Review: The Mistress Cycle, Landor

“This is how it starts”

I haven’t been able to make any of From Page to Stage this year, the Landor’s new musical theatre writing season full of short runs and showcases, so I was pleased to be able to get into the very last show. The Mistress Cycle is an 80 minute song cycle written by Beth Blatt with music by Jenny Giering, which takes a look at mistresses past and present as a modern-day New Yorker wrestles with the morality of falling for a married man.

So we hear about Lulu White, a brothel madam from turn of the century New Orleans, Diane du Poitiers who was the lover of 16th century French King Henri III, the teenage concubine of a 12th century Chinese master and contemporary erotic writer Anaïs Nin. Blatt presents the variety of reasons that have led these women to take control of their sexuality and deploy it as they see fit, yet leaves their stories ambiguous enough for us to make our own judgements. Continue reading “Review: The Mistress Cycle, Landor”

Review: Love Story, Jack Studio Theatre

“You only reap the harvest that you sow”

Howard Goodall and Stephen Clark’s lush musical take on Erich Segal’s perennial tearjerker Love Story gained critical if not commercial success with its West End run back in 2010, but its beautiful music can now be heard live again with its off-West-End premiere at the Jack Studio Theatre in Brockley. It was always a chamber piece and so it suits the intimacy of this fringe venue well and in Joseph C Walsh’s clever and unmiked production, it provides a welcome reminder of one of the best new British musical scores of recent times.

But though it is musically excellent, the book does contain issues and they are sadly all-too-apparent in this interpretation. The story telescopes the entirety of Jenny Cavilleri and Oliver Barrett IV’s five year relationship, from its spiky college beginnings through marriage beds and [spoiler alert, although not really…] hospital beds to its tragic end, into 90 minutes of fast-flowing narrative and song. But it is so fast, so relentless, that it is difficult to really invest emotionally into the characters as they are written here – the show thus relies on pre-knowledge of the story and from the transcendent strength of the performances (Emma Williams and Michael Xavier both excelling in this respect in the West End). Continue reading “Review: Love Story, Jack Studio Theatre”

Review: Bewitched Bothered and Bewildered, Jermyn Street

Ev’ry Sunday afternoon we’ll be polite”

Bewitched Bothered and Bewildered is a musical revue, celebrating of the works of Rodgers + Hart, both those lesser known and more famous, in a similar way to how Classic Moments Hidden Treasures went through the Sondheim back catalogue last year. Eschewing any kind of formal narrative, it simply flows from song to song, some obviously paired up, some just left simply alone, as the cast of five in their louche 30s Hollywood costumes swirl elegantly around the intimate stage of the Jermyn Street Theatre.

In many respects, this was exactly how I imagined it would be: fairly traditional arrangements of a fairly traditional repertoire, sung professionally yet not quite reaching levels of inspiration that might make it a must-see, though it is charming. Stephen Ashfield brings an effortless class to all of his numbers, making his forthcoming entry into Legally Blonde seem an intriguing prospect; Katie Kerr injects some much needed personality into some of the quirkier numbers and Valerie Cutko’s beautifully subtle tone added an interesting texture. Continue reading “Review: Bewitched Bothered and Bewildered, Jermyn Street”

Review: Classic Moments – Hidden Treasures, Jermyn Street Theatre

“Take me to a world where I can be alive”

Classic Moments – Hidden Treasures is described as a ‘cabaret celebration of some of the lesser known works of Stephen Sondheim’ and forms the latest in a string of celebratory events in the composer’s 80th birthday year. Directed by TIm McArthur originally under the (better) title Secret Sondheim, this show features a five person ensemble and pianist, singing a range of songs both solo and in groups, with hints of choreography and a huge amount of both talent and enthusiasm.

On the one hand, it is highly appropriate that a show like this should take place to celebrate Sondheim’s birthday and highlight some of his lesser-known works; on the other hand, since it is his birthday year, many of these ‘lesser known’ works have actually been running in London recently, Assassins is still on and Anyone Can Whistle played in this very venue. And shows like these often run the danger of leaving you wishing for at least one or two of the more well-known songs. But McArthur and musical director David Harvey have fashioned a fast-paced journey that rips through 28 songs in just over 90 minutes, without any narrative constraints or superimposed plot. Continue reading “Review: Classic Moments – Hidden Treasures, Jermyn Street Theatre”