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”

Review: Sunset Boulevard, London Coliseum

“Has there ever been a moment
With so much to live 
for?” 

Dammit – one of the key rationales behind my Broadway blowout last winter was seeing actors I didn’t think I’d otherwise have the chance to see in the West End, Glenn Close being chief among them and thus I forked out a pretty penny to see her in Edward Albee’s A Delicate Balance. So naturally her return to these shores was announced a few months later with a reprisal of her Tony Award-winning performance as Norma Desmond in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Sunset Boulevard.

And as with last year’s Sweeney Todd here at the Coliseum too, director Lonny Price and the ENO have returned to the semi-staged format which allows them to mount a bare-bones production and still charge full whack for tickets, prices thus go up to £150. I understand that money has to be made, especially for an organisation in as perilous a position as theirs and they say at least 400 tickets at every performance is available at £25 or under (altitude training not provided though…) Continue reading “Review: Sunset Boulevard, London Coliseum”

Re-review: The Pajama Game, Shaftesbury

“I like a man with spunk
‘You like a man period’”

As is often the way, a canny bit of recasting ensured my need to revisit a show I’d already seen and resolved not to revisit. In this case, it was The Pajama Game, which I caught last year in Chichester when Joanna Riding and Hadley Fraser led Richard Eyre’s productions to great acclaim, which now arrives for a summer at the Shaftesbury Theatre with Michael Xavier taking over from Fraser. I am most fond indeed of Xavier’s work, and as I enjoyed the show in all its strangely charming old-fashioned oddity, going back wasn’t too much of a trial.

My original review is here and there really isn’t much more to add. The show fits in well into the Shaftesbury, even if a little of its expansiveness feels lost in the reconfiguration, but Xavier makes a predictably excellent fit into the company, he really is one of our leading exponents of musical theatre, delivering the goods time after time. Jo Riding emerges unscathed from Stephen Ward to return to a role in which she is wonderfully comfortable to watch but the real star ends up being Alexis Owen-Hobbs’ spunky Gladys. Book soon whilst you still can.

Running time: 2 hours 45 minutes (with interval)
Booking until 13th September

Review: The Pajama Game, Minerva

“Just knock three times and whisper low, that you and I were sent by Joe”

Old Broadway classics seem to flourish in the rarefied air of West Sussex and it is hard to shake the feeling that Chichester has done it again with a revival of The Pajama Game. No stranger to big American musicals, director Richard Eyre demonstrates the surest of touches to keep the improbable subject matter – the trials of working life in a pyjama factory – anchored in a world that we always care about and is aided by the kind of score that feels recognisable even if you think you haven’t heard it before. Richard Adler and Jerry Ross’ score is full of fantastic old school tunes like Hey There (You with the Stars in your Eyes) and Steam Heat and two of the songs were actually written by Frank Loesser, although uncredited. 

George Abbott and Richard Bissel’s book is based on Bissell’s novel 7½ cents set in the Cedar Rapids, Iowa Sleep-Tite factory in which new-to-town Superintendent Sid Sorokin finds himself falling head over heels for feisty union rep Babe Williams, whose stubborn initial resistance can’t ignore the mutually fiery passion between them. But trouble brews when the workers are denied a justified 7½ cent pay rise and Sid and Babe find themselves on opposing sides of a heated labour debate.  Continue reading “Review: The Pajama Game, Minerva”

Review: Kiss Me, Kate, Chichester Festival Theatre

“But when the thermometer goes right up, and the weather is sizzling hot…”

So confident in their run of successful summer musicals is Chichester Festival Theatre that the transfer for Kiss Me, Kate (it will play at co-producers London’s Old Vic from 20th November to 2nd March) was announced before it had even opened at its native theatre. But with experienced hands Trevor Nunn directing and Stephen Mears choreographing, Cole Porter’s ever-spry music and a cast headed up by leading light of the British musical theatre scene Hannah Waddingham, it was a reasonably safe bet.

And unsurprisingly, it is one that has paid off. The show follows a theatre company putting on a musical version of Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew, where the feisty relationship between Petruchio and Katherine is echoed by the conflict between director and leading man Fred and his ex-wife Lilli who is playing opposite him. As the offstage drama threatens to overwhelm the onstage, some shenanigans from another member of the company in a gambling room throws matters further into disarray. Continue reading “Review: Kiss Me, Kate, Chichester Festival Theatre”

Re-Review: Crazy For You, Novello

“Who could ask for anything more?!”

After a highly accomplished run at the Open Air Theatre, Crazy For You has transferred into the West End to take up residence in the Novello Theatre, taking advantage of the premature closing of Betty Blue Eyes. I saw it in Regents Park – review can be read here – and was easily seduced by its combination of Stephen Mears’ pulsating choreography and lively renditions of selections from the Gershwins’ considerable catalogue of songs. The show has been transplanted indoors pretty much in its entirety and continues to be a whole heap of uncomplicated entertainment.

I previously described the story as ‘pure hokum’ and little has changed in that respect but it really doesn’t matter in the end, because this really is a show that is all about the singing and dancing. It doesn’t so much reinvent this set of classic Gershwin songs, they are too well known for that, but it does present them in a fresh new setting which feels incredibly natural and well-fitted. Sometimes with jukebox shows there can be the feeling of songs being shoe-horned into the narrative but because this show wears its story quite lightly, that is rarely the case here. Instead, there’s a cheery skip through some of the best songs ever written that is guaranteed to lift the heart. Continue reading “Re-Review: Crazy For You, Novello”

Review: Crazy for You, Open Air Theatre

“Dancing makes my troubles all seem tiny”

There’s no hiding the fact that the Open Air Theatre’s Crazy for You is pure hokum but for sheer escapist fun and a feel-good atmosphere that will whisk you away from the troubles outside of Regent’s Park for an evening, this will pretty much do the trick. Based on the George and Ira Gershwin musical Girl Crazy, Ken Ludwig – he of the recently departed Lend Me A Tenor – wrote a new book in 1992, heavy on post-modern knowingness and light on substance: silly but fun – if you come here looking for authenticity you’re bound to be disappointed!

Banker Bobby Child is forced to abandon his Broadway dreams and is dispatched to Deadrock, Nevada to foreclose on a theatre there. Sensing an opportunity as he falls head over heels with the daughter of the theatre’s owner, he decides to impersonate the Broadway impresario he longs to work for and arranges for a benefit show to be put on to save the theatre: madcap fun ensues with mistaken identities – clearly a Ludwig fave – at the fore. Continue reading “Review: Crazy for You, Open Air Theatre”

Review: Hello, Dolly!, Open Air Theatre

Ending this year’s run of shows at the Open Air Theatre in Regent’s Park is a revival of the Jerry Herman musical Hello, Dolly! It is a classic piece, and its presentation here is respectful of that and delivers a straight up rendition mercifully free of irony. Hello, Dolly! is not for people who claim that they don’t like musicals. It is old-school Broadway singing and dancing through and through and about as much fun on a stage as you could imagine: there is no place for cynicism here.

Admittedly, I did not see it in the heights of summer when one might expect a slightly better chance of sunshine, but one did start to question the methods of the Open Air Theatre on rainy days, as the stagehands were made to work extremely hard, wiping down the stage diligently four times in 45 minutes before the actual start of the show. One began to feel so sorry for them as it seemed every time they finished a new shower would begin. Fortunately, the sheer joy of the production meant that the conditions were soon forgotten.

Continue reading “Review: Hello, Dolly!, Open Air Theatre”