Re-review: Ragtime, Charing Cross

“You can never go back to before”

Mother may spend a song telling us that we can never go ‘Back To Before’ but fortunately you can go back to Ragtime with no fear. And in a post-election climate, it can’t help but feel even more charged as the USA finds itself at a(nother) momentous point in its history. You can read my original review here and if anything, Thom Southerland’s production has gotten even better as the actor-musicians feel even more confident and comfortable. 

Leading performances from Jennifer Saayeng and Ako Mitchell, Earl Carpenter and Anita Louise Combe, and Gary Tushaw remain powerful as ever. But on second viewing I enjoyed watching ensemble members and just how damn hard they’re working – Kate Robson-Stuart, Christopher Dickins and James Mack particularly standing out for me… If you’ve not seen the show yet, there’s a trailer below for your delectation but move quickly, there’s less than a month less of the run. Continue reading “Re-review: Ragtime, Charing Cross”

Review: Ragtime, Charing Cross

“And say to those who blame us for the way we chose to fight
That sometimes there are battles that are more than black or white.”

It’s impossible to watch Ragtime right now without marvelling at its relevance to the current US presidential election campaign and the lessons that were right there for Donald Trump and his team to learn. For in many ways, the show – written by Ahrens and Flaherty with book by Terrence McNally from EL Doctorow’s novel – is about the development of the modern American nation and identifies three key groups instrumental in that societal change in women, African-Americans and immigrant communities, the very people Trump has done his damnedest to alienate.

Politics aside, what’s more significant is the magical touch that director Thom Southerland seems to have when it comes to reconceiving musicals, as his actor-musician production here at the Charing Cross Theatre is an extraordinary success. Keeping most of his 24-strong company onstage throughout amplifies the overarching humanity of its storytelling, reminding us that these are all of our stories regardless of whichever group we ‘belong’. Combined with the expert musicality onstage and an ingenious design from Tom Rogers and Toots Butcher, it’s an irresistible adaptation that shouldn’t be missed. Continue reading “Review: Ragtime, Charing Cross”

Review: Show Boat, Crucible

“We drink water from a dipper,
You drink champagne from a slipper”

Christmastime is often one for traditions and one of the better theatrical ones has proven to be the big musicals that Sheffield Theatres produce. From Me and My Girl to My Fair Lady to a never-better Company and last year’s Anything Goes that went on to tour, the outgoing Artistic Director Daniel Evans has proved a master at big-hearted, large-scale productions that skimp on nothing to create some of the best musical theatre the country has to offer.

This year sees Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein’s Show Boat as Evans’ final show (as AD at least) and it is an undoubted success, a fitting festive farewell. It’s a brave choice too, an unwieldy beast of a story based on Edna Ferber’s novel about the backstage drama onboard the Mississippi show boat Cotton Blossom, using the performing troupe as a prism through which to view several decades of momentous change in the USA from the late 1800s. Continue reading “Review: Show Boat, Crucible”

Review: Bat Boy The Musical, Southwark Playhouse

“Don’t talk like a slut, dear”

It seems scarcely credible that Bat Boy The Musical ever opened in a West End house – its scuzzy, B-movie schtick seems custom-designed for the fringe world and it is decently served by Luke Fredericks’ production here, for Morphic Graffiti at the Southwark Playhouse. Keythe Farley and Brian Flemming’s book was inspired by a spoof story in an American tabloid which spoke of a creature that was half-boy and half-bat, and imagines what happens when a local family takes him in under their wing in the insular town of Hope Falls, West Virginia.

Rob Compton’s Bat Boy is first found in the depths of a cave by some trouble-making teenagers who capture him after a brief struggle in which one of their number is injured. Bat Boy has been down there for years – with some pretty nifty gym equipment judging by his abs – but once placed in the care of Sheriff Reynolds and his family, finds himself longing to join society. With the help of the motherly Meredith and moody daughter Shelley, he learns to speak and to modify his blood-thirsty behaviour, but soon finds that not even the most cut-glass BBC accent can defeat small-mindedness at its very worst. Continue reading “Review: Bat Boy The Musical, Southwark Playhouse”

Re-review: The Pajama Game, Shaftesbury

“I like a man with spunk
‘You like a man period’”

As is often the way, a canny bit of recasting ensured my need to revisit a show I’d already seen and resolved not to revisit. In this case, it was The Pajama Game, which I caught last year in Chichester when Joanna Riding and Hadley Fraser led Richard Eyre’s productions to great acclaim, which now arrives for a summer at the Shaftesbury Theatre with Michael Xavier taking over from Fraser. I am most fond indeed of Xavier’s work, and as I enjoyed the show in all its strangely charming old-fashioned oddity, going back wasn’t too much of a trial.

My original review is here and there really isn’t much more to add. The show fits in well into the Shaftesbury, even if a little of its expansiveness feels lost in the reconfiguration, but Xavier makes a predictably excellent fit into the company, he really is one of our leading exponents of musical theatre, delivering the goods time after time. Jo Riding emerges unscathed from Stephen Ward to return to a role in which she is wonderfully comfortable to watch but the real star ends up being Alexis Owen-Hobbs’ spunky Gladys. Book soon whilst you still can.

Running time: 2 hours 45 minutes (with interval)
Booking until 13th September

Review: Sister Act the Musical, New Wimbledon

“When I was still a school girl, standing just about yay high, I saw the face of Jesus in a coconut cream pie.”

I have to admit to being a little sceptical when I first heard that Sister Act the Musical would be touring the UK. Its run in the West End was relatively well-received (not least by me, twice) but the show itself lacked a certain something to match up to the star quality of its cast, so I was pleased to hear both that this touring production was a reworked version and some excellent word-of-mouth in advance of its arrival at the New Wimbledon.

