Review: An Officer and a Gentleman, Curve

Emma Williams reconfirms her star status in this 80s musical adaptation of An Officer and a Gentleman at Leicester’s Curve Theatre ahead of a UK tour

“Way to go, Paula! Way to go!”

From its opening number (which provides an unsettling reminder that Status Quo actually had a decent tune or two), this major new musical of An Officer and a Gentleman shimmers with a sense of real quality. Some might demur at the notion of a movie remake peppered with a random assortment of pop songs from the 1980s but the resulting piece of theatre is highly enjoyable.

This is down to the integrity and craft of Nikolai Foster who rightly takes this source material (book by Douglas Day Stewart and Sharleen Cooper Cohen from his original screenplay) seriously. We may be in 1982 but there’s no jokey visual gags about that decade here, just an over-riding sense of life on the edge for the working class community of Pensacola, Florida, looking on at the US Naval Aviation Training Facility that dominates their city. Continue reading “Review: An Officer and a Gentleman, Curve”

Review: Annie, Piccadilly

“‘Steada treated
We get tricked”

With a singing style that is as strong as Theresa May’s record on supporting the police and an accent that is as stable as the content of her manifesto, it’s a bold move to make Miranda Hart the above the title star of this production of Annie, the first in London this millennium. To be fair though, unlike May she’s willing to work well with others, gamely throwing herself into harmonies and hoofing around in vaudevillean-style routines, but her performance is too close to the warmth of her TV persona to ever really convince of the darkness at the heart of Miss Hannigan.

Equally, it’s hard to feel that the West End is in real need of Annie and all its old-fashioned ways. Nikolai Foster’s production, seen on tour in the UK over the last year, has its certain charm but it is hard to get excited by any of it. Colin Richmond’s jigsaw puzzle of a set design misguidedly evokes thoughts of Matilda when in reality there’s nothing that fresh about it; Nick Winston’s choreography similarly promises much but ends up reaching for traditional touchpoints which end up underwhelming with the relatively small company at hand here, as evidenced in the small scale of ‘N.Y.C.’. Continue reading “Review: Annie, Piccadilly”

Review: Grease, Curve

“It’s still familiar to me
Sends a thrill right through me”

It’s a funny thing, returning to a show you know so well even if you haven’t seen it for maybe 2 decades. My abiding memory of seeing Grease as a child was Shane Richie corpsing after accidentally knocking the bosom of a co-star and then being singularly unimpressed that this happened every single night. And since then, I’ve never felt the need to see it on stage, whether on tour or in its intermittent West End appearances where, if memory serves, it became one of the guiltier culprits of stunt casting. 

But Nikolai Foster’s musical theatre experience and tenure at Leicester’s Curve as its AD piqued my interest and quenched my doubts sufficiently to make the trip to Rydell High and chang chang changitty chang sha-bop, darn me if it isn’t a rather good time. It does require you putting a measure of scepticism to one side in the show’s questionable message about changing who you are but it does also make you think about who we change for – it’s easy to forget that Danny has already fallen for Sandy by the time she decides to transform, is she changing for him, for herself, or to fit into the Pink Ladies?  Continue reading “Review: Grease, Curve”

Review: Altar Boyz, Greenwich Theatre

“Jesus called me on his cellphone”

A huge off-Broadway hit, Altar Boyz has taken its time to cross the pond but now Paul Taylor-Mills’ production has settled into Greenwich Theatre for a short run to help us cast off our sins. Hailing from small-town Ohio, the Altar Boyz are a Christian boyband who have reached the end of their ‘Raise the Praise’ tour and have one last concert in which to save as many souls as possible through the gift of their cheesy pop moves, confessional anecdotes and the divine technology of their ‘soul sensor’.

It would be easy to suggest that the music is blandly forgettable, the book laboured rather than funny as it just trifles with the notion of skewering this take on religion instead of actually lampooning it (Kevin Del Aguila, Gary Adler and Michael Patrick Walker all share credit for book, music and lyrics). And there’s truth in both propositions, but the strength of Steven Dexter’s direction and some highly astute work by casting director Will Burton means that the performance level elevates the material to a higher plane.

The superb comic touches that Jonny Fines brings to virtually all of Mark’s movements as he battles with his feelings; the sheer commitment of Faisal Khodabukus’ Latin lothario Juan who just can’t turn his natural charm off and flirts outrageously with most of the audience at one point or another; Liam Doyle’s steadying presence as the group’s de facto leader Matthew; Alex Jordan Mills’ lyrical Jew; and the Jason Stackhouse of the group, Jamie-Ray Hartshorne’s ab-tastic Luke (who can lay hands on me any day of the week, not just Sunday) whose goofiness is more than mitigated for with some hugely impressive dance moves (choreographed by Ewan Jones).

Between them, these five likely lads ensure that the pace of the show never dips too much amidst songs that go on a touch too long too often and a script that just doesn’t possess enough killer lines. That they manage to pull out as much humour as they do is testament to their skill as nurtured here by Dexter and consequently Altar Boyz emerges as a lively, if undemanding, evening of theatre.

Running time: 75 minutes (without interval)
Programme cost: £2.50
Booking until 18th October
Photo: Claire Bilyard

Review: Carnival of the Animals, Riverside Studios

“C’est parfait!”

Little is it known that Paris actually has 21 districts. And that in the 21e arrondisement, humans and animals live side by side. And that in that corner of Paris, they put on a show every day – the Carnival of the Animals. But the animals are tired, they’ve lost their enthusiasm for the theatre, their star turn has gone missing and they can’t stop arguing. It is only when a chimpanzee, a zebra, a parrot and a lioness arrive breathlessly in the square, determined to join the carnival, that they decide to carry on, but the newcomers are hiding a secret. And watching over all of them is neighbourly dress-shop owner Mademoiselle Parfait, who despite her friendly demeanour perhaps isn’t quite all she seems either.

Inspired by Saint-Saëns’ musical opus of the same name, this Carnival of the Animals maintains a similar family friendly ambience to create a really rather charming piece of musical theatre. Andrew Marshall’s book weaves a likeable story about finding one’s own self-worth and appreciating others’ differences in with the slightly darker sub-plot – nothing too sinister, think pantomime villainry – and the whole thing is peppered with a bunch of amiable songs from composer Gavin Greenaway and lyricist Roger Hyams. Continue reading “Review: Carnival of the Animals, Riverside Studios”

Review: Lift, Soho Theatre

“I keep telling myself if this is happening, it will happen in time”

A musical looking at “love, life and loss in a London lift”, Craig Adams and Ian Watson’s Lift is a thing to treasure in and of itself – a new British musical. Adams started writing the song cycle in 2005 and following the nurturing development of Perfect Pitch and its housing in the welcoming arms of the Soho Theatre – both necessarily ardent supporters of new musical theatre writing – it now makes its world premiere. The show looks at a cross-section of contemporary London life, taking its sample from the inhabitants of a lift at Covert Garden tube station as their lives intersect in the 54 seconds it takes to surface and then scatter to the wind on departing it.

The central conceit is that even though we may not make eye contact with the people next to us on tube journeys, our lives are more connected than we know and so we see the paths of these eight characters cross again in varied and unexpected ways. It’s a neat concept but one which falls a little short in the execution, coming across as too haphazard in its bringing together of such disparate elements – we long for more of a connection, both between the characters but also between the characters and the audience, the device of the lift just doesn’t feel strong enough.  Continue reading “Review: Lift, Soho Theatre”