Review: Come From Away, Phoenix Theatre

The highly anticipated musical Come From Away leaves me dry-eyed at the Phoenix Theatre despite a very strong cast

“There’s nothing to do, nothing to see
Thank god we stopped at the duty-free”

I didn’t check the merchandise stand at Irene Sankoff and David Hein’s Come From Away but I wouldn’t be surprised if they were seeing branded tissues, such is the weight of expectation that comes with this musical, set in the days after 9/11. But rather than New York, the show is set more than 2,000 kilometres away in the remote town of Gander, Newfoundland, where 38 planes with 6,579 passengers were grounded in the aftermath of the attacks. 

There, in a Canadian town that practically doubled in population overnight, we witness the unfolding of a tragedy but more significantly, the response of a community willing and able to do anything to extend the hand of friendship. Doors are flung open, shoulders proffered, bottles opened, an unquestioned barrage of hospitality seeking to envelop traumatised passengers who had been trapped for hours on their planes (in a pre-social media age remember), only to be released to find out the terrible news. Continue reading “Review: Come From Away, Phoenix Theatre”

Album Review: Half A Sixpence (2016 London Cast Recording)

“Um-tiddly-um-pum-um-pum-pum
Stick it in your fam’ly album”

With Half A Sixpence due to close in the West End in exactly one month, I thought now was as good a time as any to give the Original Cast Recording a listen. The show has built up quite the devoted following in its lifespan but for me, in both its original Chichester production and the subsequent transfer to the Noël Coward, it was a musical that I liked rather than loved, the balance not quite right with all the magic in the second half.

And listening to the show simply reminded me of how I felt. Stripped of its extraordinary physicality, Charlie Stemp’s chirpy chappy routine is surprisingly quite wearisome to listen to from the outset. The sentiment of the opening title track proving cloying and the lack of any killer new tunes from Stiles and Drewe before the interval leave the score sounding solid rather than spectacular, I still can’t hum you a single track save ‘Half A Sixpence’ itself. Continue reading “Album Review: Half A Sixpence (2016 London Cast Recording)”

Review: Half A Sixpence, Noël Coward

“I’d let him strum my banjo”

It was no surprise to discover that Half A Sixpence would be transferring into the West End – its run at Chichester Festival Theatre was a huge success (you can read my review here) and with Cameron Mackintosh on producing duties, it was always going to be a case of when rather than if. It’s a slow-burner of a show, the second act really is the business thanks to Andrew Wright’s choreography and as it opened at the Noël Coward Theatre last night, you can now read my 4 star review for the transfer over at Cheap Theatre Tickets here

Running time: 2 hours 45 minutes (with interval)
Booking until 11th February

Review: Half A Sixpence, Chichester Festival Theatre

“Don’t forget your banjo”

Take a deep breath… the 1963 musical Half A Sixpence by Beverley Cross and David Heneker, based on the HG Wells novel Kipps: The Story of a Simple Soul, has been adapted anew for Chichester audiences with Julian Fellowes writing a fresh book and George Stiles and Anthony Drewe adding new music and lyrics to Heneker’s original songs. And because Cameron Mackintosh is Cameron Mackintosh, he gets a co-creator credit.

Originally written as a star vehicle for Tommy Steele, Half A Sixpence is the story of Arthur Kipps, an orphan who dreams of a better life whilst earning a pittance as a draper’s assistant in Shalford’s Bazaar, Folkestone. An unexpected bequest thrusts a fortune into his hands but his meteoric rise in society leaves him conflicted about his place in life as his heart is pulled between two very different young women (and a banjo). Continue reading “Review: Half A Sixpence, Chichester Festival Theatre”

Review: A Damsel in Distress, Chichester Festival Theatre

“I’m a poached cake without a piece of toast
Yorkshire pudding without a beef to roast”

It’s no secret at all that I love a good old-fashioned musical but it is hard to feel that we need more of them in the world. PG Wodehouse’s A Damsel in Distress started life as a novel in 1919, has been adapted on both stage (with Ian Hay) and screen, where it was augmented by a suite of songs by George and Ira Gershwin, and now finds itself as a piece of musical theatre with a new book by Jeremy Sams and Robert Hudson and vibrantly directed and choreographed by Rob Ashford. 

