Review: Committee… (A New Musical), Donmar Warehouse

“The objective of this session is not to conduct a show trial. We want to learn some lessons.”

There’s a rather lazy trope around ‘unlikely subjects’ for a musical which accompany any show that deviates from the apparent norm. Yet given that the Best New Musical Olivier award winners over the past few decades have covered Argentinian politics, Scouse twins, confused animals, missionaries in Africa and post-Impressionist painters, I’m not entirely sure what counts for normal here!

The latest show to use musical theatre to tackle an ‘unexpected’ topic is Committee… (A New Musical), written by Hadley Fraser and Josie Rourke with music by Tom Deering. To take its full name, The Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee Takes Oral Evidence on Whitehall’s Relationship with Kids Company, it uses Parliamentary transcripts to interrogate the public inquiry into the 2015 collapse of the children’s charity along with the millions of taxpayer money it had been given. Continue reading “Review: Committee… (A New Musical), Donmar Warehouse”

Review: Adding Machine – A Musical, Finborough

“Harmony, not discord”

There’s something rather appropriate about the UK premiere of Adding Machine: A Musical opening in the same week as a new production of Floyd Collins, as it was casting director Josh Seymour who helped with the latter at the Southwark Playhouse four years ago and has now turned his own directorial attentions to the former. And you can see he has a type – 1920s Americana filtered through an Expressionist lens and the kind of Modernist score that revels in being called an “anti-musical”, pushing the boundaries of conventional musical theatre as it does.

Jason Loewith and Joshua Schmidt’s adaptation of the Elmer Rice play The Adding Machine maintains much of the original story – after 25 years of constant if undistinguished service, book-keeper Mr Zero finds his role is to be replaced by an adding machine. And as we’re in the world of the anti-musical, he reacts by killing his boss, is hanged, and goes off to the Elysian Fields where he finds that heaven may not be all that it’s cracked up to be, especially when you’re a miserable murderer. Cue jazz hands! Continue reading “Review: Adding Machine – A Musical, Finborough”

Album Review: Parade (Original London Cast 2007)

“Call for justice! We need justice!
Beat the bastard! Kill the bum!”

Based on historical events from the turn of the last century in Atlanta, Georgia, Jason Robert Brown and Alfred Uhry’s Parade has been something of a slow-burning theatrical success – its original 1998 Broadway run criminally short, ending way before it won 2 Tonys, but later tours and overseas productions cementing its reputation as a sterling piece of new musical theatre. In the UK, Southwark Playhouse had a grand production in 2011 but 2007 saw the Donmar deliver a work of small-scale genius which was captured in its entirety on this double-disc recording.

Perhaps not the most likely of subjects for a piece of musical theatre, the 1913 trial of Jewish factory manager Leo Frank – Bertie Carvel in the role here – for the rape and murder of a 13 year old employee Mary Phagan benefits hugely from the musical treatment. The trial caused a big media sensation in the US and forced an examination of the (not so) latent anti-Semitism in this southern state offering a wide range of opportunities to explore musical styles, estimably executed by Thomas Murray’s 9-strong band playing David Cullen’s new orchestrations.  Continue reading “Album Review: Parade (Original London Cast 2007)”

Review: Shutters, Park Theatre

“Nothing here but kitchen things”

The intentions behind Making Productions’ triple-bill Shutters are certainly well-placed – bringing together 3 short American plays looking at female experience over the last 100 years and using a six-strong female ensemble to cover all roles whether male or female – but in the end, the choice of plays lets them down somewhat. Philip Dawkins’ Cast of Characters is a self-indulgent piece of playwrighting buffoonery which focuses on the production notes for an imagined play of family drama but achieves little. And Brooke Allen’s The Deer tested my patience with its pseudo-tragedy.

Both those plays are contemporary and sure enough, the one that worked best was the 1916 Trifles by award-winning Susan Glaspell. Here the murder of a farmer has taken place and his wife jailed on suspicion thereof but whilst the sheriff and his mates blunder about the property trying to find the answers, the two women left alone in the kitchen (where they belong…) get far closer to the truth. This is by far the most intriguing piece of writing but also of direction, Thorpe Baker introducing a neatly spooky trick to create a thrilling and engrossing atmosphere. One out of three isn’t good enough though.

Running time: 90 minutes
Booking until 3rd August

Review: The Baker’s Wife, Union Theatre

“Cake in the oven, champagne on ice
Much as I hate to I may even shave twice”

The Baker’s Wife with music and lyrics by Stephen Schwartz and book by Joseph Stein is a musical that managed to develop something of a cult following despite flopping in the West End in 1989 and never actually having run on Broadway. Director Michael Strassen has now given it a rare outing at the small-scale powerhouse that is the Union Theatre. Based on the Marcel Pagnol and Jean Giano film La Femme Du Boulanger, the show is all about what happens in a rural French community when Geneviève the young wife of the village baker leaves her husband Aimable for a sexy piece of rough. He loses his baking mojo which sufficiently outrages the villagers to put aside their multifarious squabbles to come together and try to reunite the couple.

There is usually a reason that shows are left on the shelf and true to form, The Baker’s Wife pretty shows us why. Schwartz’s score is largely strong with some genuinely sublime moments but the book is stolid, unimaginative and fatally fragmented. Too much time is spent on the villagers around the love triangle but there’s so many of them, all contributing to the larger metaphor of the show, that none get a fair crack of the whip. And consequently, there’s not enough room to really focus on the main protagonists either. Indeed, Geneviève’s story doesn’t come across as particularly sympathetic at all, it is so hurried: it is revealed that she married Aimable on the rebound from being rejected by her married lover but she’s going to put up with him. Having left him shortly after singing this, she then dumps her new paramour after five minutes on the run and a roll in the hay – one can’t help but feel the baker is better off without her! Matters are not helped by an additional horribly overdone metaphor of her cat running away and returning contemporaneously, subtle it is not. Continue reading “Review: The Baker’s Wife, Union Theatre”