Review: An American in Paris, Dominion

“Who could ask for anything more”

True to its name, An American in Paris premiered in 2014 at the Théâtre du Châtelet in the French capital to ecstatic reviews before transferring to the Palace Theatre on Broadway for another well-received (and Tony-winning) run there. It now rocks up at the newly refurbished Dominion Theatre, just ahead of another huge dance-heavy Broadway musical in 42nd Street, producers clearly banking on audiences wanting distraction from the realities of the outside world.

And that it certainly provides – director and choreographer Christopher Wheeldon’s reinvention of the 1951 film (new book by Craig Lucas) is an absolute feast for the eyes and ears. George and Ira Gershwin’s score is beyond classic (‘I Got Rhythm’, ”S Wonderful’, ‘They Can’t Take That Away from Me’ et al) and sounds luscious in Rob Fisher’s new arrangements musically directed by John Rigby, and Bob Crowley’s set and costumes look divine in all their old-school charm. Continue reading “Review: An American in Paris, Dominion”

Brexited Review: Guys and Dolls, Phoenix

What a collection of Guys and Dolls eh

Rebel Wilson is actually hugely successful as Miss Adelaide, finding the perfect balance between playing the role as written and bringing enough of her own personality to firmly put her stamp on the part. An impressive West End debut. As for this motley crew, someone should tell them to sit down, sit down, sit down…

Turns out luck really is a lady tonight.

Re-review: Guys and Dolls, Phoenix

“Follow the fold and stray no more”

In the merry-go-round of theatres and shows and transfers and tours, the success of the West End transfer of Chichester Festival Theatre’s Guys and Dolls has seen it divide itself in two – the promised UK tour will go ahead through to the summer but the show remains in the West End as well, skipping from the Savoy to the Phoenix to replace the outgoing Bend it like Beckham

It’s my third time at the show. I saw the original run in Chichester and the transfer to the Savoy and hadn’t planned to return. But as ever, the lure of the recast leads sucked me in. Siubhan Harrison remains with the company but with Samantha Spiro, Oliver Tompsett and US actor Richard Kind joining the team (plus the excellent Jason Pennycooke), my barely-there resistance melted away. Continue reading “Re-review: Guys and Dolls, Phoenix”

Review: Guys and Dolls, Savoy

“Let’s keep the party polite”

In the absence of a long-runner, the Savoy Theatre has becoming something of a receiving house – Guys and Dolls has followed in the rapturously received Gypsy, both from Chichester, and the Menier’s Funny Girl lies in wait in April. But what was interesting to see on my return to Guys and Dolls (after seeing its original run in Chichester the summer before last) is that one size does not fit all, the business of transferring isn’t quite as easy as all that. 

For where Gypsy seemed to gain in intensity in the confines of the proscenium arch, Guys and Dolls feels a little constrained by it. Maybe it’s just the memory of Carlos Acosta and Andrew Wright’s explosive choreography on the openness of the thrust stage but it seemed to pop better there (he grumbled, from the rear stalls), it doesn’t benefit from the same width here at the Savoy and so some of the set pieces – as impressive as they remain – didn’t quite hit the nail on the head. Continue reading “Review: Guys and Dolls, Savoy”

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: Sweeney Todd, London Coliseum

“At the top of the hole sit the privileged few”

And it is mostly the privileged few who’ll get to see this lavish English National Opera production of Sondheim’s oft-revived Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street as stalls seats will set you back an eye-watering £95, £125 or £155. Somewhat cheaper seats are available from the upper circle upwards but still…* Lonny Price’s semi-staged production (with its nifty fake-out of a beginning) was first seen in New York in March 2014 but unsurprisingly, given it featured Emma Thompson and Bryn Terfel as Mrs Lovett and the demon barber himself, it declared “there’s no place like London” and has now taken up residence in the Coliseum alongside a cast of nearly 40 musical theatre veterans (and Thompson’s daughter) and a lush-sounding  orchestra of 60.

Thompson and Terfel may be the headline names but the real pleasure comes in the luxury casting that surrounds them. Philip Quast and John Owen-Jones bring a richness of vocal to Judge Turpin and Pirelli respectively, Alex Gaumond and Jack North both mine effectively Dickensian depths to Beadle and Toby and there’s something glorious about having the marvellous Rosalie Craig here, even in so relatively minor a role as the Beggar Woman as her quality shines through despite that wig. Matthew Seadon-Young and Katie Hall as Anthony and Johanna are both really impressive too, their voices marrying beautifully as they respond intuitively to the textures of David Charles Obell’s orchestra. Continue reading “Review: Sweeney Todd, London Coliseum”

Review: Singin’ in the Rain, Upstairs at the Gatehouse

“I’ve a smile on my face”

As unlikely as it may seem, you could easily make the case that some of the best musical theatre happening in London right now is taking place above a pub in Highgate. John and Katie Plews’ Ovation Productions have a sterling record in small-scale smash-hit musicals at the Upstairs at the Gatehouse theatre and their festive shows are usually the pick of the bunch. This winter sees them take on the perennial classic Singin’ in the Rain and naturally, it is a gloriously resounding success. And yes, of course there is rain – you gotta go to see how they do it though.

