Review: Chicago, Phoenix

Chicago returns to the West End at the Phoenix Theatre but is this the ideal 21st birthday present?

“He had it coming”

There’s a lot to like in this revival of Chicago (Josefina Gabrielle, Sarah Soetaert) but not quite enough to get the heart pounding (an ill-at-ease Cuba Gooding Jnr). Take a read of my 3 star review for Official Theatre here.

Running time: 2 hours 25 minutes (with interval)
Photos: Tristram Kenton
Chicago is currently booking at the Phoenix Theatre until 23rd June

Round-up of the 2017 fosterIANs

2017 Theatre

Best Actress in a Play
Hattie Morahan/Kate O’Flynn/Adelle Leonce, Anatomy of a Suicide

Best Actress in a Musical
Janie Dee, Follies AND Josefina Gabrielle, A Little Night Music AND Josie Walker, Everybody’s Talking About Jamie

Best Actor in a Play
Ken Nwosu, An Octoroon

Best Actor in a Musical
Giles Terera, Hamilton

Best Supporting Actress in a Play 
Bríd Brennan, The Ferryman

Best Supporting Actress in a Musical
Tracie Bennett, Follies

Best Supporting Actor in a Play 
Fisayo Akinade, Barber Shop Chronicles

Best Supporting Actor in a Musical
Jason Pennycooke, Hamilton

And my top 10 plays of the year:
1. The Revlon Girl, Park
2. A Little Night Music, Watermill
3. Barber Shop Chronicles, National
4. Hamilton, Victoria Palace
5. Everybody’s Talking About Jamie, Crucible/Apollo
6. An Octoroon, Orange Tree
7. Follies, National Theatre
8. Romantics Anonymous, Sam Wanamaker Playhouse
9. Hamlet, Almeida
10. The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole Aged 13 ¾, Menier Chocolate Factory
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2017 Best Actress in a Play + in a Musical

Best Actress in a Play


Hattie Morahan/Kate O’Flynn/Adelle Leonce, Anatomy of a Suicide
How to split these three? Why would you even want to. Their effortless grace, their ferociously detailed complexity, their heart-breaking connectivity, all three will live long in my mind.

Honourable mention: Victoria Hamilton, Albion
Not far behind in the fierceness stakes was this epic role of near-Chekhovian proportions, tailored by Mike Bartlett for one of his frequent collaborators. Quite why this hasn’t followed Ink into the West End I’m not sure.

Shirley Henderson, Girl From the North Country
Cherry Jones, The Glass Menagerie
Justine Mitchell, Beginning
Mimi Ndiweni, The Convert
Connie Walker, Trestle

8-10
Laura Donnelly, The Ferryman; Imelda Staunton, Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Woolf; Rosie Wyatt, In Event of Moone Disaster

Best Actress in a Musical

Janie Dee, Follies AND Josefina Gabrielle, A Little Night Music AND Josie Walker, Everybody’s Talking About Jamie
A second three-way tie? Hey, it’s my blog and my rules! From Dee thoroughly owning the Olivier through song and dance, to Gabrielle making me feel like I was hearing ‘Send in the Clowns’ for the first time, to the sheer beauty of Walker’s uncompromising love for her son, this was only way I could reward a banner year for leading female musical performances.

Honourable mention: Amie Giselle-Ward, Little Women
Sadly ineligible to win since her name doesn’t begin with J…, Giselle-Ward nevertheless blew me away at the heart of this gorgeous musical which, if there’s any justice, should continue the Hope Mill’s admirable record of London transfers.

Sharon D Clarke, Caroline or Change
Kelly Price, The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole Aged 13 ¾
T’Shan Williams, The Life


8-10

Carly Bawden, Romantics Anonymous; Sandra Marvin, Committee; Marisha Wallace, Dreamgirls;

Review: The Box of Delights, Wilton’s Music Hall

“The wolves are running, Kay Harker”

There’s a wonderfully rough magic to Justin Audibert’s production of The Box of Delights that makes it the perfect choice for Wilton’s Music Hall’s festive show. And it is one that will have extra resonance for those of a generation similar to my own, whose childhood TV watching centred on a VHS copy of the 1984 TV adaptation, whose use of graphics and green screen hasn’t necessarily aged all that well (see around 14.30)…

The nods to the occasional naffness of that design (a car that turns into an aeroplane!) were much appreciated but such is the warmth and wit of the theatrical invention here, that it is hard not to be won over by Piers Torday’s adaptation of John Masefield’s 1935 fantasy novel whether you’re familiar with it or not. And though it flirts with the odd sinister undertone, the abiding feel is one of adventurous derring-do and festive cheer, fit for whatever family you have around you.