With a cast that contains Richard Dempsey, Isla Blair, Nicholas Farrell, Sally Ann Triplett, plus the requisite Strallen (Summer, in this case), there’s little about which to complain. Yet I find myself grumbling a little, the bar at Chichester has been set so extraordinarily high with their recent successes, that even a very good production can seem a little lacklustre by comparison. And with so many great ‘traditional’ musicals of this form in the canon, do we really need new ones to be constructed?  Continue reading “Review: A Damsel in Distress, Chichester Festival Theatre”

Preview: Assassins, Menier Chocolate Factory

“Angry men don’t write the rules and guns don’t right the wrongs”

The season to be jolly is fast approaching but if the idea of Christmas cheer in the theatre leaves you, well, less than cheerful, then the Menier Chocolate Factory’s festive offering this year may well be up your street. The highly prolific director Jamie Lloyd is taking on Stephen Sondheim’s Assassins, which sees Sondheim’s music and lyrics coiled around John Weidman’s book exploring the men and women who tried (whether successfully or not) to assassinate a President of the United States.

It’s hardly the most Christmassy of shows and I think that is pretty much the point. And Sondheim’s enduring popularity (especially at this venue) makes it a safe bet even before the luxurious quality of the cast and company comes into the equation. I saw the first preview on Friday, my booking radar having gone a little awry as I was away when the tickets were released, so instead of reviewing the production, I’m offering you 10 things to look forward to and look out for and if I get to see the show later in the run, I’ll review it ‘properly’ then. Here be mild production spoilers (all hidden behind links).

Continue reading “Preview: Assassins, Menier Chocolate Factory”

Review: Guys and Dolls, Chichester Festival Theatre

“If I were a watch I’d start popping my springs!”

From the opening moments of an overture that demands the attention, it is clear that Chichester’s revival of the Broadway classic Guys and Dolls is going to be a scorcher. Director Gordon Greenberg utilises not only Carlos Acosta as choreographer but also Andrew Wright as a co-choreographer and the combination of the two is simply explosive – these are no two-bit routines that people are shuffling around, this is proper dance and it is thrilling to behold.

It helps of course to be connected to Jo Swerling and Abe Burrows’ amiable book, based on Damon Runyon’s characters, about the travails of a bunch of New York gamblers, and Frank Loesser’s evergreen music and lyrics which churns out classic after classic after classic. Greenberg wisely doesn’t interfere much at all with the material, just cultivating warmth from all of his performers and particularly his two leading couples, making them utterly adorable. Continue reading “Review: Guys and Dolls, Chichester Festival Theatre”

Review: The Sound of Music, Open Air Theatre

“But somewhere in my wicked, miserable past there must have been a moment of truth”

Despite never having seen it on the stage before, I hadn’t originally intended to go and see the Open Air Theatre’s production of The Sound of Music. But whilst on holiday, we watched the film on TV en famille whereupon I was reminded of its charms and hearing the good reviews of this production, duly set about booking tickets for an evening when I hoped the sun would shine. And I clearly had some good theatrical karma as a glorious summer’s evening set up what a simply delightful evening of old school musical entertainment.

It may not be the most adventurous of programming choices and Rachel Kavanaugh’s production plays a very straight bat but in many ways, this is why it is so successful. Its straightforward simplicity allows for a direct emotional hit, one which plays off the indubitable familiarity of so much of the material but also the opportunities offered by this open air venue and the freshness of a supremely talented cast. Charlotte Wakefield’s Maria and Michael Xavier’s Captain may initially seem more youthful than one might expect but together they work like a dream, combining with the whole company to create the kind of warmth that would brighten even the soggiest of September evenings (the run has extended by a week due to its success). Continue reading “Review: The Sound of Music, Open Air Theatre”

Review: Kiss Me, Kate, Chichester Festival Theatre

“But when the thermometer goes right up, and the weather is sizzling hot…”

So confident in their run of successful summer musicals is Chichester Festival Theatre that the transfer for Kiss Me, Kate (it will play at co-producers London’s Old Vic from 20th November to 2nd March) was announced before it had even opened at its native theatre. But with experienced hands Trevor Nunn directing and Stephen Mears choreographing, Cole Porter’s ever-spry music and a cast headed up by leading light of the British musical theatre scene Hannah Waddingham, it was a reasonably safe bet.

And unsurprisingly, it is one that has paid off. The show follows a theatre company putting on a musical version of Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew, where the feisty relationship between Petruchio and Katherine is echoed by the conflict between director and leading man Fred and his ex-wife Lilli who is playing opposite him. As the offstage drama threatens to overwhelm the onstage, some shenanigans from another member of the company in a gambling room throws matters further into disarray. Continue reading “Review: Kiss Me, Kate, Chichester Festival Theatre”