Review: Annie, Piccadilly

“‘Steada treated
We get tricked”

With a singing style that is as strong as Theresa May’s record on supporting the police and an accent that is as stable as the content of her manifesto, it’s a bold move to make Miranda Hart the above the title star of this production of Annie, the first in London this millennium. To be fair though, unlike May she’s willing to work well with others, gamely throwing herself into harmonies and hoofing around in vaudevillean-style routines, but her performance is too close to the warmth of her TV persona to ever really convince of the darkness at the heart of Miss Hannigan.

Equally, it’s hard to feel that the West End is in real need of Annie and all its old-fashioned ways. Nikolai Foster’s production, seen on tour in the UK over the last year, has its certain charm but it is hard to get excited by any of it. Colin Richmond’s jigsaw puzzle of a set design misguidedly evokes thoughts of Matilda when in reality there’s nothing that fresh about it; Nick Winston’s choreography similarly promises much but ends up reaching for traditional touchpoints which end up underwhelming with the relatively small company at hand here, as evidenced in the small scale of ‘N.Y.C.’. Continue reading “Review: Annie, Piccadilly”

Review: Sweet Charity, Royal Exchange

“Life will be frozen peaches and cream”

 
I’ve seen a couple of comments questioning whether Sweet Charity is an appropriate choice for the Royal Exchange’s festive musical – I assume they avoided last year’s Into the Woods and the year before’s Little Shop of Horrors, neither show hardly known for their jazz hands and perma-smiles. For the joy of great musical theatre, of any theatre, is when it can find shades of darkness and light in its storytelling, finding a way to reflect the richness of life in its downs as well as its ups.

Director Derek Bond (whose Little Shop… remains a stunning high point) acknowledges all of the problems inherent in Neil Simon, Cy Coleman and Dorothy Fields’ tale of a dancer, the titular Charity Hope Valentine, and her repeated, desperate lack of luck in her romantic life and through his interpretation and the directness of Aletta Collins’ choreography, also takes it seriously. Anchored by a properly star-making and heart-breaking performance from Kaisa Hammarlund, it just works. Continue reading “Review: Sweet Charity, Royal Exchange”

Album Review: American Psycho (London Cast Recording)

“Let’s be clear, there’s nothing ironic
About our love of Manolo Blahnik”

So in a slightly odd turn of events, as Rupert Goold’s American Psycho opens for previews on Broadway, the London Cast Recording of the Almeida’s Winter 2013/14 production is finally released. That London run was well-received by me, so much so that I went back (not just to post the pics of one of its nifty ad campaigns) twice and Duncan Sheik’s music was a big part of that, very much appealing to the 80s kid in me.

Sheik’s score is bathed in a glossy sheen of electronica, predominantly made up of original songs but also featuring covers of some 80s classics – Human League, Tears for Fears, even Phil Collins in radically reharmonised version of ‘In The Air Tonight’. And it’s the ideal partner for this adaptation of Bret Easton Ellis’ novel and surprisingly, it holds up really well, even without the vivid visuals (not least of Matt Smith’s abs). Continue reading “Album Review: American Psycho (London Cast Recording)”

Review: White Christmas, West Yorkshire Playhouse

“As a child I went wild when a band played
How I ran to the man when his hand swayed”

