Review: West Side Story, Royal Exchange

Aletta Collins’ new choreography is just one of the highlights of a most successful West Side Story at the Royal Exchange

“Sleep well and when you dream
Dream of me”

For an undoubted classic of the musical theatre, West Side Story really isn’t revived all that often but 2019 seems determined to rectify that. The Curve have announced it as their Christmas show, Ivo van Hove is reimagining it on Broadway, and Steven Spielberg is remaking the film for good measure. But getting the (beautifully balletic) jump on all of them is Manchester’s Royal Exchange, whose revival is the first to be performed with new choreography replacing the iconic moves of original director and choreographer Jerome Robbins.

And only naturally, Sarah Frankcom’s production soars when it puts Aletta Collins’ new moves front and centre. They are certainly recognisably inspired by Robbins but there’s an unmistakeable freshness that is just beautiful to watch and there’s something great about the fact they’re all doing it in Converse. The repeated ronds de jambe are iconic in their own way, an emotional grace is suffused throughout, and hints of contemporary nod to the physicality of two warring gangs, coiled bodies poised on Anna Fleischle’s climbing frame design. Fleischle has also maximised the floor space of the Exchange to great effect, the aesthetic is pure dance and it works. Continue reading “Review: West Side Story, Royal Exchange”

20 shows to look forward to in 2019

So many of the recommendations for shows to see next year focus on the West End. And for sure, I’m excited to catch big ticket numbers like All About Eve, Come From Away, and Waitress but I wanted to cast my eye a little further afield, so here’s my top tips for shows on the London fringe (plus one from the Barbican) and across the UK.

1 Medea, Internationaal Theater Amsterdam at the Barbican
Simon Stone’s sleekly contemporary recasting of Euripides is straight up amazing. Anchored by a storming performance from Marieke Heebink, it is as beautiful and brutal as they come. It’s also one of the few plays that has legit made me go ‘oh no’ out loud once a particular penny dropped. My review from 2014 is here but do yourself a favour and don’t read it until you’ve seen it.

Macbeth, Watermill Theatre
2018 saw some disappointing Macbeths and I was thus ready to swear off the play for 2019. But the Watermill Ensemble’s decision to tackle the play will certainly break that resolve, Paul Hart’s innovative direction of this spectacular actor-musician team will surely break the hoodoo…

3 Noughts and Crosses, Derby Theatre, and touring
Pilot Theatre follow on from their strong Brighton Rock with this Malory Blackman adaptation by Sabrina Mahfouz, a Young Adult story but one which promises to speak to us all. Continue reading “20 shows to look forward to in 2019”

Review: Strictly Ballroom the Musical, Piccadilly

Baz Luhrmann’s Strictly Ballroom the Musical may not be the strongest musical in the world, but it’s a stronger piece of musical theatre, thanks to Drew McOnie’s choreography

“Pam Shortt’s broken both her legs, and I wanna dance with you”

It is fascinating to be able to follow the development of a show, particularly one that has morphed as much as Strictly Ballroom the Musical. I saw it at the West Yorkshire Playhouse the winter before last, where it didn’t quite set my world on fire, so I was intrigued to hear that its arrival in the West End at the Piccadilly would be accompanied by quite the overhaul, still directed and choreographed by Drew McOnie.

The major change to this adaptation of Baz Luhrmann’s 1992 cult hit movie comes with the introduction of bandleader Wally Strand, played by Will Young, an MC figure and human jukebox who takes on the vast majority of the evening’s singing. And as we skip from Grace Jones to Billy Idol, via Bowie, Whitney and Cyndi, it’s a real pleasure to hear him sing Marius De Vries’ brilliant new arrangements. Continue reading “Review: Strictly Ballroom the Musical, Piccadilly”

Review: In The Heights, King’s Cross Theatre

“Since when are Latin people scared of heat?”

