Review: Kiss Me, Kate, London Coliseum

Opera North’s production does nothing to address the inherent problems of Kiss Me, Kate and thus feels like a relic of the past

“The overture is about to start,
You cross your fingers and hold your heart”

Revivals speak a lot to where an organisation sees itself. With its heady combination of Shakespearean drama and Cole Porter’s musical wit, Kiss Me, Kate has all the air of a sure bet about it and indeed, Jo Davies first mounted this production for Opera North in 2015, this revival of that revival being directed here by Ed Goggin as it opens here at the Coliseum.

But for all its familiarity, and that inherent bankability, it feels a problematic choice to stage. In a contemporary Britain, in a society switched onto #MeToo, even the sexual politics of something as notionally fatuous as Love Island are being newly parsed and much of what has long been considered acceptable, or tolerated due to ‘classic’ status, is rightly being reassessed.   Continue reading “Review: Kiss Me, Kate, London Coliseum”

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”

Review: Sweeney Todd, Mercury

“Because the lives of the wicked should be made brief. 
For the rest of us death will be a relief.”

A handful of cancelled performances due to production design problems meant I missed Sweeney Todd in Derby but fortunately, it being a co-production with Colchester’s Mercury meant that I was able to fit it in to what has been a most hectic schedule this October. And I’m glad I did, for Sondheim and Hugh Wheeler’s musical proves once again to be an evergreen classic and Daniel Buckroyd’s production here makes that case, whilst still establishing its own spin.

Most notably, it comes in the casting of Hugh Maynard as the titular Demon Barber of Fleet Street, for much as I’d love us to be in a place where it doesn’t matter, it still feels important to note that he is the first black man to play the role professionally in the UK. And from his very first utterance, you’re left in no doubt whatsoever that he’s more than up to the task, giving us a viscerally angry Sweeney, his fury his defining characteristic right up until the finale. Continue reading “Review: Sweeney Todd, Mercury”

Review: Travels With My Aunt, Minerva

“While you’ve flitted and you’ve flirted 
I’ve had rubber gloves inserted”

The Telegraph describes Travels With My Aunt as the perfect Sunday night musical, but whilst I’m all for a smattering of “gentle feel-good enjoyment” (I loved both Ballykissangel and Monarch of the Glen with the best of them), it’s hard not to feel that this show also panders to the less-flattering side of that comparison too. In that it is thoroughly old-fashionedly middle-of-the-road, the traditional white, middle-class kind of undemanding entertainment that rarely gets the pulse racing yet still raises an eyebrow with the amount of stereotyping that it purveys.

You can see why Jonathan Church chose it to open his last season at the Chichester Festival Theatre, it’s a safe bet for that venue and its typical audience and there’s nothing wrong in that, I just can’t pretend to have any enthusiasm for it. A musical adaptation of Graham Greene’s 19969 novel of the same name, it comes from the same team who brought us Betty Blue Eyes – writers Ron Cowen and Daniel Lipman and composers George Stiles and Anthony Drewe. But where that show had a liberating sense of nostalgia, this one kept me prisoner. Continue reading “Review: Travels With My Aunt, Minerva”

Album Review: Singin’ in the Rain (2012 London Cast Album)

“Doo-dloo-doo-doo-doo
Doo-dloo-doo-doo-doo-doo
Doo-dloo-doo-doo-doo-doo
Doo-dloo-doo-doo-doo-doo”

Having had a near-perfect experience in on the front row at Chichester for Singin’ in the Rain, I didn’t think it could be topped by visiting the London transfer – sometimes I think it is best not to go back. But listening to the cast recording released by the London cast in 2012, I’m kinda wishing that I had. It is a cracking musical whichever way you cut it but this is a brilliant record of a dazzling production that, dare I say it, I listen to just as much as the original film soundtrack. 

This CD features 19 tracks, marking a slightly different tracklisting to previous theatrical productions, with most of the reprises included too. Larry Wilcox and Larry Blank’s orchestrations sound just luscious under Robert Scott’s musical direction, making the instrumentals just as vividly vibrant to listen to as the iconic songs we’ve all come to know and love and in Adam Cooper, Scarlett Strallen and Daniel Crossley’s expert hands, they are gloriously great.  Continue reading “Album Review: Singin’ in the Rain (2012 London Cast Album)”

Review: The Sound of Music, Curve

“My heart should be wildly rejoicing”
 

Rodgers and Hammerstein’s undeniable classic of a score, Paul Kerryson’s outgoing musical production as Artistic Director, a shining light of the British musical theatre taking on an iconic leading role – the ingredients are certainly there for something magical to appear this Christmas in Leicester. But to be perfectly honest, I couldn’t help but feel just a little disappointed by this version of The Sound of Music, whilst recognising that it is perhaps a choice in terms of failsafe festive programming.

