Get well soon Fred Haig aka Not-A-Review: On The Town, Open Air Theatre

“Just when the fun is starting,
Comes the time for parting”

Fred Haig must have thought that this was his year after landing starring roles in two of the big musicals of the summer but during Monday evening’s performance, he sustained an injury to his foot which has now been confirmed as a fracture. Sadly, this means that he has had to withdraw from On The Town at the Open Air Theatre in Regent’s Park (the second actor to do so after Jeremy Taylor withdrew during rehearsals due to injury) and will be replaced by his understudy Jacob Maynard. We’ll have to wait and see if he recuperates in time to play Young Buddy in Follies at the National.

It is a real shame for Haig as I was at the show on Monday, scarcely believing that we actually had lovely weather for the first musical this year at the Open Air. And Haig’s appealingly charismatic Chip, along with Lizzy Connolly’s vibrant Hildy, was among the highlights of Drew McOnie’s production and he seemed to be very much on top of the choreography. It is a dance-heavy show, and in McOnie’s hands doubly so and as so many in this venue, it is one that benefits from being seen as night falls, to behold the full beauty of Howard Hudson’s lighting which is gorgeously conceived. Continue reading “Get well soon Fred Haig aka Not-A-Review: On The Town, Open Air Theatre”

DVD Review: Altar

“What do you know about Yorkshire stone?”

Olivia Williams’ face on the DVD cover says it all really… Bypassing cinemas to be shown straight onto Channel 5 as The Haunting of Radcliffe House on Boxing Day 2014, Nick Willing’s Altar is a horror of a ghost story. It was funded through Kickstarter but a low budget is the least of his problems when there’s such a dearth of ideas that sees it stealing from The Shining, The Grudge and The Woman In Black to name just a few.

Williams plays Meg Hamilton, a renovator who ships her family up to a dilapidated country pile on the Yorkshire Moors while she restores it to its original Victorian grandeur. Accident-prone colleagues and superstitious locals leave her to do the work on her own but as she uncovers mystery after mystery, not least the history of a murder/suicide involving the original owners, it’s clear that the strange goings-on are rooted in something supernatural. Continue reading “DVD Review: Altar”

Review: The Mikado, Charing Cross Theatre

“The Japanese equivalent for hear, hear, hear”

Though I am most familiar with the score, I’ve never actually seen a production of The Mikado before. The Pirates of Penzance was my Gilbert & Sullivan show of choice, due to a childhood obsession with the film version, and there have been precious few opportunities to see much G&S (the all-male versions aside) in London in recent years. Director Thom Southerland has had great success with chamber musicals like Parade and Titanic (even if I wasn’t that much of a fan of the latter) so news of a radically reconceived version, set in a 1920s fan factory, provoked more interest than concern.
It’ll be interesting to see how those who know the show better react but for me, it is highly entertainingly done. Lyrical updates include a predictable attack on reality TV wannabes but also a truly witty, and bang-up-to-the-minute, sift through political mis-steps in Lord High Executioner Ko-Ko’s list, delivered with a twinkly mischievousness by Hugh Osborne. And though I was one of just a few to apparently catch it at this performance, there’s a great Strallen reference in amongst many others during Mark Heenehan’s ‘A More Humane Mikado’ and what a fetching Mikado he doth make too.

But almost more successful than these contemporary references is Southerland’s decision to set it in the 20s. The Hobson’s Choice vibe of the factory fits nicely into the interpretation with Jacob Chapman’s Pish-Tush as a shop steward of sorts but the production genuinely revels in the period detail – Jonathan Lipman’s costumes are all vibrantly coloured dropped waistlines and smart spats, and Philip Lindley’s design makes good use of period fonts to evoke the surroundings of the Titipu Fan and Umbrella Factory.
Joey McKneely’s choreography is the show’s ace though, capturing the cheeky energy of the era and applying it to the camaraderie of the factory workers. So the “little ladies” are given charismatic agency (perhaps even inspiring the machinists of Made in Dagenham) with their kicks and flicks, and the company come together beautifully in the stirring Act One Finale (usually the highlight of any G&S show) – seriously, the “with joyous shout…” sequence looks and sounds just sensational and instantly made me want to see it again.
MD Dean Austin and his fellow pianist Noam Galperin give a wonderfully rich account of the score on their baby grands and there’s delights aplenty in the resourceful company. Rebecca Caine is malevolent yet misunderstood as a vocally outstanding Katisha who just wants to be worshipped, and Leigh Coggins’ Yum-Yum makes a winsomely youthful rival who is equally precise with her voice, backed up excellently by Cassandra McCowan’s appealing Pitti-Sing and Sophie Rohan’s amusingly sullen Peep-Bo. Just the treat for a most entertaining night at the theatre.
Running time: 2 hours 20 minutes (with interval)
Booking until 3rd January

Review: Guys and Dolls, Chichester Festival Theatre

“If I were a watch I’d start popping my springs!”

