Review: Beautiful – The Carole King Musical, Aldwych Theatre

“Everything seems to be
Some kind of wonderful”

Where Broadway leads, the West End will surely follow and so it is little surprise that Tony-winning Beautiful – The Carole King Musical found its way over here to the Aldwych Theatre. And I’m pleased to report that the transatlantic passage has gone most smoothly indeed to deliver an absolute treat of a show. When three of its four leading personnel are still very much alive and kicking, it is perhaps no surprise that Douglas McGrath’s book treads a rather respectable path through the first ten years of King’s career. But then she would be the first to say, with typical self-deprecating charm, that her life is hardly the most exciting, her dreams never the loftiest – it just so happens that beneath this veneer of ordinariness lay an absolute treasure trove of extraordinary music. 

And as musical gem follows musical gem – both from the collaborations of King and sometime partner Gerry Goffin, and also from their friends and writing rivals Cynthia Weil and Barry Mann – this feels utterly the point. Life isn’t always chock-a-block with drama, motivations don’t always have to spring from some momentous event, the cult of the tortured artistic soul is far from the be all and end all (Billington seems to suggest being “a shy, well-adjusted woman struggling to reconcile a career with a failing marriage” is something of a crime!) and I’d say that Beautiful is no weaker a biopic for not having such narrative peaks and troughs, reinventing personal history in the name of drama.  Continue reading “Review: Beautiful – The Carole King Musical, Aldwych Theatre”

Review: Annie Get Your Gun, Churchill Bromley

“Even with a turkey that you know will fold
You may be stranded out in the cold”

Blessed with one of the almighty scores of Broadway history, you’d think that productions of Annie Get Your Gun would be the simplest of gimmes but given that it is very much a piece of writing of its time, it’s not quite as easy as that (as I discovered recently in seeing Carousel for the first time). The gender politics therein are dubious at best and the treatment of Native Americans also speaks of severely outdated attitudes, so directors are faced with something of a conundrum. The Young Vic just went bizarre with it back in 2009 and now a major UK touring production by Ian Talbot opts for the ‘play within a play’ route, the framing device often used in The Taming of the Shrew to address similarly thorny issues. 

Elements of the show have also been removed and tinkered to further redress the gender balance but in all honesty it feels like a step too far – applying both of these patches detracts from their intentions. If it is a bit of meta-theatre, then surely it can just be played as is, as we know not to take it seriously; or if we’re reinventing the story for 21st century eyes, then just rewrite it wholesale. Instead we’re left with something which never really achieves either aspect on a dramatic level, something exacerbated by the limitations of a touring set design. Fortunately, the production sounds like a dream with a superb orchestra though and has some cracking performances in it from a cast who deliver the utterly timeless score by Irving Berlin with all the panache it deserves. Continue reading “Review: Annie Get Your Gun, Churchill Bromley”

Review: A Chorus Line, Palladium

“Step, kick, kick, leap, kick, touch…again!”

When I was learning to play the piano as a young’un, we had a book of tunes from the movies which included ‘One’ and ‘What I Did For Love’, both from A Chorus Line. I’d never seen the film (and still have not) but I loved both of those songs and so practiced hard to be able to play them well. But even when a new production of the show was announced earlier this year, the temptation to go and see it was never too strong. Part of that came from the venue – the Palladium is a most unforgiving of theatres if you don’t have a front centre stalls seat – but there was also a sense that its conglomeration of backstage stories might be a little dated in a world where the audition process has repeatedly been laid bare on our television screens.

I perhaps wasn’t alone in feeling this way as the production was forced into publishing early closing notices, meaning it shutters at the end of this week. But in forcing my hand and making me book via a bargainous deal that got us into the middle of Row C of the stalls, I belatedly came to realise that the show is much better than I thought it would be and perhaps deserves a longer life than it has had. Its set-up is simplicity itself – seventeen Broadway dancers audition for eight spots on the chorus line for a musical and as the director takes them through their paces, we get to hear the tales of these hopefuls, their dreams and aspirations, their fears and frailties, in some cases their most intimate stories about what dance and being a dancer means to them. Continue reading “Review: A Chorus Line, Palladium”

Review: Curtains, Arts Ed

“Critics! Who’d make a living out of killing other people’s dreams?”

I could have been on the stage. Indeed I was, briefly as a shy teenager, but playing the piano for shows was a much more appealing option for me and so the world was left sadly bereft of what could have been the definitive Hamlet for our generation. Fortunately though, we are not lacking in acting talent and it is being well-nurtured at drama schools like Arts Ed where I went to catch this undergraduate production of Kander & Ebb’s Curtains. I was particularly keen to see it as the choreography was done by Andrew Wright, the gentleman who did the deed for my favourite musical of last year, Once Upon A Time At The Adelphi and I thought I might be able to convince him to give me a tap dancing lesson in the interval.

Anyway, the show Curtains had a bit of a sad genesis. The original concept came from Peter Stone but he died before he completed the book so Rupert Holmes was brought in to rewrite it but when Fred Ebb also passed away before it had been finished, Holmes and Kander had to step in to finish off the lyrics. But it is not a melancholy show, far from it. It is a ‘musical comedy whodunit’, a send-up of murder mysteries set backstage at a theatre where a spectacularly bad leading lady is murdered after her first night in a Western version of Robin Hood. It is then up to a musical-theatre-loving detective to catch the murderer, save the show and fall in love with the girl of his dreams before the new opening night keeping the entire cast and crew and a rogue critic with far too much time on his hands, under suspicion. Continue reading “Review: Curtains, Arts Ed”