Album Review: Mary Poppins (2005 Original London Cast Recording)

“Children who refuse to learn will not return”

I only actually got round to seeing the ‘new’ musical version of Mary Poppins a couple of years ago at the Curve in Leicester, ahead of its mammoth tour, and so the novelty of finally seeing it onstage distracted me a little from the finer details of the score, which merged the original of Robert B Sherman and Richard M Sherman with new songs and arrangements from George Stiles and Anthony Drewe.

And listening to it a couple of times, I think I find myself slightly less enamoured of the interventions. That’s not to detract from the quality of the performances – Laura Michelle Kelly makes for a vibrant Mary, Gavin Lee a perky Bert, and the supporting cast is blessed by the likes of David Haig and Linzi Hateley as the Banks, Rosie Ashe as the nefarious Miss Andrew and Jenny Galloway, Melanie La Barrie, and Claire Machin too. Continue reading “Album Review: Mary Poppins (2005 Original London Cast Recording)”

TV Review: The Sound of Music Live

“It’s quite different after you’ve grown up”

The hills are alive, with the sound of questions. Like, why. The UK’s first fully live musical theatre television broadcast saw ITV produce Rodgers and Hammerstein’s The Sound of Music though the result was a curious experiment that fell uneasily between two stools. Lacking the crucial energy that propels the best live theatre (which comes from an audience too), the production values (though often impressive) naturally fell short of the opportunities of filmed work

Which ultimately begs the question, what’s the point. Is the UK hankering for a new production of the show? It’s hardly as if we’re lacking for productions popping up regularly in theatres across the land. Is it showcasing the best of British musical theatre talent? In that case why cast someone like Strictly winner and former Eastender Kara Tointon as Maria and shunt the likes of Julie Atherton (one of the most outstanding performers we have, bar none) into the nun ensemble. Continue reading “TV Review: The Sound of Music Live”

Review: Damn Yankees, Landor

“You gotta know what game to play and how to play it”

Faust via baseball, with songs – that’s Damn Yankees, the latest musical revival to hit Clapham North’s Landor Theatre, in a nutshell for you although the picture below gives a little more detail about the production… Hapless Joe Boyd blithely makes a deal with the devil to become Shoeless Joe Hardy who can save his beloved baseball team’s shockingly bad season even if it means leaving his wife behind. Sure enough though, as he helps the Washington Senators to victory after victory, suspicions about his sudden arrival are roused and it turns out he’s kinda missing his wife after all – can you go back on a deal with the devil?

It’s always a thrill to see choreography that tests the limits of this intimate space and Robbie O’Reilly’s work here is particularly striking in the group numbers – bringing to life the eternal conflict between obsessive sports fans and their spouses in the vibrant opening number ‘Six Months Out Of Every Year’, giving us the taut sensuality of a Latin dance club, or stripping the baseball team to their towels to show off their…ahem ‘Heart’. A show at the Landor also needs a director who understands the wide aspect of the stage and how to use it both efficiently and effectively.

Robert McWhir is of course that director (13 years and counting as AD) and there’s real skill in how he visualises scenes and stages them here – knowing exactly when to pull in focus or throw out wide (the staging of emotional trio ‘Near To You’ is particularly well done), how to move considerable groups of people around and still manage to get surprise reveals in there (keep your eye on the fireplace!) Aspiring directors could do a lot worse than come and get a masterclass in exploring and exploiting fringe stages here.

As in theatre as in life, the devil gets all the best lines (and songs) and whether in the Mephistophelean hands of Jonathan D Ellis’ Mr Applegate or the seductive allure of his able and willing assistant Lola as played by Poppy Tierney, it’s easy to see the appeal of some right good damnation. Tierney manages the not inconsiderable feat of bringing conviction to Lola’s journey through the show and Ellis is clearly at home as he chews the scenery up something rotten with devilish panache and a wicked sense of humour (as the gentleman who nipped to the loo midway through one of his songs soon found out).

Alex Lodge makes for a charming hero as the sweet-voiced younger Joe, a natural counterpart to Gary Bland’s older original, and Nova Skipp’s Meg – the ever-dutiful and way-too-understanding wife – has a beautifully straight-forward good-natured appeal and a lovely quality to her voice. Michael Webborn’s musical direction encourages this entirely straight bat from everyone which makes the Richard Adler and Jerry Ross’ score really pop in a good old-fashioned way and unmiked as the singing is, it really does create a glorious sound. Something of a home run then for the Landor (see, I knew I could get a sporting pun in there!)

Running time: 2 hours 30 minutes (with interval)
Programme cost: £2.50
Booking until 8th November
Note: the production is recognition of the 75th anniversary of US baseball player Lou Gehrig’s retirement from the sport after being diagnosed with Motor Neurone Disease (also known as ALS, they of the Ice Bucket Challenge, and actually as Lou Gehrig’s disease in the USA). Please do give generously if you can.

Review: The Witches of Eastwick, Watermill

“If I said that I would listen, might that ease the doubt?”

A theatre I hadn’t been to before and a musical I hadn’t heard before – the offer to go and see the Watermill’s adaptation of the 2000 West End show The Witches of Eastwick seemed like a no-brainer. But though I am glad to be able to tick both of those boxes, I have to admit to being rather disappointed with the show and such disillusionment is only magnified when one has made a not inconsiderable effort to go out of town to see a show. As with many of the productions at this venue, it is an actor-musician led revival, directed here by Craig Revel-Horwood and so one is habitually left in awe at the amount of talent being displayed on this cramped stage, I’m just not convinced that this musical is worth it.

Written by John Dempsey and Dana P Rowe from John Updike’s novel of the same name, the story focuses on three New England women unhappy with their lot in life who get swept up into the influence of newcomer Darryl Van Horne, whose demonically charming ways transform all their lives as he seduces them one by one. But though it may be better the devil you know, the changes he wreaks threaten to go too far and it proves no easy task to put this particular genie back into the bottle. Tom Rogers’ set design works wonders in such an intimate space, not least with a well-executed flying scene, too many aspects of the production felt problematic to me.  Continue reading “Review: The Witches of Eastwick, Watermill”