Review: Caroline or Change, Playhouse Theatre

The extraordinary Caroline or Change makes the leap into the West End at the Playhouse Theatre, with a titanic Sharon D Clarke at the helm

“The Devil made the dryer.
Everything else, God made”

For the assiduous theatregoer, this is the third opportunity to catch this stirring Chichester Festival Theatre production of Caroline or Change. From its original run at the Minerva last year to the Hampstead Theatre this spring, this idiosyncratic musical now arrives in the West End in the relative intimacy of the Playhouse Theatre.

And it is an intimacy that is needed to draw you into the true shape of Michael Longhurst’s production – to be confronted with that Confederate statue, the sweltering isolation of that basement, the knots of tension on furrowed brows. The winds of change may be starting to blow across the US of the early 1960s but here in this Louisiana household, societal change has yet to filter down to the individual.  Continue reading “Review: Caroline or Change, Playhouse Theatre”

Re-review: Matilda the Musical, Cambridge

Seven years, five stars, a return visit to Matilda the Musical shows the show has lost none of its charm

 

“When I grow up,
I will be smart enough to answer all
The questions that you need to know
The answers to before you’re grown up”

As Matilda the Musical approaches its seventh year in the West End, and a new adult cast has had a couple of weeks to bed in, I was delighted to get the chance to revisit the show. Since its premiere in Stratford back in 2010/11, it has been a musical to fall in love with over and over again. I can – and do – listen to the Original Cast Recording all the time, and it is always on top of the list of things I recommend when I’m ever asked ‘what should I see’. Take a read of my 5 star review for Official Theatre here, as I try not to use up all my words in praise of Gina Beck.

Running time: 2 hours 35 minutes (with interval)
Booking until 27th May 2018, for the moment

David Shannon, Gina Beck, Tom Edden and Marianne Benedict

 

Review: Caroline or Change, Minerva

“Household rules and small decrees unsuspecting bring us these secret little tragedies”

Well Daniel Evans looks set to be continuing one of Chichester Festival Theatre’s longstanding traditions, of producing musical theatre that tempts the cognoscenti over to West Sussex in droves and which leads calls for West End transfers as soon as the curtain falls (if they had curtains in Chichester that is…). His first musical for the venue is a promising one too, an adventurous choice in Tony Kushner and Jeanine Tesori’s Caroline or Change, and an entirely successful one under Michael Longhurst’s direction and a genuinely superb cast.

It is 1963, the United States is in the grip of a civil rights movement but one whose effects haven’t quite trickled all the way down to the Deep South just yet. Caroline Thibodeaux is an African American maid in Lakes Charles, Louisiana working for a Jewish family, The Gellmans, for 30 dollars a week. But she’s a single mother of 4 and ends are barely meeting so when stepmother of the house Rose devises a plan to teach her 8-year-old stepson Noah not to leave change in his pocket, it’s a difficult one to resist despite – or maybe because of – all the racial, social and economic tensions it represents. Continue reading “Review: Caroline or Change, Minerva”

CD Review: From Here To Eternity (2014 Live Cast Recording)

“All along knowing that no-one has returned to care”

Barely managing six months in the West End in 2013/4, I think it’s fair to say the musical adaptation of From Here to Eternity underwhelmed. And though I was reasonably fair to it at the time, I can’t say that it has aged well, upon returning the live cast recording that was made before the final curtain fell, blame seeming to fall evenly between composer Stuart Brayson, lyricist Tim Rice and book writer Bill Oakes. 
And with weaknesses on all sides like this, very much exposed in the medium of record, it’s not too hard to see why the show didn’t achieve anywhere near the levels of success it was aiming for. There’s so little sense of the main thrust of the story coming through, or indeed any of the strands put forward being sufficiently developed, to make you care about any of the relationships or the plight of the men. 
Oakes’ book moves inconsistently around all of them and Brayson’s score does little to provide any covering connective tissue. His musical influences pull from too broad a canvas to provide aural cohesion and far too few of the songs are focused on advancing narrative – the coupling of Warden and Karen (whose surf-soaked bodies provide the iconic image) are given hardly any musical time together, quite Darius Campbell and Rebecca Thornhill are meant to do to generate chemistry in solo numbers is beyond me. 
Robert Lonsdale and Siubhan Harrison as the other couple fare a little better but again, are more apart than together musically. What we’re left with is a grab-bag of tunes, barely scratching the surface of anything, least of all the men of G Company whose tragic fate ends up feeling like divine retribution for being horrific human beings. There’s undoubtedly some halfway striking musical moments – the startling melody of ‘Thirty Year Man’ provides real interest, Ryan Sampson’s sardonic ‘I Love The Army’ threatens to show some character but all in all, it’s little surprise we’ve gone from here to obscurity.

Review: Motown the Musical, Shaftesbury

“I don’t write race music, it’s music for everyone”

You may think that there’s no-one better to tell your own life story than yourself but if Motown the Musical teaches us anything, it’s that an outside ear benefits us all. Founder of the renowned Motown record label, Berry Gordy carried on regardless though and as the author of the self-serving book for this show, based on his autobiography, detracts a little from what is otherwise a fun jukebox musical stuffed with some stonking music from the likes of Diana Ross, Smokey Robinson, Marvin Gaye and The Jackson 5, and rather brilliantly performed by a cracking cast. Read my 3 star review for Official Theatre here

Running time: 2 hours 40 minutes (with interval)
Booking until 17th February

Review: i know all the secrets in my world, West Herts College

“Dad…?”

