Review: Evita, Open Air Theatre

Jamie Lloyd’s reinvention of Evita at Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre proves a storming success

“I could find job satisfaction in Paraguay”

If this was the production of Evita that was forever touring the UK, then we could all be a hell of a lot more enthused about the future of UK theatre. Bill Kenwright might have the business side locked down with dull predictability but at the Open Air Theatre, Jamie Lloyd is unleashing a torrent of creative genius which proves inordinately exciting to witness.

He offers up a complete reimagining of the Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice musical and one which feels sparkingly fresh in every single aspect. The open bleachers of Soutra Gilmore’s design which turns our focus to the human relationships here, the striking physicality of Fabian Aloise’s choreography with its haunting screaming faces and way-cool domino effect points to societal trauma and most crucially, Lloyd allows the shadow of populist politics to loom large. Continue reading “Review: Evita, Open Air Theatre”

Review: Hairspray, Orchard Dartford

“You can try to stop my dancin’ feet”
This mahoosive new tour of Hairspray started in the middle of last month and stretches right through to June 2018 and it certainly feels like it has the potential to be a great success. There are some cracking performances which really elevate Paul Kerryson’s production of this most effective of shows (music by Marc Shaiman, lyrics by Scott Wittman and Shaiman, book by Mark O’Donnell and Thomas Meehan) and choreography from hot-shot of the moment Drew McOnie.
And given how dance heavy Hairspray is, it is an astute move from Kerryson as McOnie’s inventive use of movement establishes and reinforces so much of the febrile mood of simmering racial tension and potential societal change. In the hands of the likes of Layton Williams’ Seaweed and an effervescent ensemble, it’s hard to keep a smile from your face as the sheer toe-tapping enthusiasm of it all as fabulous group numbers shake and shimmy their way across the stage.
Slight reservations about men taking women’s parts aside (*cough* Craig Revel-Horwood *cough*), Matt Rixon’s Edna is sensitively portrayed in locating real heart within the broader character moments, and Gina Murray’s Velma is a vivacious villain against her. And it is hard not to be thoroughly impressed by Brenda Edwards’ ferocious vocal performance as Motormouth Maybelle – really selling the weight of the socially conscious material. 
But for all that I enjoyed, I couldn’t help but feel that the central couple here are still feeling their way into the show. Rebecca Mendoza is making her professional debut as Tracey Turnblad and she does do well in establishing a genial stage presence. Her singing voice doesn’t quite match up to the full breadth of Tracey’s ballsy confidence at the moment, similarly Edward Chitticks doesn’t have the full measure of Link Larkin’s innate charisma yet – as the tour progresses though, you can imagine they may well yet both grow further into their roles.
Given the length of the tour, I can easily see myself going back to reassess Mendoza and Chitticks, such is the joy of the production around them. And it is a real pleasure to see the work of one of our brightest choreographers in Drew McOnie proudly taking centre stage across the country, not just in a London where his reputation is deservedly fixed.
Running time: 2 hours 30 minutes (with interval)
Booking until 9th September,then touring to…
Bord Gáis Energy Theatre, Dublin 11 September – 16 September 2017 
Winter Gardens, Blackpool 18 – 23 September 2017
Sunderland Empire Theatre 25 September – 30 September 2017
King’s Theatre, Glasgow 2 October – 7 October 2017
Birmingham Hippodrome 9 October – 14 October 2017
Leicester Curve 16 – 21 October 2017
Buxton Opera House 23 October – 28 October 2017
Belfast Grand Opera House 30 October – 4 November 2017
Waterside Theatre, Aylesbury 6 November – 11 November 2017
Sands Centre, Carlisle 13 November – 18 November 2017
Bradford Alhambra 20 November – 25 November 2017
G-Live, Guildford 27 November – 2 December 2017
Theatre Royal Plymouth 15-20 January 2018
Mayflower Southampton 22-27 January 2018
Sheffield Lyceum 29 January – 3 February 2018
Eden Court, Inverness 5-10 February 2018
Theatre Royal, Nottingham 13-24 February 2018
Wolverhampton Grand 26 February – 3 March 2018
Bristol Hippodrome 5-10 March 2018
Edinburgh Playhouse 12-17 March 2018
His Majesty’s Theatre, Aberdeen 19-24 March 2018
Opera Theatre, Manchester 26 March – 7 April 2018
Milton Keynes Theatre 9-14 April 2018
Liverpool Empire 16-21 April 2018
Hull New Theatre 23-28 April 2018
Venue Cymru, Llandudno 30 April – 5 May 2018
Marlowe Theatre, Canterbury 8-12 May 2018
Cliffs Pavilion, Southend 14-19 May 2018
Wycombe Swan, High Wycombe 21-26 May 2018
Cheltenham Everyman 29 May – 3 June 2018