How else would you start December but with two theatrical productions of White Christmas in quick succession… But where London has a more predictable, traditional take on the hoary old classic with the well-established touring production faithfully replicated, Leeds has a reimagined and reinvigorated version which makes it altogether a more intriguing proposition in the hands of esteemed director Nikolai Foster (whose forthcoming artistic directorship of the Curve in Leicester looks to be most promising indeed) (PS he’s no relation).
I left the Dominion Theatre in London quite well inclined to the show as it does tick all the boxes, perhaps in a somewhat perfunctory manner but with dollops of old-school charm. But freed from those constrictions, Foster is able to give us a fresh new take which is retro rather than old-fashioned, taking its cues from 50s Americana in Matthew Wright’s glorious revolving design. And with arrangements refreshed with a real musical intimacy and integrity by orchestrator Jason Carr and choreography revitalised by Nick Winston, this is a creative team firing on all cylinders.
And delivering the fruits of their labour is a cracking cast who bring an unexpected depth to the we-gotta-put-on-a-show story. The root of Darren Day and Oliver Tompsett’s relationship as Hollywood stars is firmly in their shared past as WWII veterans and Emma Williams and Holly Dale Spencer, as the Haynes sisters for whom they fall on their Vermont holiday, perfectly capture the contemporary sensuality which is just irresistible. And so as Bob and Phil and Betty and Judy sing and dance their way to saving the day, their combined chemistry ensures a real investment in the show (even as it stretches out just a tad too long) especially in Williams and Spencer’s heartwarmingly lovely performances.
There’s great support from the rest of the talented company too – Melanie La Barrie darn well nearly steals another musical (after a barnstorming turn in Guys and Dolls – seriously, when is someone going to put this woman front and centre in a show?!) with a show-stopping rendition of ‘Let Me Sing and I’m Happy’, Siôn Tudor Owen’s Ezekiel Foster (no relation to Nikolai, or me for that matter) and Andrew Jarvis’ General Waverly both light up the stage in their own way, and the cumulative effect of everyone’s enthusiasm more than fills the vast auditorium as the long-awaited comes to pass as it surely must do. London 0 Leeds 1 by my count.
Running time: 2 hours 40 minutes (with interval)
Booking until 17th January

Re-review: American Psycho, Almeida

“Is everything alright Patrick?”

Third time round for this show, so little to add to my original review and then the subsequent brief re-review. One of my new year’s resolutions is to embrace seeing the shows I love more than once – there’s so much theatre in London and beyond that it has often felt like a crime to view things again rather than going to see something new and though that hasn’t changed, the joy of rewatching things recently has been particularly great. In that spirit, when a random cheap ticket popped up on the Almeida’s website, the prospect of seeing American Psycho again was irresistible. 

Some pieces of theatre impress with the depth of their profundity, whilst others glisten with their immediacy, and American Psycho most definitely fits into the latter category. It’s almost like an extended music video with its 80s pop score, extraordinary visual impact and kinetic choreography (I’m on the lookout for a club in which people actually do that ‘hands in the air’ dancing) and the fast-moving pace of Rupert Goold’s production means its thrills are akin to the rush of a rollercoaster and for me, endlessly reconsumable. 

Running time: 2 hours 40 minutes (with interval)
Programme cost: £5, and worth the purchase for its great content
Booking until 1st February, run sold out but day tickets and there’s often returns available on the website, checking late at night works

Re-review: American Psycho, Almeida

“You’ll see why Santa loves the snow”

It’s turning out to be quite the month for revisits of shows – I had a pair of tickets for American Psycho which I passed onto a friend after I was lucky enough to be invited to the press night, thinking it would be fairer to let someone else get to see the show as it was sold out. But after a drunken night out and some research on my phone, we discovered a few stray tickets (assumedly returns) were available for purchase on the Almeida’s website and after an evening of lemonades, my benevolence wasn’t quite so persistent…

My companion hadn’t seen it so I didn’t feel quite as guilty as I might have, and I really enjoyed the show so was looking forward to seeing it again, even after a relatively short interval. My thoughts from last time are here and so I’ll just concern myself with a few observations here. Matt Smith clearly loves an adlib, the revolve broke down again and he flirted a little with the stagehand trying to fix it; in the final number, it is actually Ben Aldridge doing a lot of the heavy lifting with the singing; and it really is impressive how effective Sheik’s score is in focusing almost entirely on setting the mood of the piece rather than furthering the narrative. Continue reading “Re-review: American Psycho, Almeida”

