Review: Fiddler on the Roof, Chichester Festival Theatre

“How can I hope to make you understand”

Though my life has long been filled with musicals, Fiddler on the Roof has never been the one. I’ve only ever seen it the once (2013’s touring version) and though I quite enjoyed it then, I can’t say I was hankering after seeing another production. And though Daniel Evans’ hands are sure indeed when it comes to classic musicals, I found something rather uninspired both about the choice of programming it for his new Chichester home (although it is an absolute banker) and in his production.

It is perfectly decent, and the quality is solidly good throughout. Omid Djalili is an effective presence as Tevye, Tracy-Ann Oberman is very good as Golde, and it is always nice to see Louis Maskell onstage. But Evans is a director (and artistic director) who has made my heart sing with glorious revivals such as My Fair Lady and Show Boat (and Company and Me and My Girl) and I missed that kind of magic emanating from the unforgiving vastness of the Chichester Festival Theatre’s main stage. Continue reading “Review: Fiddler on the Roof, Chichester Festival Theatre”

Review: She Loves Me, Menier

“It’s high time, time that I awoke”

The Menier’s festive musical is always to look forward to and this year’s is no exception – a revival of the classic She Loves Me, based on Miklós László’s play Parfumerie which has been remade more than once as films The Shop Around The Corner, In The Good Old Summertime, and You’ve Got Mail. Recently seen on Broadway in a superlative rendition that was the first ever show to be live-streamed there, Joe Masterhoff’s book pits warring Budapest shop employees Georg Nowack and Amalia Balash against each other, little knowing that they are corresponding anonymously through a lonely hearts column – will they get together in the end? What do you think?

Matthew White’s production is as pretty as a picture, as a music box in fact, Paul Farnsworth’s luxe design emerging as an exceptional piece of work, using four mini revolves to great effect – the shop’s interior looks particularly stunning. And blessed with such cachet, and the strong possibility of a West End transfer, the venue once again attracts a top-notch cast. Mark Umbers and Scarlet Strallen alternately spar and swoon as the main lovers, real life couple Dominic Tighe and Katherine Kingsley play fellow amorous employees Ilona and Kodaly, even relatively minor roles like Ladislav get the likes of Alastair Brookshaw playing them. Continue reading “Review: She Loves Me, Menier”

Album Review: Funny Girl (2016 London Cast Recording)

“So ‘stead of just kicking me why don’t they give me a lift?”

The Menier Chocolate Factory’s extremely well-received production of Funny Girl has been as much beleaguered as blessed as it wound its way into the West End, garnering acres of extra publicity that the show barely needed given its impressive ticket sales and subsequently announced UK tour. But so relentless has the focus been on leading lady Sheridan Smith and her absences from the show whilst looking after her mental health, that you begin to doubt the maxim that all publicity is good publicity.

Doubtless, a conversation needs to happen about the expectations that are raised when a show is sold on the name of its star. You can argue convincingly that a production is always bigger than its star name, and understudy Natasha J Barnes deservedly got much acclaim for filling in for Fanny but the case is undermined somewhat when the producers put that name above even the show’s title on the publicity (on Broadway, you’re entitled to a refund or exchange if an above-the-title star is off…). Continue reading “Album Review: Funny Girl (2016 London Cast Recording)”

Review: Funny Girl, Menier Chocolate Factory

“I guess we’re both happy, but maybe…we ain’t”

As recently demonstrated with Adele’s 25, there comes a point where commercial success just trumps critical response even before the reviews have been published and digested. The Menier Chocolate Factory’s revival of Funny Girl broke box office records in selling out its entire run in mere moments, announcing its transfer to the West End and then selling a vast majority of tickets for the Savoy all before the show had even opened, such is the draw of star Sheridan Smith.

So in some ways it doesn’t matter that Funny Girl really isn’t a great show, one unseen in the West End for nearly 50 years. Musically, Jule Styne’s score front-loads its hits fatally and dramatically, Isobel Lennart’s rather insipid book runs out of steam well before the end, even with Harvey Fierstein’s newly introduced revisions. And for all of the strengths of Michael Mayer’s production, there’s little it manages to do paper over these cracks. Continue reading “Review: Funny Girl, Menier Chocolate Factory”

Album Review: Singin’ in the Rain (2012 London Cast Album)

“Doo-dloo-doo-doo-doo
Doo-dloo-doo-doo-doo-doo
Doo-dloo-doo-doo-doo-doo
Doo-dloo-doo-doo-doo-doo”

Having had a near-perfect experience in on the front row at Chichester for Singin’ in the Rain, I didn’t think it could be topped by visiting the London transfer – sometimes I think it is best not to go back. But listening to the cast recording released by the London cast in 2012, I’m kinda wishing that I had. It is a cracking musical whichever way you cut it but this is a brilliant record of a dazzling production that, dare I say it, I listen to just as much as the original film soundtrack. 