And it was good word indeed as I really enjoyed the show third time around. An adaptation of the film of the same name in which Delores van Cartier, a nightclub singer, has to enter a witness protection programme which places her in a threatened Philadelphia convent much to her chagrin. But disguised as Sister Mary Clarence and appointed to the head of the dodgy choir which she soon whips into shape, she effects remarkable change on those around her which in turn raises their profile, jeopardising the whole undercover operation and everyone’s safety on the very day the Pope is coming to hear them sing. Continue reading “Review: Sister Act the Musical, New Wimbledon”

DVD Review: Hey Mr Producer

“Do something special, anything special…”

This charity shop malarkey is proving to be a veritable treasure trove of theatrical goodies, of variable quality I should stress, but after the delights of Ms Paige – which will be continued shortly with an upcoming DVD review – I was given this DVD of the 1998 Cameron Mackintosh extravaganza Hey Mr Producer which cost a whole 99p from a British Heart Foundation shop in north west London. A benefit concert ostensibly put together for the RNIB but also honouring and celebrating the work of producer Mackintosh (although oddly he was involved in putting the show together – honouring himself…) by bringing together excerpts from many of the most famous shows he has been involved in and pulling together an extraordinary cast of the musical theatre glitterati, many of whom originated the roles, the like of which has rarely been seen since.

And it really does come across as something special, at times a little frustrating but it is often the way with concerts like these that tantalise with little glimpses of shows and when the calibre of performer is such as it is here, one barely minds as there is much pleasure to be had. It is impressive how much was packed into the single evening, multi-song sections from shows were interspersed with single songs from others meaning that over 20 shows were showcased here. Whether it was shows I love – Little Shop of Horrors, Oliver!, Les Mis, ones I’m ok with – Phantom of the Opera, Company or even ones I’ve never actually seen – My Fair Lady, Miss Saigon, Martin Guerre, Carousel – the sequences that had more than one song worked surprisingly well, getting across something of the flavour of the shows even with the rapid pace and semi-staging. I would have loved to have seen and heard more from Anything Goes, Godspell and The Boyfriend and for Salad Days, Mackintosh’s favourite show apparently, to have gotten a proper treatment, but then I guess the three hour show would have gone on for days. Continue reading “DVD Review: Hey Mr Producer”

Review: Me and My Girl, Sheffield Crucible

“We play the Lambeth way, not like you but a bit more gay”

For its festive musical, Sheffield’s Crucible Theatre has taken on the 1937 classic Me and My Girl with music by Noel Gay and book and lyrics by L Arthur Rose and Douglas Furber. Stephen Fry’s revised book from 1985 is used here, with additional contributions to the revisions by Mike Ockrent, these adding a raft of terrible puns and a modern knowingness to what is a brilliant set of songs. The story is pure musical theatre hokum: East End barrow boy Bill Snibson is uncovered as the long-lost heir to an aristocratic fortune but must prove himself to be ‘fit and proper’ before he can inherit as his new-found relatives try to make him behave like a lord and encourage him to ditch his one true love, Sally Smith: will love conquer all? What do you think!

This is director Anna Mackmin’s first musical and her canniest decision has been to employ Stephen Mears as choreographer as he really is one of the best working in the field, as he proves yet again here. Whilst there is nothing quite as delightfully jaw-dropping as the train sequence from Hello, Dolly!, the Act I finale The Lambeth Walk comes preciously close with a brilliantly conceived and superbly executed routine, spilling with energy and invention and whipping up the audience into singing and clapping along with pure joy. The Sun Has Got His Hat On was another stand-out moment but this show is just full of winners and they are matched by a superlative production and some top quality performances. Continue reading “Review: Me and My Girl, Sheffield Crucible”

Review: Assassins, Union Theatre

“Something bewildering occurred”

Assassins is the latest revival paying tribute to composer Stephen Sondheim in his 80th year, in a steady flow of productions which looks set to continue throughout the year with Into the Woods and Passion at the Open Air Theatre and the Donmar respectively. Playing in Southwark’s Union Theatre, this play looks at 9 people, all connected by their attempts to kill a President of the United States of America, some successful, some unsuccessful, as they re-enact their crimes in a timeless smoky limbo where they can interact with each other and we see their own twisted take on the American dream as they look for meaning in what they tried to do. 

I was surprised to find that I just didn’t get it. Indeed I found it quite hard work: musically I did not find it particularly tuneful (only ‘Unworthy Of Your Love’ has a melody that you could remember 15 minutes after the show had ended) and consequently rather uninvolving. And in its subject matter and structure, it assumes quite an intimate knowledge of American political history, with its array of mostly (to me at least)unfamiliar  characters, all out of their historical context to make things even easier. Continue reading “Review: Assassins, Union Theatre”

Re-review: La Cage aux Folles, Playhouse

Visit number two for me to La Cage aux Folles at the Playhouse Theatre for a number of reasons. My first trip earlier this year was an absolute hoot but perhaps a little more wine-soaked than was advisable, I wanted to surprise Aunty Jean with a fun night out (as opposed to the previously advertised Aunt Dan & Lemon) and finally I wanted to see Philip Quast and Roger Allam as I had heard great things about their performances. I saw Douglas Hodge and Denis Lawson in the main roles last time, and could not imagine them being bettered, such was the quality of their ‘turns’.

However I am pleased to say that Allam and Quast were equal to the task, and I think I might even actually have preferred these two. The key to this musical is that it is actually the sweetest love story between Albin and Georges and so the relationship between the two has to be spot on and I think this is where they edge it this time. There’s such a great sense of shared romance onstage and the two actors are so comfortable with each other, you can really believe that they have spent a lifetime together.

Continue reading “Re-review: La Cage aux Folles, Playhouse”