Review: Little Women the Musical, Hope Mill

“Somethings are meant to be”

Finally made my first trip to the Hope Mill Theatre, Manchester’s fringe powerhouse which has been firing transfers down to London with quite the regularity. I wanted to experience the theatre for itself though and having heard great things about Little Women the Musical, didn’t want to miss out in case this is the one that doesn’t actually make its way south (although it should, it really should!).

With a book by Allan Knee, music by Jason Howland and lyrics by Mindi Dickstein, this musical version of Louisa May Alcott’s much-loved novel is a wonderful piece of adaptation. Streamlining plot whilst simultaneously enriching character, it translates the travails of the four March sisters into a warm and witty couple of hours and naturally makes you cry just as much it gladdens the heart. Continue reading “Review: Little Women the Musical, Hope Mill”

Review: Jesus Christ Superstar, Open Air Theatre

“Could you ask as much from any other man?”

Andrew Lloyd Webber sure doesn’t make it easy – for his support of new musical theatre in taking over the St James Theatre to making a transatlantic dash to the House of Lords to vote in support of tax credit cuts for the working poor, it’s hard to know where to stand. His status in the British theatrical establishment remains largely unchallenged though and it is to the 46-year-old Jesus Christ Superstar that the Open Air Theatre in Regents Park have turned for their big summer musical, directed this year by Timothy Sheader. 

And how do you play a 70s rock opera for today? You bring onboard shit-hot creatives like Tom Scutt and Drew McOnie to reinvent it for 2016. Scutt’s design choices make a virtue of the timeless iron structure that edges the stage. The company arrive in luxury sportswear, its loose silhouettes and muted earth tones akin to a Kanye West fashion show with which McOnie’s contemporary choreography meshes perfectly. Later scenes feature the glitter-covered muscularity of something like a late night Brighton Pride, a smattering of Xerxes from the film 300 and all out Sink the Pink excess during the whipping sequence. Continue reading “Review: Jesus Christ Superstar, Open Air Theatre”

Review: Beautiful – The Carole King Musical, Aldwych Theatre

“Everything seems to be
Some kind of wonderful”

Where Broadway leads, the West End will surely follow and so it is little surprise that Tony-winning Beautiful – The Carole King Musical found its way over here to the Aldwych Theatre. And I’m pleased to report that the transatlantic passage has gone most smoothly indeed to deliver an absolute treat of a show. When three of its four leading personnel are still very much alive and kicking, it is perhaps no surprise that Douglas McGrath’s book treads a rather respectable path through the first ten years of King’s career. But then she would be the first to say, with typical self-deprecating charm, that her life is hardly the most exciting, her dreams never the loftiest – it just so happens that beneath this veneer of ordinariness lay an absolute treasure trove of extraordinary music. 

And as musical gem follows musical gem – both from the collaborations of King and sometime partner Gerry Goffin, and also from their friends and writing rivals Cynthia Weil and Barry Mann – this feels utterly the point. Life isn’t always chock-a-block with drama, motivations don’t always have to spring from some momentous event, the cult of the tortured artistic soul is far from the be all and end all (Billington seems to suggest being “a shy, well-adjusted woman struggling to reconcile a career with a failing marriage” is something of a crime!) and I’d say that Beautiful is no weaker a biopic for not having such narrative peaks and troughs, reinventing personal history in the name of drama.  Continue reading “Review: Beautiful – The Carole King Musical, Aldwych Theatre”

Review: Pacific Overtures, Union

“Reviewing it from where we sit, the facts are irrefutable” 

Many of Stephen Sondheim’s musicals instantly gain the sobriquet ‘ambitious’ and so early productions suffered short runs. But where several have been revised and reworked into modern classics, 1976’s Pacific Overtures has remained one of his least produced works, languishing in relative obscurity. Which makes it ideal fodder for the musical theatre powerhouse of the Union Theatre to take on and revive, with Michael Strassen’s production garnering massive ticket sales before the run had even begun.

The show is set in mid-nineteenth century Japan where their isolationist policy has meant no visitors have been received to the country for hundreds of years. When an American ship arrives boisterously demanding an audience with the emperor and unwilling to have their colonial ambitions easily appeased, the Far Eastern nation is sucked slowly into the coils of Westernisation and opened up to ‘civilisation’. Based on John Weidman’s original play to which Sondheim added 12 melodically sophisticated songs, it isn’t too hard to see why it isn’t more often on our stages.  Continue reading “Review: Pacific Overtures, Union”

Review: Songs from the Playground, Union Theatre

“Here’s a little thing I wrote about life”

A little Sunday night treat at the Union was Songs from the Playground, a showcase of new musical theatre writer John Kristian, giving us snippets from a number of his works-in-progress and featuring a cast of performers that pleasingly contained few of the usual suspects. Don’t get me wrong, I love Julie Atherton, I truly do, but it is nice to see someone else get to do the comedy song for once 😉 And there’s a big one here in the form of ‘The Big O’ with which Catherine Digges had great, knee-trembling fun.

That song came from his revue show Hidden Talents but most of the first act focused on his first musical Vow and an adaptation of the well-known film The Holiday (although it was new to me…). Presented without introduction, it was a solid rather than a spectacular beginning to the evening, a constant flow of context-free new material is hard to fully process though Dan Looney and Bronté Barbé’s awkward teenage party encounter ‘Kiss Me’ was very well done as was Looney’s rapid rattle through ’23 Vows’. Continue reading “Review: Songs from the Playground, Union Theatre”

Review: Picture Perfect , St James Studio

“Perfect,
If you ignore the guilty sex,
And the constant phone calls from his ex,
It’s perfect”

The studio space of the St James Theatre has proved fertile ground for bringing new musical theatre work to London and United Theatrical now return there for a third time with an American composer. This time it is the turn of Scott Evan Davis whose Picture Perfect – a new musical is receiving its world premiere in a short four show run. A contemporary musical song-cycle running at just over an hour, Davis, along with the show’s conceiver Simon Greiff, aims to puncture the myth of ‘the perfect family’.

It’s a curious set-up though, modern-day society is hardly one that is characterised by such idealistic notions and what soon comes to the forefront is in fact the crumbling of marriage as an institution. Ellie is involved in a loveless affair with a married man because he’s rich, Josh is having a more involved liaison with a guy but again he’s already taken and after many years of marriage, Elizabeth and Harry (Josh’s parents) are coming to terms with its collapse, for it is he who is cheating with Ellie. Continue reading “Review: Picture Perfect , St James Studio”