Re-review: Follies 2019, National Theatre

Follies 2019 remains the show that I need right now

“I’m so glad I came”

Just a quickie for this revisit to Follies, which remains as perfect a piece of musical theatre as I could hope for. I loved it then but I really love it now, Joanna Riding is just heartbreakingly perfect as Sally, she really brings something to the role that somehow eluded Imelda Staunton (for me at least), Alexander Hanson is superb in tracing Ben’s tragic fall, and Janie Dee and Peter Forbes maintain their stellar work as Phyllis and Buddy (seriously, Dee is a proper showstopper).

And as is surely appropriate in Dominic Cooke’s production, ghosts of the past interplay with what we’re seeing from top to bottom. It was great to see Dame Felicity Lott as Heidi, a different but no less affecting proposition than Dame Josephine Barstow (there truly ain’t nothing like a…). And the young talents of Gemma Sutton, Ian McIntosh, Harry Hepple and Christine Tucker are eloquently elegant as the younger incarnations of the central quartet. Continue reading “Re-review: Follies 2019, National Theatre”

Review: Follies 2019, National Theatre

The Olivier Award-winning Follies returns to the National Theatre in richer, deeper, more resonant form and just blows me away

“It’s the cat’s pyjamas”

Like the ghosts of their younger selves that haunt the characters in Follies so beautifully in this production, for those who were lucky enough to catch its superlative Olivier Award-winning 2017 run, so too do our memories interplay with what we’re seeing, inducing some soul-shiveringly exceptional moments that are almost metatheatrical in the feelings they provoke. 

The tingle of anticipation is never far away but the show somehow feels richer, deeper, more resonant in the note of melancholy it strikes as it exposes nostalgia for the rose-tinted self-delusion it so often becomes. Janie Dee’s Phyllis somehow feels more desolate, especially in her bitterly brilliant ‘Could I Leave You’; Tracie Bennett scorches the roof once more in ‘I’m Still Here’ in what feels like a more internal performance now; we’re all at least a year older… Continue reading “Review: Follies 2019, National Theatre”

Review: Chess, London Coliseum

Nobody’s on nobody’s side – an all-star cast can’t save this game of Chess from itself, for me at least

“From square one I’ll be watching all sixty-four”

It’s taken over 30 years for Chess to return to the West End (though it was seen at the Union in 2013) and though it has a huge amount of resource thrown at it in Laurence Connor’s production for English National Opera, it doesn’t necessarily feel worth the wait. An 80’s mega-musical through and through with an intermittently cracking score from ABBA’s Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus, Richard Nelson’s book hasn’t aged particularly well and bears the hallmarks of the  substantial tinkering it has had at every opportunity.

It’s not too hard to see why it has needed the tinkering. The mix of Cold War politics told through the prism of rival US and Soviet chess Grandmasters, love triangles and power ballads is a tricky one to get right and part of the problem seems to be just how seriously to take it all. On the one hand, the chess matches are backgrounded with montages of the real-life tensions of the 80s; on the other, scenes that take us through the various locations of the tournaments are a cringeworthy riot of cultural stereotyping that revel in their utter kitsch. Continue reading “Review: Chess, London Coliseum”

Re-review: Follies, National Theatre

 
“Darling, shall we dance?”
 
Not too much more to say about Follies that I didn’t cover last time, suffice to say it’s just such a luxuriously fantastic show and I think I could watch it over and over! The head-dresses! Everything Janie Dee does! The orchestra! How no-one seems to be falling down that staircase! The staging! The shade of mint green in Loveland! The Staunton’s icy bitterness in ‘Losing My Mind’! The amount that Josephine Barstow has now made me cry, twice! The Quast! Just get booking now, while you still can.

Running time: 2 hours 20 minutes (without interval)
Booking until 3rd January, best availability from 6th November

Follies will be broadcast by NT Live to cinemas in the UK and internationally on Thursday 16 November.

 

Review: Follies, National Theatre

 

An utterly majestic production of Sondheim’s Follies is a masterpiece for the National Theatre

“All things beautiful must die”

Well this is what we have a National Theatre for. For Vicki Mortimer’s set design that both stretches towards the heights of the Olivier and lingers some 30 years back in the past; for the extraordinary detail and feathered delights of the costumes; for the lush sound of an orchestra of 21 under Nigel Lilley’s musical direction; for a production that revels in the exuberance and experience of its cast of 37. And all for what? For a musical that, despite its iconic status in the theatre bubble, is more than likely to raise a ‘huh?’ from the general public (at least from the sampling in my office!).