This CD features 19 tracks, marking a slightly different tracklisting to previous theatrical productions, with most of the reprises included too. Larry Wilcox and Larry Blank’s orchestrations sound just luscious under Robert Scott’s musical direction, making the instrumentals just as vividly vibrant to listen to as the iconic songs we’ve all come to know and love and in Adam Cooper, Scarlett Strallen and Daniel Crossley’s expert hands, they are gloriously great.  Continue reading “Album Review: Singin’ in the Rain (2012 London Cast Album)”

Review: wonder.land, Palace Theatre

“You have to live in this world”

The lure of falling down the rabbit hole is one which has kept adaptations of Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland appearing on a regular basis on screens and stages and the Manchester International Festival is no exception, commissioning this musical treatment with the National Theatre and Paris’ Théâtre du Châtelet. Composer Damon Albarn (no stranger to the MIF after Monkey and Dr Dee) and writer Moira Buffini’s thoroughly modern version – stylised wonder dot land – certainly has a unique take on the story but has the feeling of something of a work-in-progress perhaps, no bad thing as longer runs in London and Paris will follow this brief engagement at the Palace Theatre.

Here, wonder.land is an online world, a virtual reality where people can escape the drudgery of their own lives or pretend to be someone completely different, for a little while at least. 12-year-old Aly is one such person, trying to hide from the bullies at school and the unhappiness at home by becoming Alice, her all-conquering avatar or online identity who accepts a mysterious quest as part of joining wonder.land. And in her journeying, she comes across variations on many of the characters we’ve come to know but viewed through a different prism, many of them being the avatars of other players, balefully reflecting their own insecurities.  Continue reading “Review: wonder.land, Palace Theatre”

Film Review: London Road

“Everybody’s very very nervous”
 
The theatrical production of London Road was a major success for the National Theatre, the opening run first extending in the Cottesloe and then being rewarded with a later transfer to the much larger Olivier – I was first blownaway by its originality and then later comforted by its message in the aftermath of the 2011 riots. So the news that director Rufus Norris was making a film adaptation was received with apprehensive anticipation, could this strikingly experimental piece of theatre possibly work on screen.
 
Writer Alecky Blythe uses a technique whereby she records interviews with people which are then edited into a play but spoken verbatim by the actors, complete with all the ums and aahs and repetitions of natural speech. And in 2006, she went to Ipswich to interview a community rocked by a series of murders, of five women in total, all sex workers, and set about telling a story not of salacious deaths but of a community learning to cleave together in trying times. Oh, and it’s all set to the most innovative of musical scores by Adam Cork, elevating ordinary speech into something quite extraordinary. 

Continue reading “Film Review: London Road”

Review: Follies in Concert, Royal Albert Hall

“Flawless charmers
Every one”

An early birthday from my Aunty Jean saw me get to revisit those wonderfully swiveling seats at the Royal Albert Hall for the matinée of Follies in Concert, a semi-staged version of the Sondheim show directed by Craig Revel-Horwood for just two performances with an all-star cast, featuring none other than Diane Lockhart herself, Christine Baranski. Having never seen the show before, I have nothing to compare it too but after hearing the score played by the City of London Philharmonic Orchestra and conducted by the inimitable Gareth Valentine, I suspect I may never need to hear another version! 

The set-up of a reunion concert for an old theatrical troupe as per James Goldman’s book works wonders for the show and especially this production. There seemed to be real joy and appreciation amongst the company as they watched their colleagues each take their turn to reprise their former glories – Anita Harris and Roy Hudd’s light-hearted skip through ‘Rain on the Roof’, Stefanie Powers’ glamorous swish through ‘Ah, Paris!’, Lorna Luft’s quirky take on ’Broadway Baby’, Betty Buckley raising the roof with a soaring ‘I’m Still Here’ – whether the onlookers were acting or not, seeing them give each turn hugs, kisses and standing ovations felt real. Continue reading “Review: Follies in Concert, Royal Albert Hall”