Set in the depths of Christmas 1938, we’re in the world of plum puddings and hot possets, where schoolboy Kay Harker finds his journey home from boarding school disrupted by falling into the middle of a battle between two mighty magicians. Given the precious Box of Delights by one of them, he’s charged with protecting it – and by extension, the very future of Christmas itself – but little can prepare him for the magical power that is contained within. Continue reading “Review: The Box of Delights, Wilton’s Music Hall”

Round-up of news and treats and other interesting things

National treasure Matthew Kelly and West End superstar Josefina Gabrielle are to star in the brand-new stage adaptation of The Box of Delights, possibly the creepiest children’s tv show ever and one which is indeliby etched on my psyche. This original production is the first time Poet Laureate John Masefield’s festive classic has been reimagined for the stage, and will be brought to life by an ensemble cast in the gloriously Christmassy surroundings of Wilton’s Music Hall.

Joining Kelly and Gabrielle as part of the stellar cast will be Mark Extance, Safiyya Ingar, Tom Kanji, Samuel Simmonds, Rosalind Steele and Alistair Toovey.

Jo Brand has been announced as the headline act for a charity comedy night at Richmond Theatre. The evening of comedy will raise funds for national charity SeeAbility and features Adam Hills, host of Channel 4’s The Last Leg and Live at the Apollo regular, Seann Walsh.

Richmond Theatre will host ‘Stand Up for SeeAbility‘ on Monday 30th October, where Jo Brand will also be joined by Sally Phillips from Bridget Jones’s Diary and award-winner Mark Simmons, as well as Sarah Louise Keegan and John Moloney. It will all be introduced by former Paralympian, Lord Chris Holmes of Richmond MBE.

SeeAbility is a 200-year-old charity with strong local roots to Richmond. They provide extraordinary support for people with learning disabilities and autism across Surrey and the South of England, and champion eye care for adults and children with learning disabilities.

The critically acclaimed (not least by yours truly) production of The Grinning Man, directed by Tony award-winning Tom Morris (War Horse) and based on the classic Victor Hugo (Les Misérables) novel, The Man Who Laughs, will take over Studio 1 at Trafalgar Studios from 5 December, following a hugely successful autumn 2016 premiere at Bristol Old Vic. Tickets will go on sale on Wednesday 11 October.

This romantic gothic musical love story, set in a fantastical world with a dark heart, is brought to life by Kneehigh writer Carl Grose (Dead Dog in a Suitcase) and “powered by an outstanding score” (Sunday Times) by Tim Phillips and Marc Teitler. And in great news, the cast is led once again by Louis Maskell (2016 Best Actor in a Musical fosterIAN winner), in the title role of Grinpayne, and Julian Bleach (2016 Best Supporting Actor in a Musical fosterIAN winner), who plays Barkilphedro, a vengeful clown with a heart of lead. 

Lead casting has been announced for a 2018 UK tour of Terence Rattigan’s classic family drama, The Winslow Boy – directed by Olivier Award-nominated Rachel Kavanaugh. Tessa Peake-Jones (Only Fools and Horses, Grantchester) stars as Grace Winslow wife of Arthur Winslow, played by the swoonworthy Aden Gillett (House of Eliott, Holby City), the father who embarks on an extraordinary campaign for justice for his son.

The tour opens at Chichester Festival Theatre on February 8th 2018 and sees Mark Goucher once again present a classic drama straight from seasons at the Chichester Festival Theatre and Birmingham Rep. The Winslow Boy follows acclaimed productions of The Kings Speech and Single Spies (the latter also directed by Kavanaugh). The production is set to visit other leading UK drama houses including Bath Theatre Royal, Oxford Playhouse, Cambridge Arts Theatre, Salford Lowry, Cheltenham Everyman Theatre, Brighton Theatre Royal, Belfast Grand Opera House, Richmond Theatre and Canterbury’s Marlowe Theatre.

