Review: Amélie the Musical, New Wimbledon Theatre

As sweet-sharp as a diabolo grenadine, the touring version of Amélie the Musical impresses me at the New Wimbledon Theatre

“Will there troubles?
I don’t know
Will there be sweet things?
I hope so”

As sweet-sharp as a diabolo grenadine, Amélie the Musical has lost none of its inimitable charm as it gears up for a considerable UK tour. I adored it at the Watermill but the intimacy there left me wondering how the show would fare in the significantly larger houses to which it will be touring. Turns out I need not have worried.

Michael Fentiman’s production has expanded perfectly to fill the space. A few more ensemble members here, a tweak to Madeleine Girling’s canny set design there, and the show has lost nothing of itself or its kooky Parisian whirl. If anything the actor-muso ensemble’s reinterpretation of Daniel Messé’s score sounds even better than before under George Francis’ musical direction. Continue reading “Review: Amélie the Musical, New Wimbledon Theatre”

Review: Amélie the Musical, Watermill Theatre

A sensational adaptation of the film, Amélie the Musical completely captures my heart – see it now at the Watermill Theatre and then touring across the UK

“Maybe she’s just different”

In a week marked by the heartbreaking sight of Notre Dame aflame, the decidedly Gallic charms of Amélie the Musical arrive to offer a soothing balm. The show – music by Daniel Messé, lyrics by Messé and Nathan Tysen and a book by Craig Lucas – didn’t fare so well on Broadway in 2017 but the creatives, along with director Michael Fentiman, have substantially reworked the material to great effect.

The result is something which cleaves much closer to Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s original film Le Fabuleux Destin d’Amélie Poulain in every inch of its spirit. From singing goldfish to licking stage blood off fingers, Elton John cameos to intimidating figs, there’s a wonderful weirdness to the world created here. It’s no wonder that the introverted Amélie struggles at first to find her place in this hyper-real version of Paris. Continue reading “Review: Amélie the Musical, Watermill Theatre”

Review: Once, Queen’s Theatre Hornchurch

This regional UK premiere of Once the musical should see you falling slowly towards Queen’s Theatre Hornchurch in order to book your tickets!

“Raise your hopeful voice, you have a choice”

I’d forgotten just how much I like Once. I saw it a couple of times in its 2013-15 West End incarnation (review #1, review #2) and its atypical subtlety was a big hit for me, particularly in the gentle mood cultivated by Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová’s music and lyrics. The fact that it isn’t a brassy balls-out West End musical might explain why it has taken a little time for its regional premiere to emerge but mercifully, that time has now come.

For that, we have co-producers Queen’s Theatre Hornchurch and New Wolsey Theatre Ipswich to thank. And director Peter Rowe’s actor-musician production slips into the groove perfectly, as warm and comforting as a pint of Guinness or three in your favourite old man’s pub – and occasionally just as rowdy as well. With Enda Walsh’s book taken from John Carney’s original film, its bittersweetly romantic tone feels perfect as autumn descends. Continue reading “Review: Once, Queen’s Theatre Hornchurch”

Re-review: Ragtime, Charing Cross

“You can never go back to before”

Mother may spend a song telling us that we can never go ‘Back To Before’ but fortunately you can go back to Ragtime with no fear. And in a post-election climate, it can’t help but feel even more charged as the USA finds itself at a(nother) momentous point in its history. You can read my original review here and if anything, Thom Southerland’s production has gotten even better as the actor-musicians feel even more confident and comfortable. 

Leading performances from Jennifer Saayeng and Ako Mitchell, Earl Carpenter and Anita Louise Combe, and Gary Tushaw remain powerful as ever. But on second viewing I enjoyed watching ensemble members and just how damn hard they’re working – Kate Robson-Stuart, Christopher Dickins and James Mack particularly standing out for me… If you’ve not seen the show yet, there’s a trailer below for your delectation but move quickly, there’s less than a month less of the run. Continue reading “Re-review: Ragtime, Charing Cross”

Review: Ragtime, Charing Cross

“And say to those who blame us for the way we chose to fight
That sometimes there are battles that are more than black or white.”

It’s impossible to watch Ragtime right now without marvelling at its relevance to the current US presidential election campaign and the lessons that were right there for Donald Trump and his team to learn. For in many ways, the show – written by Ahrens and Flaherty with book by Terrence McNally from EL Doctorow’s novel – is about the development of the modern American nation and identifies three key groups instrumental in that societal change in women, African-Americans and immigrant communities, the very people Trump has done his damnedest to alienate.

Politics aside, what’s more significant is the magical touch that director Thom Southerland seems to have when it comes to reconceiving musicals, as his actor-musician production here at the Charing Cross Theatre is an extraordinary success. Keeping most of his 24-strong company onstage throughout amplifies the overarching humanity of its storytelling, reminding us that these are all of our stories regardless of whichever group we ‘belong’. Combined with the expert musicality onstage and an ingenious design from Tom Rogers and Toots Butcher, it’s an irresistible adaptation that shouldn’t be missed. Continue reading “Review: Ragtime, Charing Cross”

Review: Betty Blue Eyes, Mercury

“Time that the whole town was stirred up”

At a time when West End shows are closing left right and centre, this touring version of Betty Blue Eyes serves as a timely reminder that that isn’t always the end. Itself a victim of a curtailed run at the Novello back in 2011, this production emerges as a model of collaboration with 4 regional powerhouses co-producing – Mercury Theatre Colchester, Liverpool Everyman & Playhouse, Salisbury Playhouse and West Yorkshire Playhouse – a UK tour which currently stretches into August. 

Ron Cowen and Daniel Lipman’s book adapts Alan Bennett and Malcom Mowbray’s witty story from the film A Private Function – a northern town’s determination to celebrate the Princess Elizabeth’s wedding is kyboshed by the unrelenting yoke of post-war austerity and rationing, though chiropodist Gilbert Chilvers and his social climbing wife Joyce have other plans. And the beautifully constructed music and lyrics are provided by British musical theatre stalwarts Stiles & Drewe. Continue reading “Review: Betty Blue Eyes, Mercury”