Not-a-review: Botticelli in the Fire, Hampstead Theatre

Blanche and Britney ought to be a winning combination bur Botticelli in the Fire at the Hampstead Theatre is a damp squib

“They’re going to kill you. They’re going to worship you, don’t get me wrong. But they are going to kill you”

I’ve long been a fan of Blanche McIntyre and so appreciate any opportunity to see her direct away from the RSC. Jordan Tanahill’s knowingly chaotic Botticelli in the Fire is full of all kinds of riotous energy and queer representation but for me, it just wasn’t the one.

Running time: 2 hours 30 minutes (with interval)
Photo: Manuel Harlan
Botticelli in the Fire is booking at the Hampstead Theatre until 23rd November

The Curtain Up Show Album of the Year 2015 nominees

Best Cast Recording
Bend It Like Beckham (Original London Cast Recording)
Cool Rider (Original Studio Recording)
Gypsy (2015 London Cast Recording)
Made in Dagenham (Original London Cast Recording)
Memphis the Musical (Original London Cast Recording)

Best Solo Album
Cynthia Erivo and Oliver Tompsett Sing Scott Alan
Hugh Maynard – Something Inside So Strong
John Owen-Jones – Rise
Tim Prottey-Jones – To Do. To Be.

CD Review: Gypsy (2015 London Cast Recording)

“I had a dream, a wonderful dream”

From the moment Imelda Staunton shook the very foundations of the Chichester Festival Theatre as Mama Rose in Gypsy, it was pretty much a given that a West End transfer of this Jule Styne/Stephen Sondheim show would be on the cards and that this incredible performance would be immortalised in an official cast recording. And it shouldn’t be taken for granted that Staunton is wowing audiences nightly at the Savoy and that we have been blessed with an album, for this is the kind of musical theatre perfection that surely only comes along once in a lifetime. 

Much of the attention rightly falls on Staunton’s astonishingly nuanced portrayal of the ultimate stage mom but it would be a mistake to label this a one-woman show, Jonathan Kent’s production is far too good for that. She is supported by an extremely skilful performance from Lara Pulver as Gypsy Rose Lee, tracing this overlooked sister’s journey to unexpected stardom and listening to the growing confidence ‘Let Me Entertain You (Gypsy Strip)’, her shyness is cast off vocally as well as physically, like a chrysalis revealing the shimmering showgirl beneath. Continue reading “CD Review: Gypsy (2015 London Cast Recording)”

Review: Gypsy, Savoy

“Ready or not, here comes Mama…”

These days, it’s more of a surprise when the big musicals from Chichester Festival Theatre don’t transfer into London (cf Barnum). And though it took them a wee while to confirm that Jule Styne’s Gypsy would be making a similar leap, after receiving the kind of extraordinary reviews (including from yours truly) that would most likely canonise Imelda Staunton right here and now, there was never really any doubt that this Rose would get her turn again, 40 years after the show was last seen in the West End.

With such a build-up and expectations sky high, Jonathan Kent’s production has a lot to live up to – and you can sense perversely-minded naysayers dying to have their turn – but dare I say it, I think the show has gotten even better. A key aspect to this is that Anthony Ward’s multi-faceted and multi-piece set design fits much better into the Savoy’s proscenium arch, its machinations felt just a little too exposed on Chichester’s thrust though the pay-off is that Nicholas Skilbeck’s supple-sounding orchestra now has to be tucked away.  Continue reading “Review: Gypsy, Savoy”

Review: Gypsy, 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”

TV Review: We’ll Take Manhattan

“They don’t photograph just anyone you know”

You will of course be aware that it was Helen McCrory Weekend the weekend before last and in recognition of thereof, up popped two related treats: the announcement of her appearing in The Last of the Haussmans with Julie Walters and Rory Kinnear at the National Theatre and a new TV film she was in, We’ll Take Manhattan. I duly caught up with the show on iPlayer this weekend and though she gave an epic performance, I can’t say I cared that much for it.

The show followed the story of David Bailey, Aneurin Barnard in leather jacket, as he emerged as a photographic force to be reckoned with in the early 1960s, shaking up the whole fashion industry with an iconic photo shoot in New York starring his muse Jean Shrimpton, Karen Gillan marking out her possible post-Doctor Who options. McCrory starred as Lady Clare Rendlesham, fashion editor at Vogue and the representative of the old guard that Bailey so detested and wanted to be rid of. Continue reading “TV Review: We’ll Take Manhattan”

Review: Pippin, Menier Chocolate Factory

“Please reward our pluck and save this duck”

With the standard ticket price of the Menier Chocolate Factory’s new production of Pippin coming in at £33.50 – and the memories of last year’s turkey still fresh – I decided that I wouldn’t be taking another risk on a show I didn’t know. But when a £10 deal popped up online, I couldn’t resist and though it meant that it was a preview I saw and thus am writing about now, that is not the kind of saving I can ignore. The show has music and lyrics by Stephen Schwartz – he of Wicked and Godspell (but we won’t talk about The Baker’s Wife) and book by Roger O Hirson and was originally directed by Bob Fosse on Broadway. That run lasted for five years and consequently the show has become something of an am-dram staple in the US albeit in an emasculated version (so Wikipedia tells me).