And just in case you were wondering what Harry Hadden-Paton is up to (and quite frankly, who isn’t), well of course he’s making his NY stage debut in the Lincoln Center revival of My Fair Lady as Henry Higgins opposite Lauren Ambrose as Eliza Doolittle, Norbert Leo Butz as Alfie Doolittle, and Dame Diana Rigg as Mrs Higgins, aka the Menier Christmas musical I would have liked to see.

Album Review: Carousel (1993 London Cast Recording)

“The feelin’ is gettin’ so intense”


Nick Hytner’s production of Carousel began life at the National Theatre at 1992 and was such a success that it transferred into the West End the next year, albeit without its entire original cast. So this recording does not feature the likes of Patricia Routledge and Janie Dee which is sad, but it did retain the incomparable Joanna Riding who delivers the kind of performance as Julie Jordan that should rightfully be lauded for aeons.

Frankly, it pisses all over Katherine Jenkins’ efforts (Michael Hayden’s Billy isn’t particularly fantastic but I’d still take him over Alfie Boe), speaking as it does to the darker side of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s musical, which Hytner was one of the first to really emphasise. Riding is superb from start to finish and in a treasure trove of riches, it is the rendition of ‘What’s the use of Wond’rin” that really blows you away.
In the supporting cast, Katrina Murphy’s Carrie Pipperige is particularly good, especially her version of “Mister Snow” partnered by the ever-excellent Clive Rowe and the chorus work sounds like a dream. Martin Yates’ musical direction captures much of special feel of the orchestrations and in the final analysis, you’d be hard-pressed to find much fault here at all.

Album Review: Fame (1995 Original London Cast Recording)

“These are my emotions 

Mine alone to keep”
Some things age well. Music produced in the 90s is not often one of them, and so it is true of the Original London Cast Recording of Fame The Musical. The musical was actually written in the 80s, premiering in Miami before getting its first major production in the West End at the Cambridge Theatre in 1995. Following the hopes and dreams of a scrappy group of drama school brats at the New York High School of Performing Arts, and between the film and TV show, it’s a well-worn story but one told well.
The main problem is that Steve Margoshes’ score really isn’t that strong, failing to come up with anything that is polished and assured as the Michael Gore-penned title song which, to be fair, is a solid-gold pop banger. The Paula Abdul-tinged ‘Let’s Play A Love Scene’ comes closest for me and elsewhere, there’s not much in the way of memorable music, plus Jaques Levy’s lyrics have dated badly, always a problem when trying to be au courant, and David Beer’s musical direction also can’t help but show its age in aiming for a contemporary rock sound.
So one to avoid unless you’re a particularly big fan of the show (which I’ve never actually seen onstage, I wonder if that might sway my opinion any). I was disappointed that a couple of the names I know didn’t get more time in the spotlight – Richard Dempsey pops up for a couple of minutes as Nick in ‘I Want To Make Magic’ and the exceptionally talented Josefina Gabrielle doesn’t get a solo number at all as Iris. Accents are all over the show, the rapping is cringe-worthy and in all honesty, the sound on the album isn’t that great either – what would Meryl Streep think?!

Review: A Little Night Music, Watermill

“It’s but a pleasurable means
To a measurable end”


