Review: Violet, Charing Cross Theatre

Great design work from Morgan Large and a strong lead performance from Kaisa Hammarlund make Violet an intriguing proposition at the Charing Cross Theatre

“Who’s gonna heed your hullabaloos”

There’s much to like about this production of Jeanine Tesori and  Brian Crawley’s musical Violet, not least a winning performance from Kaisa Hammarlund and a striking set design from Morgan Large which makes the most of a cleverly reconfigured Charing Cross Theatre.

The stage has been moved to the centre of the long auditorium which dramatically ups the intimacy of the space. And Hammarlund – recently in another of Tesori’s musicals Fun Home – is a warmly magnetic presence as the central character Violet, a young woman who journeys from North Carolina to Oklahoma in the hope of a cure for the facial disfigurement that shapes her life. Continue reading “Review: Violet, Charing Cross Theatre”

Review: The Bubbly Black Girl Sheds Her Chameleon Skin, Theatre Royal Stratford East

“I’ve decided I’m going to be white”

Just a quickie for The Bubbly Black Girl Sheds Her Chameleon Skin as it closes in a couple of days and I have to say, I was a little bit disappointed with it. Kirsten Childs’ musical follows its protagonist Viveca from childhood in 1960s LA to 1990s New York, from a relatively sheltered middle class life to the harsher realities of trying to make it as a dancer on Broadway, plus navigating her way through the racism and sexism inherent in so much of contemporary society.

But though there’s much in the story that resonates (it is partly based on Childs’ own experiences), the show never quite connects in the same way. It picks with a magpie-like glee at a world of musical theatre references without really settling into its own identity, and musically the mix of Motown, pop and r’n’b feels a bit scattershot. Josette Bushell-Mingo’s production has surface glamour but even with Karis Jack and Sophia Mackay splitting the role of the younger and older versions of Viveca, there’s not enough of the grit to really ground the story.

Running time: 2 hours 20 minutes (with interval)
Booking until 11th March

Review: Side Show, Southwark Playhouse

“If you don’t say yes I’ll have a heart attack that will kill us both”

In what I thought was a serendipitous move, I just finished watching American Horror Story: Freak Show before going to see Side Show, but it turned out to be most unhelpful. For not only the connection (seemingly by dress) of conjoined twins Daisy and Violet Hilton with the twin heads of Sarah Paulson’s Bette and Dot pales by comparison, but the darkness of representing a ‘freak’ show is far more suited to the horror genre than this rather anaemic musical.

With book and lyrics written by Bill Russell and music by Henry Krieger (whose Dreamgirls finally arrives in London next month), Side Show has managed two abortive runs on Broadway since premiering in 1997, so it makes sense for Southwark Playhouse to take it on with their sterling record for reinvigorating musical theatre of varying reputations. But despite director Hannah Chissick and producer Paul Taylor-Mills’ best efforts, I’m not sure it is rehabilitated. Continue reading “Review: Side Show, Southwark Playhouse”

Review: Porgy and Bess, Open Air Theatre

“I’m full of all commotion like an ocean full of rhum”

The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess (as it appears to be styled here, in case you confuse it with Jedward’s Porgy and Bess) made for a striking component of the Open Air Theatre’s programme this summer. More folk opera than musical, it is perhaps a more challenging choice than usual but none the worse for it, the musical and dramatic spectacle heightened by an impressionistically remarkable design by Katrina Lindsay and director Timothy Sheader’s resourceful production which hammers home its musical strength.

From its tragically inclined leads, Nicola Hughes’ sensational Bess with her substance abuse issues and Rufus Bonds Jr’s impassioned dignity as Porgy, through brilliant support from the likes of Golda Roshuevel’s Serena and Sharon D Clarke’s Mariah, to the polar opposites of Jade Ewen’s impossibly pure Clara to croons the iconic lullaby ‘Summertime’ and Cedric Neal’s sleazily cocky ‘Sportin’ Life’ who swaggers through ‘It Ain’t Necessarily So’ as he ensnares Bess with his wares, the sheer size and quality of this ensemble is truly something to behold. Continue reading “Review: Porgy and Bess, Open Air Theatre”