Stephen Sondheim (music and lyrics) and James Goldman’s (book) Follies is a show that has a long history of being tinkered with and more often than not, is as likely to be found in a concert presentation (as in its last London appearance at the Royal Albert Hall) as it is fully staged. Which only makes Dominic Cooke’s production here all the more attractive, not just for aficionados but for the casual theatregoer too. Using the original book with just a smattering of small changes, this is musical theatre close to its most luxurious, and a bittersweetly life-affirming thrill to watch. Continue reading “Review: Follies, National Theatre”

Album Review: Kinky Boots (Original West End Cast Recording)

“I am freedom, I’m constriction
A potpourri of contradiction”

With rather serendipitous timing, the West End cast recording for Cyndi Lauper’s score for Kinky Boots is released just in time for the show’s Best New Musical victory at this year’s Olivier awards. And it is particularly good news for fans of the show as up until now, we’ve had to make do with the Broadway cast recording and their, challenging shall we say, approach to the requisite British accents.

Recorded live at the Adelphi with the original West End cast (including Best Actor in a Musical winner Matt Henry and nominees Killian Donnelly and Amy Lennox), it’s a welcome addition to playlists and CD collections everywhere.

The live recording is be a double-edged sword – there can be more raw energy than one might expect from a recording booth and that comes in the form of an audible audience. I quite like to hear their laughter, especially when it is from something familiar as in the comic genius of Lennox’s performance of ‘The History of Wrong Guys’ here, but the applause at the end of each track is jarring when listening to the album as a whole. And I’m not 100% certain but I’m pretty sure there’s someone coughing a couple of times which is a shame (though perfectly replicates sitting through pretty much any show!). Continue reading “Album Review: Kinky Boots (Original West End Cast Recording)”

Re-review: Kinky Boots, Adelphi

Funk it up till it’s ostentatious
Dress it up, it feels contagious”

Now extended through to May next year, the signs for Kinky Boots look cautiously positive though nothing is certain in the cut-throat world of new musicals and on this second viewing, it really does feel like a well-deserved success. Jerry Mitchell’s production is a ray of tightly choreographed, dragged-up sunshine but what I loved about going back was finding that several of the tunes from Cyndi Lauper’s accomplished score have successfully navigated earworm territory to become properly memorable. 

‘Everybody Say Yeah’ and ‘Raise You Up/Just Be’ end the show’s two acts in brilliantly rousing fashion, ‘Sex is in the Heel’ and ‘What A Woman Wants’ give Matt Henry’s Lola ample opportunity to fill the stage with exuberant personality and Amy Lennox continues to pretty much steal the show, not least in ‘The History of Wrong Guys’. And Killian Donnelly effortlessly smooths over some of Charlie’s more dubious character flaws (poor Nicola…) by scorching through hits like ‘Soul of a Man’. Continue reading “Re-review: Kinky Boots, Adelphi”

Album Review: The West End goes MAD for Christmas

“I don’t need to ask for much this Christmas”

One of the more worthwhile festive releases this year is also pleasingly one of the more interesting. The Make A Difference Trust brings together the British entertainment community and its audiences to raise funds to support people living with HIV and AIDS and with The West End Goes MAD For Christmas, has brought together a host of new musical theatre champions to offer up a compilation of Christmas songs that offer a fascinating alternative to the age old carols and standards that proliferate at this time of year.

And producers Nikki & Joe Davison at Auburn Jam Records have done a brilliant job in matching composers to performers across the eight songs, curating pre-existing tracks and new, and shining a light on some serious talent. The plaintive simplicity of Stuart Matthew Price’s self-penned ‘This Christmas’ is characteristic of much of his oeuvre of classic songwriting, Gina Beck’s crystalline soprano dances beautifully around the timeless melody of Alexander S Bermange’s ‘Praying For You’ and Nadim Naaman‘s ‘A Soldier’s Christmas’ treads an equally emotive path, sung charmingly by Gerónimo Rauch and Naaman himself.
 

Continue reading “Album Review: The West End goes MAD for Christmas”

Review: Candide, Menier Chocolate Factory

“Come and dwell where Satan’s hoof has never trod”

Leonard Bernstein’s take on Voltaire’s philosophical attire has had many incarnations, thus labelling it as something of a problematic musical. But given their pedigree for musical theatre, the Menier Chocolate Factory are never one to shirk from a challenge and with director Matthew White editing his own new adaptation from the 1988 Scottish Opera version, this production does a great job at enhancing its particular strengths. Candide is a young man, a student of philosophy in love with the higher-born Cunegonde but when forced out into the harsh reality of the outside world, he finds his learning – “all is for the best in the best of all possible worlds” – is increasingly tested.

Switching the Menier’s seating into the round (and running off some nifty seat covers and numbers from the sewing machine) draws the audience into the show at every turn and takes us along to every far-flung corner of the globe to which it skips in Adam Cooper’s expressive choreography. Not a moment for potential audience interaction (of the gentlest sort, mind) is missed and platforms, gangways and balconies (even suspended chairs) scattered throughout the auditorium ensure that one is never left straining one’s neck for too long.

Continue reading “Review: Candide, Menier Chocolate Factory”