Review: La Cage aux Folles, New Wimbledon

“It’s rather gaudy but it’s also rather grand”

 
It doesn’t feel like that long since La Cage aux Folles was strutting its stuff in London as I made several visits to the Playhouse as it rotated its main cast on a regular basis (Douglas Hodge and Denis Lawson, Philip Quast and Roger Allam, John Barrowman and Simon Burke) but it has a good few years. So the time is clearly ripe for a revival and Kenwright and co clearly agree as they’ve mounted the show’s first ever UK tour.

And with John Partridge and Adrian Zmed at the helm, it remains as gloriously entertaining and heart-warmingly lovable as ever. A story about love and acceptance always has things to teach us, gay or straight, now more than ever and the story of St Tropez nightclub owners Georges and Albin is a touching one as through dealing with Georges’ son’s fiancée’s parents’ homophobia, they learn more about themselves and their own identities. Continue reading “Review: La Cage aux Folles, New Wimbledon”

CD Review: Lend Me A Tenor (Original London Cast Recording)

“Life is like opera, it’s hard to keep the drama from seeping through”

The West End is a tough nut to crack at the best of times and despite its best efforts, the musical version of Ken Ludwig’s Lend Me A Tenor lasted barely 2 months at the Gielgud in 2010. It’s strange, especially in light of Dirty Rotten Scoundrels’ relative success, as it occupies a similar groove with its traditional, even old-school, vibes, aping a classic era of musical theatre with japes and jolliness but somehow, it just didn’t connect with audiences – not everyone loves a farce…

Its old-fashioned humour and madcap antics are well served by Brad Carroll’s score and Peter Sham’s lyrics and book, which follows the trials of the Cleveland, Ohio Grand Opera Company as a world famous tenor scheduled to sing in their Otello goes AWOL in the hotel just hours before he’s due onstage. Is there a schmuck who can step in at the last minute and pretend to be Merelli, of course there is, but there’s also jealous wives, lovelorn girlfriends and conniving co-stars aplenty to thicken the plot. Continue reading “CD Review: Lend Me A Tenor (Original London Cast Recording)”

Review: Free As Air, Finborough

“A man’s life is longer if he lazes,
Make time last by wandering through the daisies”
 

Discovering the unalloyed joy of Salad Days through Tête-à-Tête’s recent Riverside Studios production has to be one of my all-time favourite theatrical moments so the marking of its 60th anniversary with a production of a rarely seen show by the same writers was right up my street. Dorothy Reynolds and Julian Slade’s Free As Air hasn’t been seen professionally since 1974 but in the sure hands of Katy Lipson for Aria Entertainments and Neil McPherson’s Finborough Theatre, director/choreographer Stewart Nicholls makes a compelling case for its revival.

Much of the joy of these musicals that the Finborough has resuscitated with their ‘Celebrating British Music Theatre’ series comes from the thrill of unamplified ensembles filling this most intimate of theatres with the joy of song. And with a cast of 17 here, Nicholls and musical director Ben Stock pitch it just right, capturing the endearing glee that comes from something so determinedly old-fashioned yet utterly sincere in its delivery – it would be easy to bandy the word ‘twee’ about but there’s a real emotional honesty to the playing here. Continue reading “Review: Free As Air, Finborough”

Review: The Grand Duke, Finborough

“I’m a light-hearted girl, but I don’t chaff bogies”

Though Gilbert and Sullivan’s works enjoy enduring popularity across the country, the arbiters of taste seem to have dictated that there is little place for them in London’s theatres. So what we do get are fringe works – often highly inventive as in Sasha Regan’s all-male productions for the Union Theatre – and curiosities, as the Finborough unearths a rarely performed work from the pair, The Grand Duke, as part of their Celebrating British Music Theatre series.

Their final collaborative work, The Grand Duke or The Statutory Duel has languished on the shelves as its comparatively poor reception doomed it to an early closure and a lifetime of obscurity beckoned as the popular perception is that this show is proof positive of their degenerating creative partnership. In some ways, the argument can be made as the dialogue is creaky, the score is oft-times derivative and the hugely convoluted plot is sprawlingly bonkers. But then this is G+S that we’re talking about and to pull at the thread of either the lack of musical variety or straightforwardness of the plot is to call into question their whole oeuvre. Continue reading “Review: The Grand Duke, Finborough”

Review: Little Women The Musical, LOST Theatre

“Mother says its going to be a hard winter for everyone”

With music and lyrics by Lionel Segal and book by Peter Layton, this version of Little Women The Musical bears no relation to the production that ran for a short while on Broadway and has only been seen before in a one night concert showcase in 2005, making this the UK premiere run at the LOST theatre in Wandsworth. The musical is based on Louisa May Alcott’s well-loved 1868 novel, following the fortunes of the four March sisters in New England during Civil War-time as family responsibilities are cast against personal ambition and lives and loves pass by as poverty and social change loom large.

Whereas Layton book remains largely faithful to the novel, it’s not a story that one would assume immediately lends itself to the musical treatment. Segal’s music does not overtly embrace the music of the time as far as I could perceive, but rather goes for a modern-sounding aesthetic which is extremely successful in parts and less so in others. Where the show is at its strongest is in elucidating the sisterly dynamic between the March girls and their songs together illuminate this perfectly, a real sense of familial bond emerging from their playful vitality and gorgeous harmonising. Charlotte Newton John’s characterful Jo leads the show extremely well, with sensitive support from Claire Chambers and Laura Hope London as Beth and Meg respectively and a sprightly turn from Caroline Rodgers as the young brattish Amy, who delivers her malapropisms perhaps a little too knowingly. Continue reading “Review: Little Women The Musical, LOST Theatre”

Review: Lend Me A Tenor, Gielgud

“Anna 1, Anna 2, Anna 3”

For the second time in three days, I deliberately went to a show knowing nothing about it in advance, and I would evidently seem to have used up much of my theatrical karma as for the second time, I was subjected to farce! But ever the contrarian, musical comedy Lend Me A Tenor hit the spot for me with a highly entertaining production where Rumours at the Hen + Chickens did not (although they are completely different beasts in the end). A relatively new musical, written by Peter Sham and Brad Carroll and based on the 1986 play of the same name by Ken Ludwig, the show had a short run in Plymouth last autumn and transfers now to the Gielgud in the West End where it is now previewing following the untimely departure of The Umbrellas of Cherbourg. Several of the cast members have made the move with the show but in a neat twist of continuity, Joanna Riding has joined the ensemble here meaning she will continue to perform in the same theatre.

Set in 1934, the Cleveland, Ohio Grand Opera Company is struggling to survive and manager Henry Saunders is banking everything on their new production of Otello featuring leading Italian opera star and notorious womaniser Tito Minelli. But when a set of circumstances conspire to leave Tito unable to perform, shy assistant Max – who harbours his own dreams of performing – has to find a last minute replacement to play the title role. Things are not quite so simple though, this is a farce after all, as there’s a jealous Italian wife, conniving co-stars, a trio of ex-wives, a randy daughter, three version of the same costume, oh, and the President is coming to watch. Continue reading “Review: Lend Me A Tenor, Gielgud”