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”

Album Review: Memphis (2014 Original London Cast Recording)

“Open your eyes, I got a surprise!”

It was fascinating to revisit Memphis, a show that I enjoyed on seeing but in all honesty, isn’t one I’ve given much thought to since it left the West End after just over a year at the Shaftesbury Theatre (I went back once). I remarked then that David Bryan’s score was “highly tuneful if not instantly catchy” so was surprised that a fair few of the songs had managed to work their way into my subconscious and so provided that ‘ping’ of recognition which is always nice.

It was also interesting to listen to the songs in isolation from the show, as more of them than I remembered felt somewhat disconnected from the narrative, just happy in their sprightly pop song-ness. And thanks to the quality of the cast assembled here – leads Beverley Knight and Killian Donnelly, supported by the likes of Jason Pennycooke, Tyrone Huntley and Rolan Bell plus Claire Machin, it is a consistently enjoyable record to listen to. Continue reading “Album Review: Memphis (2014 Original London Cast Recording)”

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”

Re-review: Memphis, Shaftesbury

“Have a beer drop a time in the blind man’s jar”

Never one to look a gift-horse in the mouth, the offer of a return ticket to Memphis (the show, not the place sadly) was one I was happy to accept and I was glad for it too. The show remains a hugely impressive showcase for its cast and creatives whilst never quite engaging satisfactorily enough with its subject matter (see my original review here) but the overall effect is certainly one that is entertaining and should set the show up for a successful UK tour in 2016 after it finishes in the West End.

The main change has been the arrival of X Factor winner (and stone cold fox – who knew) Matt Cardle in the cast as Huey, replacing Killian Donnelly who has headed over to Kinky Boots. And as a musical theatre debutant, he is very good indeed, slipping into the role of the fast-talking, highly charismatic DJ with great ease, nailing an adorkable charm that is most appealing. It helps that he shares great chemistry with Beverley Knight as rising star Felicia, herself now off to the latest revival of Cats, further cementing her own MT reputation. Continue reading “Re-review: Memphis, Shaftesbury”

Review: Memphis, Shaftesbury Theatre

“Rock ‘n’ roll is just black people’s blues sped up”

Though much of the US civil rights movement’s achievements came through political means, this time of huge shift in American society was also underpinned by significant cultural change and it is this that the Tony-award-winning show Memphis focuses on, in exploring how white radio DJ Huey Calhoun sent shockwaves over the airwaves of this Southern city in the 1950s by ignoring the entrenched racial divisions and playing ‘race’ music for all to hear. And as rock and roll began to capture the attention of the nation, so too was Huey’s attention completely captured by the soulful energy of upcoming singer Felicia Farrell and the underground blues club in which she performs (which belongs to her brother).

That she is black and he is not doesn’t matter to him but it sure as hell does to everyone else (they may sing that ‘Everybody Wants To Be Black On A Saturday night’ but there are still laws preventing mixed marriage) and it is this that provides the dramatic heft to Joe DiPietro’s book, such as it is, to this musical that otherwise puts its focus squarely on the music. And what an unexpected place that music comes from – David Bryan, who just happens to be Bon Jovi’s keyboard player – has compiled a fully original score which pulls in influences from Motown-flecked pop, gospel, R&B and 80s power ballads naturally (I mean, look at the guy’s hair!) – it’s highly tuneful if not instantly catchy but delivered with the conviction it is here, it demands the attention and will doubtless reward relistening (if not rewatching as well ;-)) Continue reading “Review: Memphis, Shaftesbury Theatre”

Review: Ghost the musical, New Wimbledon

“Sometimes you need to hear it Sam”

Given the fortunes of its replacement at the Piccadilly Theatre, the 15 month West End run of Ghost the musical doesn’t seem too bad at all in the end. Based on the famous 1990 film with book by Bruce Joel Rubin and music from Dave Stewart and Glen Ballard, the story of psychics, possession and pottery certainly looked impressive in Matthew Warchus’ cinematically flash production but this wasn’t always enough to overcome the shortcomings of its adaptation. But it was a show that intrigued and one that I came to like quite a lot (I saw it twice – reviews can be read here and here but the first review of the show on here, from its original Manchester run, comes courtesy of my father!) and so I was certainly intrigued to catch it at the New Wimbledon Theatre as it sets out on a major UK tour.

The main difference comes with the blessed removal of the heinous song and dance routine ‘Ball of Wax’. I’m not sure that tap dancing ghosts have any place in the world but they really stood out like a sore thumb in the original show with their misguided appearance coming at an appallingly bad time, right after Sam’s death and shattering any poignancy that might have been built up. Now, we get a much mellower song called ‘You Gotta Let Go’ (first introduced on Broadway) which serves the same purpose of getting him acquainted with his new status in the afterlife. Other changes are subtler and by and large, the show feels rather akin to its West End predecessor. Continue reading “Review: Ghost the musical, New Wimbledon”

Review: Hello, Dolly! Curve

“I feel the room swayin’ for the band’s playin’ one of my old favourite songs from way back when”

There’s something about Dolly. When I first saw Jerry Herman’s Hello, Dolly! at the Open Air Theatre back in 2009, I’d’ve happily sat through the show again straightaway despite being incredibly cold and damp. And though struggling to shake off the effects of an annoying bug, the same feeling caught me as we got to the end of Paul Kerryson’s production of the show for Leicester’s Curve Theatre, it is just one of those shows. This was a matinée preview full of incident though. A woman taken ill just before the end of the show was dealt with efficiently by the theatre staff, though its timing was most unfortunate as it all took place right under my nose in the final moments of the show. And a wayward underskirt threatened to topple Janie Dee mid-performance but ever the consummate professional, she whipped it off mid-song and carried on regardless. It all added to the undoubted charm of a gorgeously mounted show that is full of great heart.

Dee’s Dolly Levi is a marvellous confection, making this professional matchmaker less of an overtly comic whirlwind than one might expect. Her performance is full of subtlety: a deep sincerity in her beliefs, a minor note of melancholy that creeps in every time she mentions her late lamented Ephraim, but also a wonderful wit which makes the glint in her eye all the more playful whether she’s teasing audience members or pulling the strings of her clients. And though not necessarily the strongest singer, the arrangements have been cleverly reworked to suit her rich contralto and there’s something touching in having these songs delivered with a modicum of vulnerability rather than being belted out in the manner one assumes Caroline O’Connor would have done, her being originally cast in the title role but later withdrawing. Continue reading “Review: Hello, Dolly! Curve”