Stick it in your fam’ly album”
With Half A Sixpence due to close in the West End in exactly one month, I thought now was as good a time as any to give the Original Cast Recording a listen. The show has built up quite the devoted following in its lifespan but for me, in both its original Chichester production and the subsequent transfer to the Noël Coward, it was a musical that I liked rather than loved, the balance not quite right with all the magic in the second half.
And listening to the show simply reminded me of how I felt. Stripped of its extraordinary physicality, Charlie Stemp’s chirpy chappy routine is surprisingly quite wearisome to listen to from the outset. The sentiment of the opening title track proving cloying and the lack of any killer new tunes from Stiles and Drewe before the interval leave the score sounding solid rather than spectacular, I still can’t hum you a single track save ‘Half A Sixpence’ itself. Continue reading “Album Review: Half A Sixpence (2016 London Cast Recording)”
“I’d let him strum my banjo”
It was no surprise to discover that Half A Sixpence would be transferring into the West End – its run at Chichester Festival Theatre was a huge success (you can read my review here) and with Cameron Mackintosh on producing duties, it was always going to be a case of when rather than if. It’s a slow-burner of a show, the second act really is the business thanks to Andrew Wright’s choreography and as it opened at the Noël Coward Theatre last night, you can now read my 4 star review for the transfer over at Cheap Theatre Tickets here.
Running time: 2 hours 45 minutes (with interval)
Booking until 11th February
“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.
“Don’t forget your banjo”
Take a deep breath… the 1963 musical Half A Sixpence by Beverley Cross and David Heneker, based on the HG Wells novel Kipps: The Story of a Simple Soul, has been adapted anew for Chichester audiences with Julian Fellowes writing a fresh book and George Stiles and Anthony Drewe adding new music and lyrics to Heneker’s original songs. And because Cameron Mackintosh is Cameron Mackintosh, he gets a co-creator credit.
Originally written as a star vehicle for Tommy Steele, Half A Sixpence is the story of Arthur Kipps, an orphan who dreams of a better life whilst earning a pittance as a draper’s assistant in Shalford’s Bazaar, Folkestone. An unexpected bequest thrusts a fortune into his hands but his meteoric rise in society leaves him conflicted about his place in life as his heart is pulled between two very different young women (and a banjo). Continue reading “Review: Half A Sixpence, Chichester Festival Theatre”
“You got nothing to hit but the heights”
Considered to be one of the greatest roles for a woman in the American musical theatre, Mama Rose is the twisted soul at the dark heart of Gypsy yet it is not a show that has travelled much across the ocean. The likes of Patti LuPone, Bernadette Peters and Tyne Daly have all had their turn as Rose but my first and only experience of the show was in Leicester a couple of years back where Caroline O’Connor took on the role for Paul Kerryson’s marvellous production there. This Chichester Festival Theatre revival, surely already destined for the West End, really ups the ante by reuniting Imelda Staunton with director Jonathan Kent (at the request of Sondheim himself according to this interview) after their hugely successful Sweeney Todd here in 2011.
It’s a high bar to set but for me, I think Gypsy exceeds it with some extraordinary work here. Arthur Laurents’ book, suggested by the memoirs of striptease artist Gypsy Rose Lee, follows the path of Mama Rose’s ultimate stage mom as she drags her two daughters through the toil and grind of trying to make it in showbusiness, touring a vaudeville show around the country which stars the fading youthfulness of younger sister Baby June. But times are a-changing and Mama’s sure determined so when audiences start to disappear and June quits to do her own act, older shyer sibling Louise is thrust into the limelight. Only now burlesque is what is selling tickets and we find out just how far Rose is willing to push Louise in order to achieve her ultimate goal, whatever that turns out to be.
Continue reading “Review: Gypsy, Chichester Festival Theatre”
“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
“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”
“Don’cha like Hawaii?”
From Here to Eternity marks the return of noted lyricist Tim Rice to the London stage with this new adaptation of this World War II story, probably best known in its film incarnation and its iconic shenanigans in the surf. This treatment harks back to the original novel to introduce darker elements to the story yet it has also been transformed into a traditional West End musical, which brings with it a certain style that doesn’t always sit too well together with the material.
Set in the adulterous, misogynistic, homophobic, racist and bullying atmosphere of the G Company barracks in Hawaii in the summer of 1941, Bill Oakes’ book – based on James Jones’ novel of his own experiences – has a strangely disjointed quality as it struggles to weave together its three main strands. First Sergeant Milt Warden is hot for his captain’s lascivious wife; new arrival Private Robert E Lee Prewitt is less concerned about joining the corps’ boxing team and falls in love with call girl Lorene instead; and Private Angelo Maggio spends his time ducking and diving, making a quick buck by fraternising with the island’s gay population. Continue reading “Review: From Here To Eternity, Shaftesbury Theatre”
“Just knock three times and whisper low, that you and I were sent by Joe”
Old Broadway classics seem to flourish in the rarefied air of West Sussex and it is hard to shake the feeling that Chichester has done it again with a revival of The Pajama Game. No stranger to big American musicals, director Richard Eyre demonstrates the surest of touches to keep the improbable subject matter – the trials of working life in a pyjama factory – anchored in a world that we always care about and is aided by the kind of score that feels recognisable even if you think you haven’t heard it before. Richard Adler and Jerry Ross’ score is full of fantastic old school tunes like Hey There (You with the Stars in your Eyes) and Steam Heat and two of the songs were actually written by Frank Loesser, although uncredited.
George Abbott and Richard Bissel’s book is based on Bissell’s novel 7½ cents set in the Cedar Rapids, Iowa Sleep-Tite factory in which new-to-town Superintendent Sid Sorokin finds himself falling head over heels for feisty union rep Babe Williams, whose stubborn initial resistance can’t ignore the mutually fiery passion between them. But trouble brews when the workers are denied a justified 7½ cent pay rise and Sid and Babe find themselves on opposing sides of a heated labour debate. Continue reading “Review: The Pajama Game, Minerva”