Review: American Psycho, Almeida

“But the truth is no-one ever dare says,
You can never go wrong with the right Hermès”

The prospect of a musical version of Bret Easton Ellis’ cult classic of a novel American Psycho, already memorably filmed with Christian Bale, was enough to get the tastebuds salivating, well before it was announced that outgoing Doctor Who actor Matt Smith would be taking on the lead role which meant that tickets were suddenly like gold dust. And it is rather pleasing to be able to say that they are rightfully a hot ticket – not just because of an excellent lead performance by Smith as the nihilistic serial killer Patrick Bateman, but because this production – an Almeida Theatre and Headlong co-production in association with Act 4 Entertainment – is imbued with sheer quality from top to pert bottom.

Set in the midst of late 80s consumerism gone mad, Bateman is a New York banker obsessed with living the high life and living it better than his colleagues as they try to out-do each other with their ability to get tables at the hottest restaurants, work out to get the tightest abs, dress in the coolest designer clothes and win the all-important battle of the business cards. He’s got a society girlfriend too, Evelyn, but all the superficial glamour and glitz disguises a hollow core, emptier than his beloved 80s power tunes, and in order to fill the void within himself, Bateman has become a serial killer on the sly, butchering his way through any number of people that annoy him but still never really finding satisfaction. Continue reading “Review: American Psycho, Almeida”

Film Review: Les Misérables

“Life has dropped you at the bottom of the heap”

For many people, myself included, it is nigh on impossible to approach a film version of stage behemoth Les Misérables with a blank slate. It’s been a mainstay of the musical theatre world since its 1985 London debut – it is most likely the show I have seen the most times throughout my lifetime – and after celebrating its 25th anniversary with an extraordinarily good touring production, has been riding high with a revitalised energy. So Tom Hooper’s film has a lot to contend with in terms of preconceptions, expectations and long-ingrained ideas of how it should be done. And he has attacked it with gusto, aiming to reinvent notions of cinematic musicals by having his actors sing live to camera and bringing his inimitable close-up directorial style to bear thus creating a film which is epic in scale but largely intimate in focus.

In short, I liked it but I didn’t love it. I’m not so sure that Hooper’s take on the piece as a whole is entirely suited to the material, or rather my idea of how best it works. Claude-Michel Schönberg’s score has a sweeping grandeur which is already quasi-cinematic in its scope but Hooper never really embraces it fully as he works in his customary solo shots and close-ups into the numbers so well known as ensemble masterpieces.  ‘At The End Of The Day’ and ‘One Day More’ both suffer this fate of being presented as individually sung segments stitched together but for me, the pieces never really added up to more than the sum of their parts to gain the substantial power that they possess on the stage. Continue reading “Film Review: Les Misérables”

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”

Re-Review: Crazy For You, Novello

“Who could ask for anything more?!”

After a highly accomplished run at the Open Air Theatre, Crazy For You has transferred into the West End to take up residence in the Novello Theatre, taking advantage of the premature closing of Betty Blue Eyes. I saw it in Regents Park – review can be read here – and was easily seduced by its combination of Stephen Mears’ pulsating choreography and lively renditions of selections from the Gershwins’ considerable catalogue of songs. The show has been transplanted indoors pretty much in its entirety and continues to be a whole heap of uncomplicated entertainment.

I previously described the story as ‘pure hokum’ and little has changed in that respect but it really doesn’t matter in the end, because this really is a show that is all about the singing and dancing. It doesn’t so much reinvent this set of classic Gershwin songs, they are too well known for that, but it does present them in a fresh new setting which feels incredibly natural and well-fitted. Sometimes with jukebox shows there can be the feeling of songs being shoe-horned into the narrative but because this show wears its story quite lightly, that is rarely the case here. Instead, there’s a cheery skip through some of the best songs ever written that is guaranteed to lift the heart. Continue reading “Re-Review: Crazy For You, Novello”