Re-review: Follies 2019, National Theatre

Follies 2019 remains the show that I need right now

“I’m so glad I came”

Just a quickie for this revisit to Follies, which remains as perfect a piece of musical theatre as I could hope for. I loved it then but I really love it now, Joanna Riding is just heartbreakingly perfect as Sally, she really brings something to the role that somehow eluded Imelda Staunton (for me at least), Alexander Hanson is superb in tracing Ben’s tragic fall, and Janie Dee and Peter Forbes maintain their stellar work as Phyllis and Buddy (seriously, Dee is a proper showstopper).

And as is surely appropriate in Dominic Cooke’s production, ghosts of the past interplay with what we’re seeing from top to bottom. It was great to see Dame Felicity Lott as Heidi, a different but no less affecting proposition than Dame Josephine Barstow (there truly ain’t nothing like a…). And the young talents of Gemma Sutton, Ian McIntosh, Harry Hepple and Christine Tucker are eloquently elegant as the younger incarnations of the central quartet. Continue reading “Re-review: Follies 2019, National Theatre”

Review: Follies 2019, National Theatre

The Olivier Award-winning Follies returns to the National Theatre in richer, deeper, more resonant form and just blows me away

“It’s the cat’s pyjamas”

Like the ghosts of their younger selves that haunt the characters in Follies so beautifully in this production, for those who were lucky enough to catch its superlative Olivier Award-winning 2017 run, so too do our memories interplay with what we’re seeing, inducing some soul-shiveringly exceptional moments that are almost metatheatrical in the feelings they provoke. 

The tingle of anticipation is never far away but the show somehow feels richer, deeper, more resonant in the note of melancholy it strikes as it exposes nostalgia for the rose-tinted self-delusion it so often becomes. Janie Dee’s Phyllis somehow feels more desolate, especially in her bitterly brilliant ‘Could I Leave You’; Tracie Bennett scorches the roof once more in ‘I’m Still Here’ in what feels like a more internal performance now; we’re all at least a year older… Continue reading “Review: Follies 2019, National Theatre”

Re-review: 42nd Street, Theatre Royal Drury Lane

42nd Street is signing off at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane in quite some style as a perfectly-cast Bonnie Langford joins the company

“Musical comedy – the most glorious words in the English language”

I liked 42nd Street when I saw it last year but I can’t say that I truly loved it, it felt a 24 carat production of a gold-plate show. But upon revisiting, to celebrate Bonnie Langford’s arrival in the company for its final furlong before closing in the New Year, some kind of magic seems to have happened at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane (or maybe I was just less grumpy tonight!) as it has now matured into something spectacular.

The only major difference is Langford’s presence as Dorothy Brock, but there’s just something about her that shimmers with star quality and it is contagious. So even as she’s trying to dampen it down a bit as this particular fading star, her comic timing makes her scenes crackle with electricity, her singing is on point and she’s just a dream to watch. It’s a perfect role for her – who needs stunt casting when you have the right casting? And as for her surprise appearance in the finale? SWOON!

I also felt Clare Halse has really settled into the role of Peggy Sawyer. It’s a curious role in that she grows to become the leading lady of this musical as the understudy-come-good, but is given precious little time in which to do so and most of that is taken up with dance. Such amazing dance though, she really is effortless in her every graceful move, and she’s acting more through every movement too as her self-belief slowly blooms into the incandescent life of the finale.    Continue reading “Re-review: 42nd Street, Theatre Royal Drury Lane”

Review: An American in Paris, Dominion

“Who could ask for anything more”

True to its name, An American in Paris premiered in 2014 at the Théâtre du Châtelet in the French capital to ecstatic reviews before transferring to the Palace Theatre on Broadway for another well-received (and Tony-winning) run there. It now rocks up at the newly refurbished Dominion Theatre, just ahead of another huge dance-heavy Broadway musical in 42nd Street, producers clearly banking on audiences wanting distraction from the realities of the outside world.

And that it certainly provides – director and choreographer Christopher Wheeldon’s reinvention of the 1951 film (new book by Craig Lucas) is an absolute feast for the eyes and ears. George and Ira Gershwin’s score is beyond classic (‘I Got Rhythm’, ”S Wonderful’, ‘They Can’t Take That Away from Me’ et al) and sounds luscious in Rob Fisher’s new arrangements musically directed by John Rigby, and Bob Crowley’s set and costumes look divine in all their old-school charm. Continue reading “Review: An American in Paris, Dominion”

Brexited Review: Guys and Dolls, Phoenix

What a collection of Guys and Dolls eh

Rebel Wilson is actually hugely successful as Miss Adelaide, finding the perfect balance between playing the role as written and bringing enough of her own personality to firmly put her stamp on the part. An impressive West End debut. As for this motley crew, someone should tell them to sit down, sit down, sit down…

Turns out luck really is a lady tonight.