The key to the Plews’ triumph lies in the uncanny ability to both distil and reimagine Broadway classics perfectly for this 120-or-so seat space and often in traverse. That means choreography (from Chris Whittaker) so audacious that audiences applaud mid-song, that means design (by Sarah June Mills) that hits all the key notes – a lamppost to lean on, steps to hop up and down on, seats to tip back – without cluttering the stage, that means musical direction (from Matt Ramplin, leading a band of six) unafraid to just exude Broadway pizzazz as it delivers the superbly evergreen score. Continue reading “Review: Singin’ in the Rain, Upstairs at the Gatehouse”

Review: Candide, Menier Chocolate Factory

“Come and dwell where Satan’s hoof has never trod”

Leonard Bernstein’s take on Voltaire’s philosophical attire has had many incarnations, thus labelling it as something of a problematic musical. But given their pedigree for musical theatre, the Menier Chocolate Factory are never one to shirk from a challenge and with director Matthew White editing his own new adaptation from the 1988 Scottish Opera version, this production does a great job at enhancing its particular strengths. Candide is a young man, a student of philosophy in love with the higher-born Cunegonde but when forced out into the harsh reality of the outside world, he finds his learning – “all is for the best in the best of all possible worlds” – is increasingly tested.

Switching the Menier’s seating into the round (and running off some nifty seat covers and numbers from the sewing machine) draws the audience into the show at every turn and takes us along to every far-flung corner of the globe to which it skips in Adam Cooper’s expressive choreography. Not a moment for potential audience interaction (of the gentlest sort, mind) is missed and platforms, gangways and balconies (even suspended chairs) scattered throughout the auditorium ensure that one is never left straining one’s neck for too long.

Continue reading “Review: Candide, Menier Chocolate Factory”

Review: Finding Neverland, Curve

“That’s what makes him beautiful, and that’s what makes him sad”

One assumes it is the reality of funding a big-budget musical these days, but there are 17 names above the title of the musical adaptation of Finding Neverland, 17! The most famous of those is Harvey Weinstein whose Miramax studio made the Johnny Depp/Kate Winslet starring film and it is his driving force that has seen the show make its world premiere at Leicester’s Curve theatre, directed by Rob Ashford. The story of how writer JM Barrie found the creative spark for Peter Pan through his growing connection, after a chance encounter, with the Llewelyn Davies family of lost boys and their smart mother Sylvia is entirely charming in Weinstein’s hands. And given his Hollywood track record, it should be no surprise that the show achieves just the right level of gooey sentimentality, whilst avoiding becoming overly twee or sickly sweet.

Peter Pan references are gorgeously threaded throughout the tale, a series of moments that provide a whole set of inspirations for his new play after suffering critical disappointment with his last. Whether a stunning bit of a shadow work or a glimpse of the night sky – which leads to one of the loveliest songs of the night, ‘Neverland’ – Ashford ensures they don’t become overplayed, especially in the restraint with which he employs the flying gear. Scott Pask’s scenic design allows for some grand flourishes in the key set pieces, some of which provide a little more stage magic than others and Ashford’s own choreography is used sparingly but with great purpose to lift the potential of scenes, especially in the pirate tango when the writer duels with his psyche – personified by Hook – as to how the story should properly end.  Continue reading “Review: Finding Neverland, Curve”

Review: Wonderful Town, Milton Keynes Theatre

“Here we live, here we love, this is the place for self-expression”

Providing a much needed, strong reminder that large-scale musical revivals can come from north of the Watford Gap as well as below, Wonderful Town marked a major collaboration between Manchester’s Royal Exchange Theatre, The Hallé Orchestra and The Lowry on this Leonard Bernstein show, which I have to admit to never having heard of before. As many a musical that has gone before and come after it, it is gossamer-light in plot but this is more than made up for with a richly evocative score, some nifty design and best of all, sparkling choreography from Andrew Wright who is now consistently making the case to be considered one of the best choreographers working in the country.

Connie Fisher and Lucy Van Gasse play Ruth and Eileen Sherwood, sisters from Ohio who are determined to escape their boring lives and move to New York City. Of course, on arriving in the Big Apple, following their dream ain’t quite as easy as it seems but in their quest for success, romance and a free meal or two, they meet and charm a wide range of colourful new friends and neighbours who help them through their trials. And matching the creative and production expertise on hand, director Braham Murray assembled a cracking ensemble which included particular favourites around these parts (albeit for different reasons) Michael Xavier and Tiffany Graves. Continue reading “Review: Wonderful Town, Milton Keynes Theatre”