Perhaps with this in mind, director Mitch Sebastian has been extremely bold with his concept here: employing Chet Walker to recreate Fosse’s original choreography looks back to the history of the show but Sebastian has incorporated those routines into his own choreographical work and Timothy Bird’s production design for Knifedge points to a much more futuristic mindset. The Young Vic’s inability to let audiences just enter normally into a production there has spread across Southwark and so the walk into the theatre here takes us through a gloomy bedsit, computer games and magazines strewn across the floor and sci-fi film posters covering the walls, and we walk pass a young man staring blankly into a computer screen and playing with a lighter. Once inside, the auditorium is set up rather traditionally and the set initially looks rather unassuming but the reasons for that soon become apparent. Continue reading “Review: Pippin, Menier Chocolate Factory”

Re-Review: Oliver!, Theatre Royal Drury Lane

“Shut up and drink your gin”

When I first heard about this offer of tickets for 5 West End shows for £70 from the Groupon website, I thought it was too good to be true but after a twitter buddy convinced me to take the plunge, I can honestly say it is a great deal. I now have front centre stall tickets for 5 shows that I would not perhaps have ever gotten round to seeing for the princely sum of £14 each. So keep your eyes peeled for a similar offer if it comes up again. The first of my shows was a revisit to Oliver! as there’d been a substantial cast change since I last saw it and it has announced that it is closing, in order to make way for Shrek in the spring of next year.

The story of Oliver Twist, a workhouse orphan who ends up on the streets of Victorian London but soon finds a new life with Fagin and his group of pickpockets. When it turns out Oliver is pretty rubbish at crime and he gets caught, a wealthy man takes pity on him but his new compatriots including the vicious Bill Sikes, the chirpy Artful Dodger and the mothering Nancy set out to get him back with tragic consequences.

This production directed by Rupert Goold had two of its roles originally cast through the BBC1 reality show I’d Do Anything, Jodie Prenger as Nancy and three Olivers were ultimately selected and most have now moved on. But it remains much the same show with its highly impressive set with its ever-changing backdrops and layers providing a visual treat along with a huge cast, some nifty choreography and a freshness to the new orchestrations and arrangements of the songs we all know so well, like Consider Yourself, I’d Do Anything and Food Glorious Food and in the set pieces for these songs, this production is simply delightful, none more so than in my personal favourite, Who Will Buy.

This is probably quite naff, but I have a certain fondness for Russ Abbot as I have great memories of Saturday afternoons spent at my Aunty Jean and Aunty Mary’s house watching television and the Russ Abbot Show, with Bella Emberg as well, is something that sticks in my mind and reminds of those simpler times. I was quite shocked to see that he is only 63, as I was sure he was considerably older than my parents but apparently not, but he does a grand job here as a less creepy Fagin than Atkinson, more avuncular and unafraid of the broader comedic touches which went down a storm (there’s a Lady GaGa reference now). William Pearce made for a very sweet Oliver and we had Jacques Miché as Dodger who was good fun and a most enthusiastic dancer. And I was surprised at just how dark and brutal Steven Hartley’s Bill was, but it was most effective.

I have to admit to not really being a huge fan of Kerry Ellis, I’m not entirely sure why but there’s something a little clinical about her for me, and so it was here for me. Vocally she is very strong and secure but there wasn’t much lyrical precision in Oom Pah Pah and to be honest, up close, there didn’t seem to be much going on behind the eyes, not enough emotion in her performance to make you believe that Nancy really cares for her boys. Part of this is probably because I was a huge fan of Jodie Prenger, but others in the interval also commented on how it seemed like she was kind of going through the motions.

It was really nice to be able to revisit this show and from such amazing seats, it made a considerable difference from being up in the gods and very much added to the experience. When the oh-so-familiar songs are in full flow and the cast is in full voice and dancing around, this is a truly joyous production. There are moments when it drags, in the second half in particular, and it will be nice to welcome a new musical to this theatre next year, but I’d quite happily recommend this stalwart for a good old-fashioned musical treat.

Running time: 2 hours 30 minutes (with interval)
Programme cost: £3
Booking until 8th January 2011, Griff Rhys Jones rejoins the production as Fagin from 6th December
Note: some use of strobe lighting and a loud noise towards the end

Review: Oliver!, Theatre Royal Drury Lane

This review marks a momentous occasion as it features the first appearance of Aunty Jean, one of my most faithful theatre companions, despite living nearly 200 miles from me in Wigan. We try to see at least one thing every time she visits whether for pleasure or work, but it has been a while since she has been down so Oliver marked her first 2009 London theatrical trip.

Fortunately it was well worth it, as this show did not disappoint on any level (and many levels it did have!). The sets for this show were truly awe-inspiring: Fagin’s underground lair was cleverly constructed; the depth of the alleyway for the street scenes was huge so it gave a great sense of scale to the proceedings, one which has been sadly lacking in many large recent productions, cost-cutting I guess, and the lighting from scene to scene could not have been more different, yet still highly effective. This all combined to give great energy and movement to the show, which scarcely needs it due to the highly familiar and zippy score. Continue reading “Review: Oliver!, Theatre Royal Drury Lane”