Review: The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, NYMT at The Other Palace

The National Youth Music Theatre do a mighty fine job of eerily atmospheric new musical The Legend of Sleepy Hollow at The Other Palace

“Mr Crane says…”

Everyone loves a good horror story right? Which is partly why folktale The Legend of Sleepy Hollow has endured so long, haunting us in various iterations since Washington Irving first published it in 1820. And it has now been turned into a new musical by Helen Watts (book) and Eamonn O’Dwyer (music & lyrics) at the behest of the National Youth Music Theatre, who are performing it for a short run as part of their residency at The Other Palace.

In the New England town of Sleepy Hollow, myths and mysteries abound but the arrival of a new schoolteacher in 1833 takes an even stranger turn. Ichabod Crane is like a breath of cold fresh air, not necessarily fully appreciated by everyone as he sets about dragging the local schoolkids into the Enlightenment single-handedly, disrupting the social order with notions of land ownership, and flirting with engaged women. But not even his rational mind is fully prepared for the eerie strangeness that follows. Continue reading “Review: The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, NYMT at The Other Palace”

CD Review: MS. A Song Cycle

“I wish you didn’t have to be in pain” 
 
Multiple Sclerosis affects over 100,000 people in the UK alone. 

 

One of the accusations often levelled by detractors of musical theatre is that it is fanciful, frivolous stuff, unable of taking subjects seriously. And whilst the form undoubtedly can have its lighter moments, I’d challenge anyone to listen to this new song cycle inspired by women living with multiple sclerosis and remain unmoved. MS. A Song Cycle is the brainchild of lyricist Rory Sherman, who has worked with SimG Productions, musical supervisor Ellie Verkerk and 14 different teams of composers and performers to create a delicately but undeniably powerful collection of stories, that gain in that power from being sung so beautifully as they are here.
 
More than two to three times more women are affected than men
 

Review: The House of Mirrors and Hearts, Arcola

“There’s beauty in the breaking of things”

Despite sounding like a lost novel by Gabriel García Márquez, The House of Mirror and Hearts is actually something a lot closer to home, although no less rare, an original British musical. Written by Eamonn O’Dwyer and Rob Gilbert with music and lyrics by O’Dwyer too, it is the tale of a household torn apart by grief, where secrets have been held unspoken for nearly a decade, and resentments allowed to fester into toxic antipathy. The arrival of a nerdish lodger threatens to upset the fragile balance but it is far from clear if this will bring release to the Keanes or just another seven years bad luck and misery. 

Developed by Perfect Pitch and co-produced with Aria Entertainment, it is clear that much love and care has gone into nurturing this piece of musical theatre into life, in all its challenging, angular beauty. O’Dwyer’s score has a pleasingly complex bent to it – those who judge musicals by their instant hummability will be left (mistakenly) disappointed – full of intensely unexpected harmonies and contrapuntal melodic lines that demand rapt attention and richly reward relistens (head to the Arcola’s website where 8 of the songs can be heard) – the music emerges as a thing of a jagged beauty. Continue reading “Review: The House of Mirrors and Hearts, Arcola”

Review: Fiddler on the Roof, Mayflower

“If I were a rich man, yubby dibby dibby dibby dibby dibby dibby dum. All day long I’d biddy biddy bum, if I were a wealthy man.”

Oh, to be a fly on the wall when lyricist Sheldon Harnick announced the second line of a song he’d written for Fiddler on the Roof was “yubby dibby dibby dibby dibby dibby dibby dum”. But along with book writer Joseph Stein and composer Jerry Bock, their efforts translated into one of the most successful Broadway productions ever, with this story of Tevye, a milkman in pre-revolutionary Russia, and his three headstrong daughters making life in the village very difficult by challenging the old order. Craig Revel-Horwood employs his tried-and-tested actor-musician model to invigorate new life into the show (one which is new to me, I’ve never even seen the film) which is just undertaking a huge UK tour, starting at Southampton’s Mayflower Theatre (another first for me).

Due to the indisposition of Paul Michael Glaser, we were treated to an understudy performance as Tevye and not even the named understudy Paul Kissaun at that, Eamonn O’Dwyer took on the role and a fine job he did too. Though demonstrably too young for the part, his wry exasperation at the way the world turns and the warm geniality with which he rolls with it made for an assured central presence that kept the show moving with a twinkle-eyed grace. Even with the age mismatch with Karen Mann as his long-suffering wife Golde, there was a palpable chemistry that made their second half duet ‘Do You Love Me?’ a genuinely lovely thing.  Continue reading “Review: Fiddler on the Roof, Mayflower”

Review: A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Stafford Castle

“Through the forest have I gone”

The impressive ruins of Stafford Castle make a grand setting for the Stafford Festival Shakespeare, now in its 23rd year, and for this year’s production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, successfully transported to a Victorian England of colonial conquest, starched manners and a healthy dose of Gilbert and Sullivan. An open air stage, with covered seating on three sides, expands up the grassy slope to the castle itself and is used highly effectively, whether for a royal procession to make a strong impact or a torch-bearing fairy horde to swarm over the hillside, a constant reminder that so much of this story is about the strange happenings that will ensue if you end up in a mysterious forest on Midsummer eve. 

Peter Rowe’s choice to set this in the Victorian era is an effective choice and one which works well across all the earthbound levels of the play. It makes a convincing case for the quarrelling quartet of lovers – Craig Fletcher (so very good in last year’s Boy Meets Boy) and Eamonn O’Dwyer all prim posturing and carefully rolled-up sleeves as Lysander and Demetrius, Jennifer Greenwood a spirited Hermia and a confident Georgina White coming close to stealing the show as an expressively comical Helena. And the Rude Mechanicals, led by Eric Potts’ bumptious Bottom, become a group of G&S-playing minstrels, the silliness of light opera suiting them perfectly as they build up to an extended musical version of Pyramus and Thisbe, which has to be one of the funnier treatments it has ever received.  Continue reading “Review: A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Stafford Castle”