CD Review: Lord of the Rings (2008 Original London Production)

“Eä, Arda, Ainulindalë.
Aratar, Maiar, Rána, Nénar”

Believe it or not, there was a time when I lived in London and I only saw a handful of shows a month, actually making considered decisions about what I wanted to see. And I have to say the musical of Lord of the Rings did not make the cut (obvs I wasn’t aware of who Rosalie Craig was at that point, or else I would have gone!). The show lasted just over a year at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane and probably lost a shit-ton of money (it allegedly cost £12 million to make) but we do have a cast recording to remember it by.
 
And what a rather odd-sounding show it is, little surprise really when you consider that producer Kevin Wallace brought on three different composers to complement the book and lyrics by Matthew Warchus and Shaun McKenna. So Bollywood supremo A. R. Rahman, Finnish folk group Värttinä and Lloyd Webber-wannabe Christopher Nightingale all contributed to an altogether epic score, but one which sprawls in an unwieldly manner as these three strands struggle to cohere into an effective whole.

Continue reading “CD Review: Lord of the Rings (2008 Original London Production)”

Re-reviews: Di and Viv and Rose / Dirty Rotten Scoundrels

 

“It was a ball, it was a blast
It was a shame it couldn’t last”

A half-term jaunt down to London for Aunty Jean saw us take in a couple of shows I was happy to revisit. I remain as affectionately inclined towards Dirty Rotten Scoundrels as I ever have done, its traditional bonhomie remains as watchable as ever and there’s just something comfortable about the whole affair which remains hard to resist. Even whilst not being Robert Lindsay’s biggest fan (seriously, is he being paid by the pelvic thrust?!) the shimmering star quality of Kat Kingsley and the affable appeal of Alex Gaumond more than compensate. And the bumbling charms of Ben Fox, the third Chief of Police since the show started – job security in Beaumont-Sur-Mer is clearly not strong đŸ˜‰ – prove the ideal foil for Bonnie Langford’s knowingly charismatic Muriel.

And we also made a more-timely-than-we-realised trip to Amelia Bullmore’s Di and Viv and Rose which posted closing notices pretty much as we left the matinée. It feels a real shame as it is such a sprightly production of a sparkling play which certainly deserved better audiences but for whatever reason, it just didn’t connect. I’ve written more about the show on my three previous visits (link here) but I’d definitely recommend trying to catch it before it closes, not least for some of the most joyous dancing onstage (which forms the perfect counterbalance to My Night With Reg) and Jenna Russell’s glorious performance as the hugely-generous-of-spirit Rose. 

Dirty Rotten Scoundrels
Running time: 2 hours 30 minutes (with interval)
Booking until 7th March

Di and Viv and Rose
Running time: 2 hours 35 minutes (with interval)
Booking until 14th March

Re-review: Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, Savoy

“It’s important to be artful”

Celebrating recent cast changes, both intentional (Bonnie Langford and Gary Wilmot in for Samantha Bond and John Marquez) and unexpected (Alex Gaumond hastily replacing Rufus Hound), Dirty Rotten Scoundrels is approaching its one year anniversary in the West End with a renewed energy. And with the changing strengths of its leading players, it also feels like quite a different show, one which is well worth (re)visiting.
 
My original review can be read here and much of it still holds true. This isn’t the show to reinvent the musical form but nor is it trying to, rather it is a treat of the old-school variety as David Yazbek’s bouncy music and lyrics carries along Jeffrey Lane’s conman-based book on a ray of retro Riviera-infused sunshine. A wink to the audience here, meta-theatrical jokes there, a whole deal of hamminess from Robert Lindsay everywhere, this is a show that knows exactly what it is and revels in it. Continue reading “Re-review: Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, Savoy”

Review: Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, Savoy

“He sang my name and it rang out just like some major chord.
If music be the food of love, he ate my Smorgasbord.”

