Review: Allegro, Southwark Playhouse

“We muffle all the undertones,
The minor blood-and-thunder tones;
The overtones are all we care to play”

Even Rodgers and Hammerstein can have a duff moment. Allegro is a rarity amongst their catalogue in that its 1947 debut was not the equal of the shows that they wrote before and after – you may have heard of them, Carousel and South Pacific… – and so has languished pretty much in obscurity ever since. But in these content-hungry, revisionist times, nothing lays untouched for too long and it is the expert hand of Thom Southerland who has brought us Allegro’s European premiere to the Southwark Playhouse.

I reviewed the 2009 first complete recording of the show in the summer and was surprised at how musically strong it was (helped of course by a stellar cast) so was intrigued to see how the book played out alongside it. And for me, it is not too hard to see why this is a show that has collected dust rather than accolades on the shelf. Telling the life and times of an ordinary American Joe, called Joe, from birth to childhood (told by puppets, eeesh!) through to mid-life crisis but so ordinary is Joe, so everyday the details of his life, that it is hard to get too excited by it. Continue reading “Review: Allegro, Southwark Playhouse”

Review: Avenue Q, Greenwich Theatre

“You gotta go after the things you want while you’re still in your prime…”

Since co-writing Avenue Q in 2002 with Jeff Marx and book-writer Jeff Whitty, Robert Lopez’s career has sky-rocketed with the mega-musical The Book of Mormon and Disney behemoth Frozen so the opportunity to revisit life with the puppets in the less salubrious parts of New York is a welcome one. Sell A Door’s production opens at the Greenwich Theatre and then will go an extensive tour of the UK, visiting 19 more theatres across the country to spread its often outrageous but always warm-hearted tales of the trials of day-to-day living in the big city.

So we follow fresh young graduate Princeton as his idealism gets slowly crushed by temp jobs and mounting bills and relief can only be found in booze and casual sex. Told in the style of an adult version of Sesame Street, the show is blessed with a brilliant witty score from Lopez and Marx which keeps a welcome edge to the show’s gooey heart and songs like ‘The Internet is for Porn’, ‘Everyone’s A Little Bit Racist’ and ‘If You Were Gay’ are instantly memorable classics which sit easily next to the bittersweet emotion of ‘It’s A Fine Fine Line’ and ‘Fantasies Come True’.  Continue reading “Review: Avenue Q, Greenwich Theatre”

Review: South Pacific, Barbican

“You can’t light a fire when the wood is all wet”

It will be interesting to see how many, if any, of the print critics make reference to one of the most significant aspects of the Barbican’s import of the Lincoln Center production of South Pacific: the ticket prices. The majority of the stalls is priced at £85, making the slightly restricted view seats a whopping £65 and you have to go up to the upper circle before prices start to drop. Not willing to spend so much, we went for the second-cheapest option, up in the balcony / gallery – £20 seats which were reduced to £16 with my membership – rather disgracefully the membership discount only being applicable to the first four performances, thus this is a preview being reviewed here. But credit where it’s due, the seats were just like the normal ones, comfortable with lots of leg room and you really are not that far away from the stage at all: it is so nice to find a venue with cheap seats that don’t take the p*ss out of the audience member and their comfort.

But to the show. This was an extremely well-received production in New York, winning a handful of Tonys and running for 2 years, and so Bartlett Sher has sought to recreate its success for this engagement at the Barbican ahead of a UK tour, even bringing over three members of the original cast. There’s apparently 40 people in the cast (though I counted a few less) and an orchestra of 25 so words like lavish and breathtaking are being thrown around, presumably to mitigate for the pricing, though it is not evident that much investment has gone into the set design… It is one of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s most well known musicals, last seen in London ten years ago at the National Theatre but that was before my time here. Continue reading “Review: South Pacific, Barbican”

Review: Avenue Q, Richmond Theatre

“If you rearrange the letters in ‘unemployment’, you get the word ‘opportunity’”

If you’ve been reading this blog for any length of time, then you will know that one of my favourite shows of recent years (if not my entire life!) is Avenue Q, now sadly departed from the West End after a 5 year, multi-venue stint but thankfully given new life in this extensive UK tour which covers a massive number of venues over the next six months. I’ve seen it seven times now, but could not resist another trip when the tour called into Richmond Theatre with its new cast featuring both new faces and some familiar ones from earlier incarnations of the West End cast.

The show is a slice of young(ish) adulthood, with characters – some human, some Sesame Street style puppets – who are just doodling along in life from day to day whilst dealing with the struggles of relationships, sex, careers, identity, mostly to the tune of Robert Lopez and Jeff Marx’s wonderfully witty and catchy songs. What really works about the show though is the way in which it uses the puppets and the kids show format to deal with these adult issues in such an engaging and playful way yet always remaining true to heart.