Kerryson has been responsible for some brilliant reimaginings of West End stalwarts – most recently Chicago and Hairspray – but it is immediately apparent here that this is going to be as traditional as they come, even old-fashioned in its insistent reliance on flying cloths in Al Parkinson’s pastel-hued design. They undoubtedly have a spatial grandeur (the stained-glass reflections in the abbey in particular) but they also sap the pace of the production terribly as they’re wangled into place time and time again. Continue reading “Review: The Sound of Music, Curve”

Review: West Side Story, New Wimbledon

“There’s a place for us”

For me, West Side Story occupies that most special of places in that I can’t remember life without it. It’s a film I’ve loved to watch and a score I’ve loved to listen to since I was kneehigh to the proverbial and it is a love that has remained undiminished. I saw the last international tour of the show twice at Sadler’s Wells and so had thought I’d give this one a miss as it was more or less the same production, but the casting news for the extensive UK tour that followed meant I couldn’t resist a cheeky trip to the New Wimbledon to see it on its way.

Joey McKneely’s excellent production is well-contained within Paul Gallis’ brooding set design which forms the perfect backdrop for showcasing Jerome Robbins’ inimitable choreography which feels as fresh as it has ever done, not least because of the sheer timelessness of the gorgeous songs. ‘Somewhere’, ‘Tonight’, ‘Maria’, ‘I Feel Pretty’, ‘America’…the list goes on and given the huge enthusiasm from the fresh young ensemble gathered here, one can see the magic continuing to go on for generations of potential musical-lovers to come.  Continue reading “Review: West Side Story, New Wimbledon”

Review: Singin’ in the Rain, Chichester Festival Theatre

“Be a clown, be a clown, the whole world loves a clown”

I’m often asked what my favourite genre of theatre is and I usually make vague noises about liking all of it (farce and puppetry aside obviously) but there is no denying that the shows I truly love the most are big old-school musicals stuffed full of show-tunes and tap-dancing: sheer escapism wrapped up in cosy familiarity. I’m not entirely sure where this came from as these weren’t the shows (or films) of my childhood but this is turn has brought its own pleasures as I’ve been able to see shows like Hello, Dolly!, Salad Days and On the Town for the first time in amazing stage productions without knowing what to expect and consequently being blown away. Earlier this year, the Crucible’s Me and My Girl planted a strong marker for musical of the year but having now seen Singin’ in the Rain at the Chichester Festival Theatre, the competition is definitely hotting up.

There are similarities: the open thrust stage here, as in Sheffield, is just perfect for big expansive dance numbers, especially when they are this well-choreographed, and also able to play on an intimacy with the audience that most London theatres would kill for; and Daniel Crossley is in both, he may be in a supporting role here but to my mind, he is one of our best all-rounders, I could watch him dance for days; and they’re both ‘out-of-town’ shows, I’m not sure how much of a difference it really makes, but it is hard to shake the feeling that had they originated in London, they’d be less ensemble-oriented, less fun and more cynically post-modern. Continue reading “Review: Singin’ in the Rain, Chichester Festival Theatre”

Review: Wicked, Apollo Victoria

“Who can say if I’ve been changed for the better?”

Due to a number of reasons (mainly bad reviews from friends, vitriolic reviews from critics and the ticket prices) I never quite managed to getting round to seeing Wicked despite really wanting to see Idina Menzel who reprised her Broadway role initially, and it’s always been fairly near the bottom of my list of shows to get round to seeing. But with the Get Into London Theatre offer available on good seats (£60 tickets for £35, offer now expired), I finally bit the bullet and booked at the Apollo Victoria.

Purporting to tell the hidden story behind The Wizard of Oz, Wicked tells the story of two girls, Elphaba and Galinda, who meet at sorcery school and follows their tumultuous relationship as they grow up. For they become respectively, the Wicked Witch of the West and Glinda the Good Witch of the North, and their complex friendship is tested with rivalries over love and their opposing personalities and viewpoints. And whereas the story begins well before Dorothy arrives in the land of Oz, much of what we see sheds interesting new light on events as we know them. Continue reading “Review: Wicked, Apollo Victoria”