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”

Album Review: Gay’s The Word (Original 2012 London Cast)

“It’s bound to be right on the night”

I remember being thoroughly enamoured of Gay’s The Word at the Finborough back in 2012 and its leading lady Sophie-Louise Dann before I really knew who she was. Now I’m a full paid-up member of her fan club, I wish I had been able to appreciate how great (and rare) a leading lady performance it was. This 1951 Ivor Novello show received its first ever revival here but whereas sometimes one can tell exactly why something has been collecting dust on the shelf, Stewart Nicholl’s production revealed a hidden gem.

As with much of Novello’s work, it is sparkly and silly but sweetly and sincerely done so that its genuine warmth elevates the whole affair. It helps that he was poking fun at his own reputation for daffiness in his writing and the show-in-a-show conceit allows for a wider variety of musical styles to be incorporated. But it is classic, old-school musical theatre through and through with songs that sound as instantly recognisable as if they’ve been played over and over in music halls and theatres across the country for decades. Continue reading “Album Review: Gay’s The Word (Original 2012 London Cast)”

CD Review: Candide (1999 Royal National Theatre Recording)

 “I’ll show my noble stuff by being bright and cheerful!”

They don’t make ‘em like they used to. Both in terms of writing, Leonard Bernstein’s operetta Candide (with its multiple literary contributors from Voltaire’s novella) dates back to 1956 and an entirely different age, and in terms of production too, Trevor Nunn’s National Theatre liked its big, grand musicals and this 1999 adaptation – co-directed by Nunn and John Caird – was lavishly done with its lush orchestrations fortunately recorded for posterity.

My only previous experience of Candide is with the Menier Chocolate Factory’s production in 2013 so I can’t really comment on the different versions of the show (although having done a little reading, I realise that this is something people have strong opinions about!). Instead, I’m listening to it with pretty much fresh ears, revelling in Bruce Coughlin’s orchestrations and Mark W Dorrell’s musical direction which sound utterly gorgeous, especially with a cast of this calibre. Continue reading “CD Review: Candide (1999 Royal National Theatre Recording)”

Re-review: Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Theatre Royal Drury Lane

“Beyond this door, surprises in store”

Third time lucky for me and the great glass elevator! The first time I saw Charlie and the Chocolate Factory at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane, the climactic lift effect wasn’t ready, the second time it broke down before it even really started so if nothing else, it was great to finally get to see the sequence as it was intended. My main reason for revisiting the show though was the cast change, with favourites like Josefina Gabrielle and Richard Dempsey joining the company and Alex Jennings stepping into the role of Willy Wonka, replacing Douglas Hodge. 

And rather unexpectedly, I absolutely loved it. It was a show I had previously liked rather than truly enjoyed but it really seems to have settled into its skin now, subtle alterations helping with the pace (although I am sad to see the animated prologue having been removed) and a generally sharper feel to the whole proceeding. For me though, the best aspect was Jennings’ reinterpretation of Wonka, a completely new take on the character that works brilliantly and feeds into the fabric of David Greig’s book, based on Roald Dahl’s writings of course, in a more instinctive and convincing manner. Continue reading “Re-review: Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Theatre Royal Drury Lane”

Album Review: Charlie and the Chocolate Factory Original London Cast Recording

“That’s my Charlie, that’s my son”

At a time when big new musicals have been dropping like flies, the mere fact that Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is still open is something of an achievement, never mind its actual enduring success. And with a major cast change soon to take place (featuring the likes of Alex Jennings and Josefina Gabrielle, just to make sure that I have no choice but to return), it seemed as good a time as any to give the soundtrack a listen.

I’ve seen the show a couple of times now and even in the couple of months between those viewings, it was clear that my original thought, that Marc Shaiman’s score might possess longevity that wasn’t initially obvious, wasn’t too far off the mark. The tunes worm their way into your head under the cover of the cuckoo in the nest that is the late-arriving ‘Pure Imagination’ which predictably is what most people will leave the Theatre Royal Drury Lane humming.  Continue reading “Album Review: Charlie and the Chocolate Factory Original London Cast Recording”

CD Review: Weird and Wonderful

“”You seemed uplifted but a little upset”

Alexander S Bermange is a composer and lyricist who has been working away for over a decade without ever really breaking through into the mainstream here in the UK. He had a show – The Route to Happiness – at the new musical theatre writing festival at the Landor last year but he has generally had more success in Germany though his contact list is top rate, as the roll call on his most recent CD Act One certainly attests.

