Re-review: 42nd Street, Theatre Royal Drury Lane

42nd Street is signing off at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane in quite some style as a perfectly-cast Bonnie Langford joins the company

“Musical comedy – the most glorious words in the English language”

I liked 42nd Street when I saw it last year but I can’t say that I truly loved it, it felt a 24 carat production of a gold-plate show. But upon revisiting, to celebrate Bonnie Langford’s arrival in the company for its final furlong before closing in the New Year, some kind of magic seems to have happened at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane (or maybe I was just less grumpy tonight!) as it has now matured into something spectacular.

The only major difference is Langford’s presence as Dorothy Brock, but there’s just something about her that shimmers with star quality and it is contagious. So even as she’s trying to dampen it down a bit as this particular fading star, her comic timing makes her scenes crackle with electricity, her singing is on point and she’s just a dream to watch. It’s a perfect role for her – who needs stunt casting when you have the right casting? And as for her surprise appearance in the finale? SWOON!

I also felt Clare Halse has really settled into the role of Peggy Sawyer. It’s a curious role in that she grows to become the leading lady of this musical as the understudy-come-good, but is given precious little time in which to do so and most of that is taken up with dance. Such amazing dance though, she really is effortless in her every graceful move, and she’s acting more through every movement too as her self-belief slowly blooms into the incandescent life of the finale.    Continue reading “Re-review: 42nd Street, Theatre Royal Drury Lane”

Album reviews: Working / Bat out of Hell / 42nd Street

A trio of West End cast recordings (well, one’s off-West-End…) show that it is sometimes hard to recapture the stage magic 

© Robert Workman

Starting off with the best of this bunch, the Southwark Playhouse’s production of Working might not have seemed like the obvious choice for a cast recording but maybe the lure of a couple of new Lin-Manuel Miranda tracks was a real sweetener.

Truth is, it is the quality of the cast’s performances that make this a fantastic addition to the list of albums you need to hear. From Siubhan Harrison’s impassioned ‘Millwork’ to Dean Chisnall’s gleeful ‘Brother Trucker’, and the highly charismatic Liam Tamne nails both of Miranda’s contributions – the wilful ‘Delivery’ and a corking duet (with Harrison) on ‘A Very Good Day’.

Experience pays though, as Gillian Bevan and Peter Polycarpou take the honours with some scintillating work. The latter’s ‘Joe’ is beautifully judged, as is the former’s ‘Nobody Tells Me How’, both demonstrating the uncertainty that can come at the end of a long career, when retirement doesn’t necessarily hold the joyful promise it once did. Highly recommended.  Continue reading “Album reviews: Working / Bat out of Hell / 42nd Street”

Review: 42nd Street, Theatre Royal Drury Lane

“You’re going out a youngster, but you’ve got to come back a star”

In the rush to dole out the five star reviews that seem de rigueur for any big musical these days (22 for An American in Paris so their new poster shouts proudly), there appears to be a willingness to overlook storytelling for spectacle. As at the Dominion, the newly opened 42nd Street is a massive dance show which is undoubtedly hugely, well, spectacular. And it also suffers from not being particularly dramatically interesting, Michael Stewart and Mark Bramble’s book contains hardly any dramatic tension at all – will the show-within-the-show be alright on the night? What do you think?!

I start with this line of thought because as much as I was impressed by 42nd Street, it rarely moved me in the way that Golden Age musical theatre (my favourite genre of all, surprising no-one) at its best does. Based on a novel from the 1930s, the book here – as directed by Bramble – sacrifices any hint of suspense or meaningful character development for the headlong rush from production number to production number. And it just about gets away with it due to the sheer scale of what is being mounted here. 40+ bodies tap-dancing in unison in bucket-loads of sequins – bawdy and gaudy indeed.

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Preview – 42 reasons to see 42nd Street

“Where the underworld can meet the elite…
Naughty
Bawdy
Gaudy
Sporty
Forty-Second Street!”

I was lucky enough to be invited to the first preview of 42nd Street at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane and whilst any official opinions about the show are under embargo until press night, I thought I’d give you all some hints and teasers and a little sneak preview (assisted by these beautiful photographs courtesy of Brinkhoff & Moegenburg) through these 42 reasons to see 42nd Street. 


1 Where else are you going to see a cast of over 50?
2 Just look at them Continue reading “Preview – 42 reasons to see 42nd Street”

Review: Miss Atomic Bomb, St James

“That’s just the fallout people”

Atomic bombs derive their destructive power from nuclear fission, when atoms split after being bombarded with other particles, and there’s a certain sense of random elements being thrown together in Miss Atomic Bomb, in the hope of reaching some kind of critical mass. Comedy gangsters, tap-dancing routines, comedy bank managers, dead sheep, comedy zucchini, pigs in clothes, comedy transvestites, hoedowns, comedy rabbi costumes, a Strallen and a character with a ridiculous surname because you can get a song out of it. Put them altogether and what do you get? A show that’s either a bomb or a blast.