From the opening moments of an overture that demands the attention, it is clear that Chichester’s revival of the Broadway classic Guys and Dolls is going to be a scorcher. Director Gordon Greenberg utilises not only Carlos Acosta as choreographer but also Andrew Wright as a co-choreographer and the combination of the two is simply explosive – these are no two-bit routines that people are shuffling around, this is proper dance and it is thrilling to behold.

It helps of course to be connected to Jo Swerling and Abe Burrows’ amiable book, based on Damon Runyon’s characters, about the travails of a bunch of New York gamblers, and Frank Loesser’s evergreen music and lyrics which churns out classic after classic after classic. Greenberg wisely doesn’t interfere much at all with the material, just cultivating warmth from all of his performers and particularly his two leading couples, making them utterly adorable. Continue reading “Review: Guys and Dolls, Chichester Festival Theatre”

Review: Kiss Me, Kate, Chichester Festival Theatre

“But when the thermometer goes right up, and the weather is sizzling hot…”

So confident in their run of successful summer musicals is Chichester Festival Theatre that the transfer for Kiss Me, Kate (it will play at co-producers London’s Old Vic from 20th November to 2nd March) was announced before it had even opened at its native theatre. But with experienced hands Trevor Nunn directing and Stephen Mears choreographing, Cole Porter’s ever-spry music and a cast headed up by leading light of the British musical theatre scene Hannah Waddingham, it was a reasonably safe bet.

And unsurprisingly, it is one that has paid off. The show follows a theatre company putting on a musical version of Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew, where the feisty relationship between Petruchio and Katherine is echoed by the conflict between director and leading man Fred and his ex-wife Lilli who is playing opposite him. As the offstage drama threatens to overwhelm the onstage, some shenanigans from another member of the company in a gambling room throws matters further into disarray. Continue reading “Review: Kiss Me, Kate, Chichester Festival Theatre”

CD Review: Evita 2006 London Cast Recording

 “Just a little touch of star quality” 

 
I haven’t done many reviews of soundtracks to shows since starting to cover CDs on here, focusing more new writing and solo albums from MT performers, but I don’t know why not as I listen to them just as much. The first I’ll cover will be the OLCR of the 2006 revival of Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd-Webber’s Evita, a production which revitalised this stalwart of a show in a way that I didn’t think possible and introduced me, and the rest of London’s theatregoers, to the glories of Argentinean star performer Elena Roger.

 The soundtrack, edited highlights rather than the full score, captures much of what made that production so vibrant so that it doesn’t really matter that we don’t have any of the striking visuals and choreography that accompanied this Latin American infused remounting. The orchestrations have been totally refreshed in line with this re-envisioning and with Roger’s singing leading the company, there’s just a greater sense of authenticity about the whole shebang. Continue reading “CD Review: Evita 2006 London Cast Recording”

Review: Evita, Adelphi

I was adamant that I didn’t want to see this production of Evita for so long and I am not really sure why. But having announced its closure and with some good ticket deals floating around, I finally took the plunge and boy, was I wrong. Central to this revival of the 1978 Andrew Lloyd-Webber and Tim Rice collaboration was the casting of the Argentinean Elena Roger to take on the title role of this rags to riches story of the second wife of Argentinean president Juan Perón, Eva Duarte, whose controversial rise to power captured the hearts of some, thoroughly alienated others but ensured her a lasting legacy as one of the most colourful political leaders.

From the opening number, I could feel something exciting happening, a certain energy on the stage, which then exploded in a joyous version of ‘Buenos Aires’ filled with ecstatic singing, tight Latin-inspired choreography and I just loved it, I was ready for giving a standing ovation from then on! The incorporation of a real Latin American feel into both the music and choreography gives the show a real injection of authenticity which lifts it into the stratosphere. Continue reading “Review: Evita, Adelphi”