kettle of fish.

In the Swan Theatre, Sam Kenyon (book, music and lyrics) tells us the story of Joan Littlewood. Or rather, given the format of the show, hands the reins over to Joan to tell her story. Clare Burt stars as an older Littlewood who acts as a narrator, a maestro, as she directs six other performers, all of whom take turns in donning the blue cap to embody this most totemic figure of British theatre.  Continue reading “Review: Miss Littlewood, Swan Theatre”

Re-review: Follies, National Theatre

 
“Darling, shall we dance?”
 
Not too much more to say about Follies that I didn’t cover last time, suffice to say it’s just such a luxuriously fantastic show and I think I could watch it over and over! The head-dresses! Everything Janie Dee does! The orchestra! How no-one seems to be falling down that staircase! The staging! The shade of mint green in Loveland! The Staunton’s icy bitterness in ‘Losing My Mind’! The amount that Josephine Barstow has now made me cry, twice! The Quast! Just get booking now, while you still can.

Running time: 2 hours 20 minutes (without interval)
Booking until 3rd January, best availability from 6th November

Follies will be broadcast by NT Live to cinemas in the UK and internationally on Thursday 16 November.

 

Review: Follies, National Theatre

 

An utterly majestic production of Sondheim’s Follies is a masterpiece for the National Theatre

“All things beautiful must die”

Well this is what we have a National Theatre for. For Vicki Mortimer’s set design that both stretches towards the heights of the Olivier and lingers some 30 years back in the past; for the extraordinary detail and feathered delights of the costumes; for the lush sound of an orchestra of 21 under Nigel Lilley’s musical direction; for a production that revels in the exuberance and experience of its cast of 37. And all for what? For a musical that, despite its iconic status in the theatre bubble, is more than likely to raise a ‘huh?’ from the general public (at least from the sampling in my office!).

Stephen Sondheim (music and lyrics) and James Goldman’s (book) Follies is a show that has a long history of being tinkered with and more often than not, is as likely to be found in a concert presentation (as in its last London appearance at the Royal Albert Hall) as it is fully staged. Which only makes Dominic Cooke’s production here all the more attractive, not just for aficionados but for the casual theatregoer too. Using the original book with just a smattering of small changes, this is musical theatre close to its most luxurious, and a bittersweetly life-affirming thrill to watch. Continue reading “Review: Follies, National Theatre”

CD Review: The Scottsboro Boys (2014 Original London Cast Recording)

“Maybe times’ll turn”
 
The 2013 Young Vic production of The Scottsboro Boys was a late highlight of that year and its well-deserved transfer at the end of 2014 extended the run for this stirring Kander + Ebb show. Taking on the format of a minstrel show and tipping it almightily on its head, a group of African-American performers come together to tell the chilling story of the Scottsboro Boys trial, a tipping point of both racism and the inequity of the US justice system.
 

Whilst not the most obvious subject for a musical, it’s possibly all the more effective for it, it’s disarmingly suave charm easily seducing the listener musically whilst horrifying them lyrically. This potent mixture is thus wonderfully conflicting as you tap your foot and bob your head to the undeniably tuneful minstrelsy before you realise how chilling Julian Glover’s Cullum really is. It makes a mockery of the fact that the show could ever have been protested on Broadway. Continue reading “CD Review: The Scottsboro Boys (2014 Original London Cast Recording)”

Review: Intimate Apparel, Park Theatre

“How we be friends? When I ain’t never been through your front door”

The Theatre Royal Bath hit on another winner with this production of Lynn Nottage’s Intimate Apparel and so it has transferred over to the Park Theatre to let Londoners who don’t travel have a slice of the action. The play was inspired by Nottage finding faded photographs of her great-grandparents and then spinning an affectionate fantasia on the lives of African-American people at the turn of the twentieth century.

She imagines the life of Esther, an unmarried black seamstress in her mid-thirties in 1905 New York, who is a true exponent of her craft. People come from far and wide for the exquisite lingerie that she creates and her clients include women of all classes and colour and so she has managed to save up quite the nest egg. Her plans for the future include running her own salon but when a romantic correspondence is struck up with the Barbadian George, she dares to dream of more. Continue reading “Review: Intimate Apparel, Park Theatre”

Review: The Scottsboro Boys, Young Vic

“That’s what we call Southern justice”

The Scottsboro Boys were nine black teenage boys who found themselves in the wrong place at the wrong time, Alabama in 1931 to be precise, and falsely accused of the rape of two white women, found themselves imprisoned in the hostile Deep South. But theirs was a case that ignited the racial debate in the USA and turned it into something of a cause célèbre, perhaps losing sight of the lives of these young men – some illiterate, all poor – that were irrevocably changed by their experiences. And ironically, that is the same fate suffered in this sharp-edged musical adaptation by Kander and Ebb, their last collaboration, and book writer David Thompson.

The show uses the minstrel form to frame the action, staging its own version of events in the vignettes of a minstrel show led by Julian Glover’s Interlocutor, a benign presence but in the way that some plantation owners were ostensibly nice. But rather than have white men wearing blackface, it is a black cast who play the white characters alongside the tribulations and many trials of the boys as they come up repeatedly against a society that is determined to deny them everything. And using an exaggeratedly vaudevillian style of performance, the truly shocking nature of what they went through is unblinkingly portrayed. Continue reading “Review: The Scottsboro Boys, Young Vic”

DVD Review: Hey Mr Producer

“Do something special, anything special…”

This charity shop malarkey is proving to be a veritable treasure trove of theatrical goodies, of variable quality I should stress, but after the delights of Ms Paige – which will be continued shortly with an upcoming DVD review – I was given this DVD of the 1998 Cameron Mackintosh extravaganza Hey Mr Producer which cost a whole 99p from a British Heart Foundation shop in north west London. A benefit concert ostensibly put together for the RNIB but also honouring and celebrating the work of producer Mackintosh (although oddly he was involved in putting the show together – honouring himself…) by bringing together excerpts from many of the most famous shows he has been involved in and pulling together an extraordinary cast of the musical theatre glitterati, many of whom originated the roles, the like of which has rarely been seen since.

And it really does come across as something special, at times a little frustrating but it is often the way with concerts like these that tantalise with little glimpses of shows and when the calibre of performer is such as it is here, one barely minds as there is much pleasure to be had. It is impressive how much was packed into the single evening, multi-song sections from shows were interspersed with single songs from others meaning that over 20 shows were showcased here. Whether it was shows I love – Little Shop of Horrors, Oliver!, Les Mis, ones I’m ok with – Phantom of the Opera, Company or even ones I’ve never actually seen – My Fair Lady, Miss Saigon, Martin Guerre, Carousel – the sequences that had more than one song worked surprisingly well, getting across something of the flavour of the shows even with the rapid pace and semi-staging. I would have loved to have seen and heard more from Anything Goes, Godspell and The Boyfriend and for Salad Days, Mackintosh’s favourite show apparently, to have gotten a proper treatment, but then I guess the three hour show would have gone on for days. Continue reading “DVD Review: Hey Mr Producer”