Sondheim’s reputation as one of our finest living composers rests not only on the delicious complexity of his music but also on the superlative performances that it draws from actors who must delve extraordinarily deep to rise to its challenges. Not every performer is able to ascend these heady heights but it gives me enormous pleasure to report that Josefina Gabrielle delivers one of those utterly transcendent moments with a nigh-on perfect interpretation of Desiree Armfeldt at the Watermill. 
As a once-famed actress not quite getting the gigs she believes she should, she presents the facade of ‘The Glamourous Life’ beautifully – a touch self-deprecating, two touches self-assured, she knows how to rule a room. But try as she might, she can’t always rule the hearts of others as evinced in the bittersweet ‘Send In The Clowns’ which is made to feel brand new here, Gabrielle finding fresh textures and feeling (the startled emotion of ‘I thought that you’d want what I want’ seems to surprise even her) to completely and utterly break the heart (the song’s final line has never been delivered more affectingly, and I’m including the Dench in there!). 
Given the name of this blog, it should come as little surprise that I find it hard to resist productions of A Little Night Music, even when they’re in deepest Berkshire. But Paul Foster is a director I admire and actor-musician productions are often superb in their ingenuity. And so it proves here, Sarah Travis’ arrangements for this company of 13 (playing piccolos to double basses) are meticulously done, losing none of the music’s majesty even as it is considerably reconfigured in some parts.
The magic comes from all sides though – Foster’s desire to create an intimate and seductively romantic chamber piece is brought to glorious life in the burnished wood of David Woodhead’s design and the stunning lighting work from Howard Hudson, which mixes the naturalistic glow of Swedish midsummer with more abstract tableaux of painterly grace. With Matt Flint’s elegant choreography in there as well, the show looks ravishing pretty much from start to finish.
And though I’ve singled out Gabrielle, this really is an ensemble piece full of real quality. Alastair Brookshaw’s nerdish lawyer Fredrik is beautifully sung but crucially has a keen sense of the character’s tragicomic nature, especially in the physical mismatch with Alex Hammond’s rakish Count Carl-Magnus Malcolm, his rival in extramarital attentions from Desiree. Hammond is also well-matched with Phoebe Fildes as his long-suffering wife Charlotte, whether solo in a nuanced ‘Every Day A Little Death’ or as part of the intricate interplay of the superb ‘Weekend In The Country’. Plus Dillie Keane is acerbically brilliant as Madame Armfeldt, Christina Tedders is no less scene-stealingly good as the maid Petra, there really are no weak links here at all.
I’ve rarely felt as connected to the emotion of A Little Night Music as I was here, with a production that is as in tune with the nature of its comedy as its tragedy, at once rueful and romantic, deeply sensual and utterly irresistible. Don’t wait for a transfer that won’t necessarily come, book now!

Running time: 2 hours 40 minutes (with interval)
Photos: Philip Tull
Booking until 16th September

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Review: Stepping Out, Vaudeville

“I just popped into Pineapple for this”
There may be few real surprises to be had at Stepping Out but what Maria Friedman’s production here at the Vaudeville does, is to conjure a marvellously congenial atmosphere which is ideally suited to the play. Written in 1984 by Richard Harris and set the year before, to call this period comedy dated is beyond stating the obvious, its female characters wafer-thin, its gender politics non-existent.
But if it isn’t feminist with a capital F, there’s certainly lower-case feminism at work here, not least in the fact that it offers up 8 out of its 9 roles to women – bucking the male:female ratio that is stubbornly persistent in the West End. We follow this group of women, and the solitary man, as they muddle their way through a weekly tap class, building to the inevitable performance that they have to pull off.
And through these lessons, we get hints of the lives of this motley crew. Their humdrum day-to-day, their unhappy marriages, their frustrated ambitions, in vignettes that are sometimes over before they’ve begun, we get a little closer to them all. And it’s all rather touchingly done – Tracy-Ann Oberman’s brash Maxine, Emma Hook’s (on for an indisposed Natalie Casey) sassy Sylvia, Sandra Marvin’s vivacious Rose, even Lesley Vickerage’s highly-strung Andy, these are people to enjoy spending time with.
And holding them together, just about, is a fine performance from Josefina Gabrielle as dance teacher Mavis (covering for original cast member Tamzin Outhwaite who broke her ankle) – she’s such a charismatic actor, I could watch her for days as she teaches patiently, loses that patience and ultimately dances up a storm. Amanda Holden’s brittle trophy wife is costumed brilliantly in 80s excess and there’s lovely work too from Dominic Rowan as the widowed Geoffrey, who valiantly struggles to find the dancer within. 
So I have to say that I really rather enjoyed myself at Stepping Out. Undemanding in the best possible way, it’s high-quality, feel-good entertainment with a sprinkling of tap dancing magic (from choreographer Tim Jackson), and a director adroitly helping her company to elevate the material. A fun night out. 
Running time: 2 hours 20 minutes (with interval)
Booking until 17th June

CD Review: MS. A Song Cycle

“I wish you didn’t have to be in pain” 
 
Multiple Sclerosis affects over 100,000 people in the UK alone. 

 

One of the accusations often levelled by detractors of musical theatre is that it is fanciful, frivolous stuff, unable of taking subjects seriously. And whilst the form undoubtedly can have its lighter moments, I’d challenge anyone to listen to this new song cycle inspired by women living with multiple sclerosis and remain unmoved. MS. A Song Cycle is the brainchild of lyricist Rory Sherman, who has worked with SimG Productions, musical supervisor Ellie Verkerk and 14 different teams of composers and performers to create a delicately but undeniably powerful collection of stories, that gain in that power from being sung so beautifully as they are here.
 
More than two to three times more women are affected than men