Full disclosure, I saw a preview and I’m given to believe that a lot of work has happened to the show in the last couple of days, which is only natural for a new musical. For me though, the show feels fundamentally flawed in really not knowing what it wants to be. Writers Adam Long, Gabriel Vick and Alex Jackson-Long throw together satire and slapstick uneasily as a desperate Las Vegas hotel manager arranges the Miss Atomic Bomb beauty pageant to drum up tourist trade as the US military test their atomic arsenal in the Nevada desert. Continue reading “Review: Miss Atomic Bomb, St James”

Review: Cats, Palladium

“These modern productions are all very well…”

Taking your seat in the Palladium to see the musical theatre behemoth that is Cats – now 33 years old and receiving a 12 week revival here in one of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s own theatres – is an act of strangely calculated nostalgia. Famed for being one of the longest-running shows both on Broadway and the West End, its feline frolics remain entirely evocative of the 80s and as it reunites the original creative team – director Trevor Nunn, choreographer Gillian Lynne, designer John Napier – that should come as little surprise.
 

For those unfamiliar with the show, it was actually a feat of some daring. A through-sung, through-danced piece with no real narrative, save that taken from T.S.Eliot’s book of whimsical poetry, Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats. In essence, we meet the key characters of a tribe of cats who have gathered in a junkyard for a special night where one of them will be selected to be reborn into a new life in cat Heaven (or more accurately, be part of a rather dodgy bit of stagecraft, almost as naff as those cats’ eyes at the beginning).

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Review: Mack and Mabel, Southwark Playhouse

“I’d be the first one to agree that I’m preoccupied with me”

Mack and Mabel reunites much of the creative team from last year’s very well received Parade at the Southwark Playhouse but sadly it also sees them go back into the same space of the Vault there. Despite its cavernous nature, it has become the default space for musicals at this London Bridge venue, although mystifyingly so as its first one – Company – was brilliantly played, unmiked, in the main house. To overcome the echoing acoustics of the Vault, shows tend to be heavily amplified and this has been something of a learning curve to say the least and for me undoes much of the point of going to see fringe musicals as it robs shows of the immediacy of hearing amazing voices up close and personal.

The show – book by Michael Stewart and revised by Francine Pascal – centres on the on-off relationship between Keystone Cops creator and silent film director Mack Sennett and the waitress he spotted, Mabel Normand, and turned into a star. Problem is, it isn’t a particularly gripping story, not even in its revised version, which tends towards a rather gloopy sentimentalisation, complete with annoying narration device, which never really addresses the fact that Mack is not someone you could imagine anyone ever giving the time of day to. Thom Southerland’s overlong production never really manages to overcome this deficiency in the story. Continue reading “Review: Mack and Mabel, Southwark Playhouse”

Review: Gypsy, Curve

“What did you do it all for Mama?”

Gypsy is one of those shows that I’ve heard much about, it is extremely highly regarded in the US, but have had little real contact with. Bernadette Peters, Patti LuPone and Tyne Daly have taken on the iconic role of Mama Rose in recent years with very mixed results, but it is many years since anyone tried to bring it to the UK. Director Paul Kerryson has taken on the challenge though at the Curve in Leicester, with British/Australian chanteuse Caroline O’Connor in the lead role and so I took my first ever trip to Leicester to see what all the fuss was about.

The story takes its inspiration from the memoirs of burlesque dancer Gypsy Rose Lee which details the remorseless drive of her pushy stage mother from hell Mama Rose as she lived out her own dreams of being a performer by putting her two daughters onto the stage in a touring vaudeville act. Her relentless drive comes at great cost though, alienating one daughter who runs off, pushing the other into becoming a stripper and losing the man who has stood by her for so long. Continue reading “Review: Gypsy, Curve”

Review: The Wizard of Oz, Palladium

“And my head I’d be scratchin’ while my thoughts were busy hatchin’

I could have quite happily given The Wizard of Oz a miss, it wasn’t ever really on my list of shows to see but the combined news of a visit from a family member who wanted to see it and Hannah Waddingham’s imminent departure from the ensemble meant that I found myself there on a Saturday evening… There’s something a little odd about its choice as Andrew Lloyd-Webber’s third reality casting show, Over the Rainbow, as the show is not really a fully-fledged musical, no matter how famous some of the songs but he persevered nonetheless. What is even odder is his assembly of a strong musical theatre cast around the eventual winner, Danielle Hope, given the paucity of many of the roles around Dorothy.

Lloyd-Webber’s way around this has been to write new songs, with long-standing lyricist Tim Rice, to beef up the roles of characters like the Wizard and the Wicked Witch of the West and justify the casting of Michael Crawford and Hannah Waddingham respectively. But despite looking a picture with some tricksy staging and wirework, the end result is curiously banal, exceedingly bland and one which rarely excited me. The focus is so much on the stagecraft that the heart of the story is rarely engaged: Hope’s Dorothy is sweet but rarely interesting, there’s little of the ‘star quality’ evident this evening but then the role is not one that really encourages it; Michael Crawford made very little impact either as the Wizard or the cameos as Ozians and so it went, emotion taking second-place to spectacle. Continue reading “Review: The Wizard of Oz, Palladium”