Things didn’t start off well. Applauding an actor’s arrival onstage is something I can’t ever imagine finding ok and when that actor is Robert Lindsay, well, it felt even more inexplicable. But then I never watched My Family so my main points of reference for him have been Onassis and The Lion in Winter, a dubious pair of plays indeed. Nor have I seen the film of Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, the musical adaptation of which sees him return to the stage, here at the Savoy after well-received out of town tryouts, so there was more than a little apprehension mixed in with my anticipation.

But any doubts were soon allayed by the effervescent energy of an old-school but fresh-feeling production by Jerry Mitchell. First seen on Broadway in 2004, Jeffrey Lane’s book and David Yazbek’s music and lyrics sits happily in the sun-kissed French Riviera where con men are two a penny. And in Beaumont-sur-Mer, the two are Lawrence Jamieson, the reigning king of the con, and Freddy Benson, the brash upstart who would take his crown. First they compete for tricks, scamming whoever they can for whatever they can, and then they unite to form a double act with, hopefully, double the profits as they identify the lucrative mark of US heiress Christine Colgate. Continue reading “Review: Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, Savoy”

Review: A Chorus Line, Palladium

“Step, kick, kick, leap, kick, touch…again!”

When I was learning to play the piano as a young’un, we had a book of tunes from the movies which included ‘One’ and ‘What I Did For Love’, both from A Chorus Line. I’d never seen the film (and still have not) but I loved both of those songs and so practiced hard to be able to play them well. But even when a new production of the show was announced earlier this year, the temptation to go and see it was never too strong. Part of that came from the venue – the Palladium is a most unforgiving of theatres if you don’t have a front centre stalls seat – but there was also a sense that its conglomeration of backstage stories might be a little dated in a world where the audition process has repeatedly been laid bare on our television screens.

I perhaps wasn’t alone in feeling this way as the production was forced into publishing early closing notices, meaning it shutters at the end of this week. But in forcing my hand and making me book via a bargainous deal that got us into the middle of Row C of the stalls, I belatedly came to realise that the show is much better than I thought it would be and perhaps deserves a longer life than it has had. Its set-up is simplicity itself – seventeen Broadway dancers audition for eight spots on the chorus line for a musical and as the director takes them through their paces, we get to hear the tales of these hopefuls, their dreams and aspirations, their fears and frailties, in some cases their most intimate stories about what dance and being a dancer means to them. Continue reading “Review: A Chorus Line, Palladium”

Review: Jesus Christ Superstar, O2 Arena

“Tell the mob who sing your song that they are fools and they are wrong”

Having gone down the road of television casting once again for one of his shows and quite possibly killing off the genre at the same time, Andrew Lloyd-Webber’s much-touted revival of his 1971 rock opera Jesus Christ Superstar will hopefully have the same effect on staging theatrical productions in cavernous arenas like London’s O2. Director Laurence Connor’s concept has been to relocate the loose retelling of Jesus’ last week to a modern-day context, pulling out strong allusions to the Occupy movement, riots, Guantánamo Bay and reality television. 

Tim Minchin’s Judas is the undoubted highlight of the show, a stirringly confident rock vocal of fierce conviction that near perfectly captures the essence of what Lloyd-Webber is trying to achieve but elsewhere there is much less strength. Ben Forster’s Jesus mauls Gethsemane almost beyond recognition but fares better elsewhere where his falsetto is more aptly deployed and his angst not so overplayed; Melanie Chisholm’s goth take on Mary Magdalene is anaemically thin and utterly forgettable; Chris Moyles’ highly gimmicky Jerry Springer-esque King Herod – he hosts a show called Hark! with Herod, a rare flash of genuine humour – is thankfully brief; Alex Hanson’s Pilate is a quality performance that stands out from a hard-working ensemble, but too often the wide lens of the show means that their efforts pass by unnoticed. Continue reading “Review: Jesus Christ Superstar, O2 Arena”