Predating that collection though is 2004’s Weird and Wonderful which again boasts a fine collection of interesting performers – Anna Francolini, John Barr, and Richard Dempsey to name but a few – perhaps not as starry as some, but catnip to a theatre nerd like me. The focus here is on Bermange’s comic writing which gives a weird balance to the CD over its 19 tracks which can get a little bit wearing.  Continue reading “CD Review: Weird and Wonderful”

Re-review: Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Theatre Royal Drury Lane

“So we’ve lost a few children along the way, we’ve all learned something though”

One of the hottest tickets of the year is a golden one. London gets its second major adaptation of a Roald Dahl story into a big budget piece of musical theatre as the long-awaited Charlie and the Chocolate Factory finally opens its gates at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane. And taking his cue from Willy Wonka, director Sam Mendes has mixed it with love and made it taste good, displaying, along with designer Mark Thompson, just as much wit and invention as the candyman himself in bringing this world to such entertaining life on the stage.

David Greig’s book remains largely faithful to Dahl’s novel, but expanding the poverty-stricken domestic set-up of Charlie Bucket and his extended family as the young boy dreams of finding one of five elusive passes into Wonka’s mysterious factory. As the tickets are found one by one in a series of vividly realised tableaux, his hopes recede but the presence of a shadowy tramp-like figure ensures that there’s soon a golden twinkle in Charlie’s eye and a life-changing journey can begin. Continue reading “Re-review: Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Theatre Royal Drury Lane”

Review: Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Theatre Royal Drury Lane

“It’s the a-choc-alypse…no, it’s choc-mageddon”

What to do when a golden ticket is actually thrust into one’s hand?! A late invitation to a very early preview of new big budget musical Charlie and the Chocolate Factory meant a hurried trip to the newly refurbished Theatre Royal Drury Lane to see what has to be one of the most highly anticipated productions of the year with Sam Mendes directing, Peter Darling choreographing and Douglas Hodge taking on the role of Willy Wonka. Given the huge success of fellow Roald Dahl adaptation Matilda, the stakes on this multi-million production are substantial and a month long preview period is testament to how much the team want to test the show before opening night. 

Where Charlie might suffer, unlike Matilda, is in the enduring memory of the iconic film version from 1971. When Hodge appears at the door of his factory, you can sense the sigh of relief as he looks ‘right’, as in definitely inspired by Gene Wilder’s take on the character; when the doors open on the Chocolate room, there’s a slight sense of disappointment which is perhaps inevitable as the logistics of creating a chocolate waterfall and river come up hard against what appears to be a giant curly-wurly (hopefully there’s more to be done here). Continue reading “Review: Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Theatre Royal Drury Lane”

Review: Gay’s the Word, Finborough

“On such a night as this”

The Finborough Theatre has long been well regarded as a powerhouse of intimate (not small!) theatre, developing a strong reputation on two fronts with its rediscoveries of old plays and in the promotion of new writing. But though the space above the rather lovely wine bar is petite, their productions never are and this revival of Ivor Novello’s Gay’s the Word, on for just six performances (now extended by two), features a cast of 19. Last year’s Perchance to Dream, another of Novello’s neglected works, was a genuine pleasure to watch – introducing me to the song ‘We’ll Gather Lilacs’ which has never since left my head – and so anticipation was indeed high for this.

This is incredibly the first professional revival of Gay’s the Word despite it being quite the success in the early 1950s. The plot is frothy nonsense, but a bit of candy floss is delightful now and then. Gay Daventry is a leading lady whose light is fading a little and when facing bankruptcy after an out-of-town flop, seizes on the chance bequest of a keen younger actress and opens up a drama school. But it isn’t plain sailing by any means as the money starts to run out, the doddery teachers grow frustrated with the lack of talent in the student body and some dastardly smugglers also arrive to cause further mayhem. Will Gay be able to save the day with some of her trademark vitality? What do you think 😉 Continue reading “Review: Gay’s the Word, Finborough”