Re-review: Guys and Dolls, Phoenix

“Follow the fold and stray no more”

In the merry-go-round of theatres and shows and transfers and tours, the success of the West End transfer of Chichester Festival Theatre’s Guys and Dolls has seen it divide itself in two – the promised UK tour will go ahead through to the summer but the show remains in the West End as well, skipping from the Savoy to the Phoenix to replace the outgoing Bend it like Beckham

It’s my third time at the show. I saw the original run in Chichester and the transfer to the Savoy and hadn’t planned to return. But as ever, the lure of the recast leads sucked me in. Siubhan Harrison remains with the company but with Samantha Spiro, Oliver Tompsett and US actor Richard Kind joining the team (plus the excellent Jason Pennycooke), my barely-there resistance melted away. Continue reading “Re-review: Guys and Dolls, Phoenix”

Review: Guys and Dolls, Savoy

“Let’s keep the party polite”

In the absence of a long-runner, the Savoy Theatre has becoming something of a receiving house – Guys and Dolls has followed in the rapturously received Gypsy, both from Chichester, and the Menier’s Funny Girl lies in wait in April. But what was interesting to see on my return to Guys and Dolls (after seeing its original run in Chichester the summer before last) is that one size does not fit all, the business of transferring isn’t quite as easy as all that. 

For where Gypsy seemed to gain in intensity in the confines of the proscenium arch, Guys and Dolls feels a little constrained by it. Maybe it’s just the memory of Carlos Acosta and Andrew Wright’s explosive choreography on the openness of the thrust stage but it seemed to pop better there (he grumbled, from the rear stalls), it doesn’t benefit from the same width here at the Savoy and so some of the set pieces – as impressive as they remain – didn’t quite hit the nail on the head. Continue reading “Review: Guys and Dolls, Savoy”

Review: The Book of Mormon, Prince of Wales

“When you’re feeling certain feelings that just don’t seem right”

This is going to be less of a review than a jumbled thought piece coming out from the marketing campaign for The Book of Mormon which has seen unprecedented levels of saturation across London. The publicity for the show started way back, adverts on buses and in tube stations have been appearing for months now but the week leading up to last Thursday’s press night saw an absolute deluge of coverage which meant it was even harder to escape. Lengthy preview features which all but reviewed the show were printed in newspapers; the #LoveMormon twitter campaign went into overdrive, using many of those tweets as quotes in adverts which, following the gala opening night, included an incredible four page ad just featuring tweets from celebrities.

One might have imagined such levels of hype would be hard to live up to but by all accounts, it has worked as a press release arrived yesterday trumpeting that The Book of Mormon had broken the record for the biggest single day of sales the previous day, taking in an astonishing £2,107,972 and this from a show which had already pretty much sold out until the summer. Of course, one could point to the ticket prices to explain some of the maths – the majority of the tickets are retailing at £74.50 and £127, £39.50 is as far as the cheap seats go (day lottery aside) – but nonetheless, the achievement shouldn’t be underestimated. Continue reading “Review: The Book of Mormon, Prince of Wales”

Review: Wonderful Town, Milton Keynes Theatre

“Here we live, here we love, this is the place for self-expression”

Providing a much needed, strong reminder that large-scale musical revivals can come from north of the Watford Gap as well as below, Wonderful Town marked a major collaboration between Manchester’s Royal Exchange Theatre, The Hallé Orchestra and The Lowry on this Leonard Bernstein show, which I have to admit to never having heard of before. As many a musical that has gone before and come after it, it is gossamer-light in plot but this is more than made up for with a richly evocative score, some nifty design and best of all, sparkling choreography from Andrew Wright who is now consistently making the case to be considered one of the best choreographers working in the country.

Connie Fisher and Lucy Van Gasse play Ruth and Eileen Sherwood, sisters from Ohio who are determined to escape their boring lives and move to New York City. Of course, on arriving in the Big Apple, following their dream ain’t quite as easy as it seems but in their quest for success, romance and a free meal or two, they meet and charm a wide range of colourful new friends and neighbours who help them through their trials. And matching the creative and production expertise on hand, director Braham Murray assembled a cracking ensemble which included particular favourites around these parts (albeit for different reasons) Michael Xavier and Tiffany Graves. Continue reading “Review: Wonderful Town, Milton Keynes Theatre”

Review: The Wizard of Oz, Palladium

“And my head I’d be scratchin’ while my thoughts were busy hatchin’

I could have quite happily given The Wizard of Oz a miss, it wasn’t ever really on my list of shows to see but the combined news of a visit from a family member who wanted to see it and Hannah Waddingham’s imminent departure from the ensemble meant that I found myself there on a Saturday evening… There’s something a little odd about its choice as Andrew Lloyd-Webber’s third reality casting show, Over the Rainbow, as the show is not really a fully-fledged musical, no matter how famous some of the songs but he persevered nonetheless. What is even odder is his assembly of a strong musical theatre cast around the eventual winner, Danielle Hope, given the paucity of many of the roles around Dorothy.

Lloyd-Webber’s way around this has been to write new songs, with long-standing lyricist Tim Rice, to beef up the roles of characters like the Wizard and the Wicked Witch of the West and justify the casting of Michael Crawford and Hannah Waddingham respectively. But despite looking a picture with some tricksy staging and wirework, the end result is curiously banal, exceedingly bland and one which rarely excited me. The focus is so much on the stagecraft that the heart of the story is rarely engaged: Hope’s Dorothy is sweet but rarely interesting, there’s little of the ‘star quality’ evident this evening but then the role is not one that really encourages it; Michael Crawford made very little impact either as the Wizard or the cameos as Ozians and so it went, emotion taking second-place to spectacle. Continue reading “Review: The Wizard of Oz, Palladium”