There’s something about a really good musical that makes it a pleasure to go back and revisit and so it is with In The Heights, its fresh contemporary edge hugely exciting to witness and so full of visual and lyrical interest that re-viewing brings up many things that I missed first time round. My 5* review for Cheap Theatre Tickets can be read there and I urge you to book as soon as possible, if only because Victoria Hamilton-Barritt is getting increasingly pregnant (funny how that happens!) and she is unmissable in the role of Daniela (although equally, it will be interesting to see how whoever covers the role performs it once she leaves).

Running time: 2 hours 30 minutes (with interval) 
Photo: Robert Workman
Booking until 3rd January

Review: In The Heights, King’s Cross Theatre

“Well you must take the A Train
Even farther than Harlem 
To northern Manhattan and
maintain 
Get off at 181st, and
take the escalator 
I hope you’re writing this 
Down, I’m gonna test ya later” 

Lin-Manuel Miranda’s stock could not be higher with his new show Hamilton taking Broadway by storm so it’s an apposite time for this belated transfer of his earlier musical In The Heights, with book written by Quiara Alegría Hudes. Undoubtedly one of the best shows of 2014, Luke Sheppard’s production blew the roof off the Southwark Playhouse and is now poised to do the same at the King’s Cross Theatre with many of the original cast and creatives returning to give us a slice of life from the New York Hispanic community of Washington Heights. 

Nothing has been lost in the move, the whole production just sparks with vivid life. From takis’ effective sidewalk design (now with added movable fire escape) to the pure joy of Drew McOnie’s choreography, the reconfigured staging releases a newer, raw energy that blooms into the space. And with Gabriella Slade’s day-glo bright costumes, the vibrant splashes of Howard Hudson’s lighting and the crispness of Gareth Owen’s sound design, complemented well by Phil Cornwell’s musical direction, Sheppard keeps the show firing excitingly at full throttle throughout. Continue reading “Review: In The Heights, King’s Cross Theatre”

Re-review: In The Heights, Southwark Playhouse

 

“Since when are Latin people scared of heat?”

I can’t remember the exact moment when I knew I would book to see In The Heights again but it would definitely be somewhere in the first 10 minutes of watching it the first time. There was a certain amount of expectation resting on the shoulders of this production – the show was brand new to me but it was impossible to ignore the excitement of those were previously familiar with it – and so I had a little trepidatious fear that I might be swimming against the tide with this one. But I could not have been more wrong – as my original review will attest – and so I nabbed a pair of tickets for the final week within minutes of getting home!

There isn’t really too much more to say about the show than to commend it for maintaining such a magnificent level of energy throughout its run, it feels as fresh and punchy as it did last time and that is no mean feat with such a physically demanding piece as this. There’s a wonderfully teasing note on their website which says sign up here to be kept informed of the future of this production and it would be a well-deserved success for all concerned if a transfer was secured. I really hope they find a space suitable though, as whilst many may cry ‘it should be in the West End’, so much of its unique joy comes from the intimacy of this studio configuration.  

Review: In The Heights, Southwark Playhouse

 
“My mom is Dominican-Cuban
My dad is from Chile and PR which means
I’m Chile..Domini-curican!
But I always say I’m from Queens!”

Amid the crashing and burning of ill-conceived big budget West End shows, it has been left to the smaller venues of London to carry the torch for musical theatre in the capital and currently leading the charge with what will surely end up being one of the productions of the year is the Southwark Playhouse. They secured the UK premiere of Tony winning show In The Heights which in itself is an achievement but more importantly, they assembled a team who have expertly reconceived it for the relatively intimate space to create some explosively exciting theatre.

Luke Sheppard’s production is pitch-perfect on every level. The choreography – Drew McOnie deserves every prize going – is fearless, fast and furious, Latin influences married with contemporary movement to create something that feels incredibly organic in its fluidity; Howard Hudson’s lighting is full of vibrant splashes of colour and well evokes the near-unbearable heat; and takis’ set design maximises the space brilliantly, suggesting the communal spirit and run-down feel of a hard-done-by enclave yet also finding room for a band of 8 along with a cast of 17. Continue reading “Review: In The Heights, Southwark Playhouse”