Review: The Bubbly Black Girl Sheds Her Chameleon Skin, Theatre Royal Stratford East

“I’ve decided I’m going to be white”

Just a quickie for The Bubbly Black Girl Sheds Her Chameleon Skin as it closes in a couple of days and I have to say, I was a little bit disappointed with it. Kirsten Childs’ musical follows its protagonist Viveca from childhood in 1960s LA to 1990s New York, from a relatively sheltered middle class life to the harsher realities of trying to make it as a dancer on Broadway, plus navigating her way through the racism and sexism inherent in so much of contemporary society.

But though there’s much in the story that resonates (it is partly based on Childs’ own experiences), the show never quite connects in the same way. It picks with a magpie-like glee at a world of musical theatre references without really settling into its own identity, and musically the mix of Motown, pop and r’n’b feels a bit scattershot. Josette Bushell-Mingo’s production has surface glamour but even with Karis Jack and Sophia Mackay splitting the role of the younger and older versions of Viveca, there’s not enough of the grit to really ground the story.

Running time: 2 hours 20 minutes (with interval)
Booking until 11th March

CD Review: Witches of Eastwick (Original London Cast Recording)

“Waiting for the music to begin”

Throughout this whirlwind tour of cast recordings, one of the more interesting things has been listening to shows that closed early, or at least relatively so. The Witches of Eastwick managed a 15 month run in 2000-1 at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane and then the Prince of Wales in a slightly revised version and I have to say that on the evidence of this original London cast recording, it deserved more.

Dana P Rowe’s score and John Dempsey’s lyrics captures much of the small-town mania of John Updike’s source novel and performed by a crack cast as it is here, it is often thrilling to listen to. Ian McShane may have been cast as the devilish Darryl but it is Joanna Riding, Maria Friedman and Lucie Arnaz as the titular triumvirate whose innate powers are unleashed by the nefarious influence of this charismatic stranger, with troubling results for both themselves and those around them – the harmonies that accompany their joint numbers are just scintillating. Continue reading “CD Review: Witches of Eastwick (Original London Cast Recording)”

Review: Puss in Boots, Hackney Empire

“Do you want to join the pussycat chorus”

Though its position at other times of the year may seem a little precarious, Susie McKenna has built up the Hackney Empire into one of the must-see venues for pantomime in London, drawing in families from far and wide to their revitalised yet still classic take on all the old favourites. This year is the turn of Puss in Boots to get the E8 treatment but as Kat B takes to the stage drawling through a heavy Jamaican accent and exhorting us to call out ‘Puss in Boots dem’, it is soon clear that this lesser known panto has had a little tinkering.

So whilst we do have a young miller’s son Thomas, who is cheated out of his inheritance and left with just his faithful feline who finds his way into a magic shoeshop, there’s also the various members of the royal household of the kingdom of Hackneyonia to get to know, as an evil queen has taken advantage of a missing prince. Along with a good fairy and an evil witch both trying to get their way. Plus a surprisingly effective ogre. So it can be a little perplexing to work out exactly what is going on, especially when there’s two separate villains to boo and for a title character, Puss doesn’t actually have a huge amount to do. Continue reading “Review: Puss in Boots, Hackney Empire”

Review: Cinderella, Hackney Empire

“He wanted a fairytale romance – it ended up Grimm”

Last year was the first time that I re-engaged with the world of pantomime since being a kid and despite having heard many good things about the Hackney Empire panto over the past few years, in particular Clive Rowe’s various dames, I didn’t get there. And sod’s law dictates that as I booked for Cinderella – this year’s effort – Mr Rowe engaged himself in a production of The Ladykillers which is now previewing at the Gielgud. But you don’t miss what you never had and in any case, my history with pantomimes at the Hackney Empire actually stretches back to 19?? and one of my first genuine memories of being in a theatre with Peter Duncan playing Aladdin and clambering all over me and my cousins as he climbed through the audience as part of the show. So it was actually a fascinating opportunity to revisit a little piece of personal history as well as marking the beginning of my festive theatregoing season.

Writer/director Susie McKenna has refreshed the familiar tale of Cinderella to contemporise it for modern audiences, yet still maintaining much of the traditional feel of a pantomime that really is suitable for all ages. So we have all the familiar characters: a pair of hilarious pantomime dames as the Ugly Sisters – Tony Whittle and Kat B as Queeniqua and Victiqua respectively, a fairy-godmother who speaks in rhyme – Sophie Louise Dann in charming form and the children’s TV presenter affability of Matt Dempsey’s Buttons with his horse Clapton (complete with special song). The writing has lots of nice little local references that make it a nicely Hackney-located show and up-to-date references but not obtrusively so, there’s also the sweet-throwing out, audience shout-outs and a little onstage participation for one ‘lucky’ fellow that we’ve come to expect. Continue reading “Review: Cinderella, Hackney Empire”