When one suffers from a traumatic loss, there can be no words to get you through the day. Which is acknowledged by Natalie Ibu’s i know all the secrets in my world as barely a word is spoken between the two main characters. And equally true is the fact that life has to go on for those left behind, no matter how hard it may seem, which is what Ibu shows us in this story of a father and son struggling to deal with the loss of a wife and mother.

The strength of their relationship, in all its playful beauty, is played out in a gorgeous prologue around the breakfast table, Annie-Lunnette Deakin-Foster’s movement perfectly choreographed. But then darkness falls and their world is broken, literally so as Alyson Cummins’ cramped apartment set cracks open and from then on, Solomon Israel’s father is left to deal with an all-encompassing grief that is smothering him and his young son, played with athletic grace by Samuel Nicholas. Continue reading “Review: i know all the secrets in my world, West Herts College”

TV Review: The Sound of Music Live

“It’s quite different after you’ve grown up”

The hills are alive, with the sound of questions. Like, why. The UK’s first fully live musical theatre television broadcast saw ITV produce Rodgers and Hammerstein’s The Sound of Music though the result was a curious experiment that fell uneasily between two stools. Lacking the crucial energy that propels the best live theatre (which comes from an audience too), the production values (though often impressive) naturally fell short of the opportunities of filmed work

Which ultimately begs the question, what’s the point. Is the UK hankering for a new production of the show? It’s hardly as if we’re lacking for productions popping up regularly in theatres across the land. Is it showcasing the best of British musical theatre talent? In that case why cast someone like Strictly winner and former Eastender Kara Tointon as Maria and shunt the likes of Julie Atherton (one of the most outstanding performers we have, bar none) into the nun ensemble. Continue reading “TV Review: The Sound of Music Live”

Review: Yarico, London Theatre Workshop

“And so poor Yarico for her love, lost her liberty”

When a show openly acknowledges that it is a work-in-progress, you could be forgiven a certain degree of scepticism but on entering the London Theatre Workshop – perched above a Fulham pub – and seeing the size of their marimba, there can be no doubting the seriousness of the intent behind Yarico. A musical treatment of the opera Inkle and Yarico, itself based on the historical writings of Richard Ligon in A True and Exact History of the Island of Barbados, it’s a fascinating look at an interesting time in a difficult piece of history.

For though the slave trade forms the backdrop for the story, the opera came at a time when anti-slavery sentiment was on the rise and this sense of being on the cusp of the abolition era adds an thought-provoking texture to the production. Yarico, a young Amerindian woman with a yen for Shakespeare, has her life turned upside down when English ne’er-do-well Thomas Inkle washes up onshore. The only one able to communicate with him due to her studies, she pleads for his life against her hostile fellow islanders and they soon fall in love – so far so happy. Continue reading “Review: Yarico, London Theatre Workshop”

Re-review: The Pajama Game, Shaftesbury

“I like a man with spunk
‘You like a man period’”

As is often the way, a canny bit of recasting ensured my need to revisit a show I’d already seen and resolved not to revisit. In this case, it was The Pajama Game, which I caught last year in Chichester when Joanna Riding and Hadley Fraser led Richard Eyre’s productions to great acclaim, which now arrives for a summer at the Shaftesbury Theatre with Michael Xavier taking over from Fraser. I am most fond indeed of Xavier’s work, and as I enjoyed the show in all its strangely charming old-fashioned oddity, going back wasn’t too much of a trial.

My original review is here and there really isn’t much more to add. The show fits in well into the Shaftesbury, even if a little of its expansiveness feels lost in the reconfiguration, but Xavier makes a predictably excellent fit into the company, he really is one of our leading exponents of musical theatre, delivering the goods time after time. Jo Riding emerges unscathed from Stephen Ward to return to a role in which she is wonderfully comfortable to watch but the real star ends up being Alexis Owen-Hobbs’ spunky Gladys. Book soon whilst you still can.

Running time: 2 hours 45 minutes (with interval)
Booking until 13th September

Re-review: From Here To Eternity, Shaftesbury

“I got the ‘ain’t where I wanna be’ blues”

Suffering the fate of a fair few musicals that have taken up residence in the slightly-too-out-of-the-way Shaftesbury Theatre, From Here To Eternity announced its early closing last year and since then the end has drawn even closer with the final date being moved from the end of April to 29th March. I wasn’t blown away by it on first viewing but I had thought I might be tempted to see it again to see how it stood up to repeated viewing and also to get another listen to Stuart Brayson’s naggingly persistent score. But to be honest, it didn’t really work out that well. 

A sadly small audience robbed the theatre of atmosphere despite the cast’s best efforts – it was however nice to see Marc Antolin doing well standing in for Ryan Sampson as Maggio – and there is no escaping the strange weighting of the show towards trying to make empathetic figures out of a largely objectionable group of people, especially in the racist, adulterous, misogynistic, homophobic bullying G Company.  Continue reading “Re-review: From Here To Eternity, Shaftesbury”