Rachel Jerram was excellent as the sweet-natured but realistic Kate Monster and stretching well to make a convincingly vampy Lucy the Slut, her previous time on the show not restricting her from putting her own spin on Kate in particular; Chris Thatcher pulled off both Nicky and Trekkie Monster with aplomb and combined with Katharine Moraz, made for a brilliant pair of Bad Idea Bears; Edward Judge and Matthew J Henry were both good as Brian and Gary respectively, but it was Jacqueline Tate’s Christmas Eve who came close to stealing the show, her comfort in the role really showing as she combined playing for laughs with the necessary clarity to ensure everyone hears the jokes too as well as the accent.

The only slight room for improvement I could see was with Adam Pettigrew as Princeton/Rod: his Rod was perfect but I felt that he betrayed a little nervousness in rushing many of his lines at Princeton and not really working the charm quite enough as befits the central character. Though I suspect part of this came down to the fact I was a little surprised at how young he looked, especially against the rest of the ensemble, but as the only one of the leads to not have any previous Q experience, he’s bound to ease into the role a bit more as the tour progresses.

I don’t think I could see any major changes to the show, the only obvious one being a nice nod to Kew Gardens at one point, always nice to see in touring shows and a couple of new positions I didn’t remember in the puppet sex scene 😉 But there were subtle things that I picked up that I’d either forgotten or hadn’t noticed before, especially the choreographed movements of the Bad Idea Bears (my favourite characters).

Whereas it may have been the 8th time for me seeing this show and there were definitely some other fans who had seen it more than once scattered throughout the audience, it is always great fun listening to the reactions of people seeing the show for the first time, especially with their reactions to the humour and it is for that reason that I don’t think I will ever grow bored of watching this show. It really is one of the most relatable shows out there, whether it’s your love-life, your job or just general angst about the direction of your life, there will be something in here that resonates with you with its bittersweet honesty and warmly deep humour (although I reckon they could have picked a better target than Jedward for the end of For Now!).

Running time: 2 hours 10 minutes (with interval)
Programme cost: £3
Booking until 5th March and then continuing to tour the country, Aberdeen, Woking, Norwich and Sheffield are the next stops
Note: definitely not suitable for young’uns (under 5s not allowed) and approach with caution for up to 15 I think

Review (or more of a love letter): the fourth-to-last Avenue Q, Wyndhams

“Everything in life is only for now”

There’s no show really that best typifies my love for the theatre, and specifically my love for London theatregoing, than Avenue Q. From its arrival at the Noël Coward Theatre in 2006, this was a show I fell head over heels for from the opening song and one that has provided constant pleasure to me ever since. Looking back, I think this counts up as my seventh visit to the show, plus one special Valentine’s Day cabaret show, and like every relationship it has had its ups and downs, but ultimately that’s only made my love for the show stronger and I was really pleased to be able to squeeze in one last visit to the final Friday afternoon show to bid it ‘furwell’. 

As if I couldn’t have loved this show more, the grace and humour with which the closing notices were announced just melted my heart. I’ve borrowed images of the set of posters from the Avenue Q Facebook page and posted them here to show you what I mean, I particularly love the ‘Available for Panto from 30 October’ line, it is so typical of the humour of the show and whoever has been in charge of the publicity should be commended for keeping a sense of humour throughout. The YouTube clip at the bottom is also well worth a watch.

Continue reading “Review (or more of a love letter): the fourth-to-last Avenue Q, Wyndhams”

Review: Avenue Q, Wyndhams

“Ethnic jokes might be uncouth, but you laugh because they’re based on truth”

Now in its third home in the West End in its fifth year altogether, Avenue Q is proving to be something of an enduring success which fills my heart with joy. It is a couple of years since I’ve seen it, but when it first came out I just fell completely in love with the show, and particularly with the opening cast, and ended up seeing it about 5 times in the space of two years. A couple of trips to later incarnations of the cast left me a little disappointed, Jon Robyns, Simon Lipkin and Julie Atherton were just the dream team for me, and plus I ran out of people to take to it, so I hadn’t thought I would go again. However, a visit from a dear musical loving Canadian friend and a slight booking snafu for Wicked with meant we ended up at the half price ticket booth at Leicester Square and we plumped for this familiar old friend.

Having seen it so many times and having the soundtrack on my iPod means I know the songs inside out now, but I do maintain that Avenue Q is one of the best new musicals to have been written in the last decade. So many of the songs are classics, instantly catchy and running the emotional gamut from laugh-out-loud funny (so many to choose from but my favourites are probably ‘If You Were Gay’, ‘The Internet Is For Porn’ and ‘Everyone’s A Little Bit Racist’) to tear-in-the-eye touching (the end of ‘Fantasies Come True’, the beginning of ‘It’s A Fine Fine Line’). And they are just so sharp lyrically, full of zippy one-liners and the ring of truth. Continue reading “Review: Avenue Q, Wyndhams”