Review: Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, West Yorkshire Playhouse

“Scrumptious as the breeze across the day”

Who knew that Leeds would be a musical theatre hotspot this December but between The Girls and this Music & Lyrics and West Yorkshire Playhouse production of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, it’s been the place to be for big, warm-hearted musical fun. This is the first new version of Chitty Chitty… since its original 2002 West End production and its many regional tours but in James Brining’s clever and wondrous adaptation, it’s thoroughly revitalised and as lovely as any cherry peach parfait.

Ian Fleming’s novel was adapted by Jeremy Sams, via Roald Dahl and Ken Hughes’ own reshaping of the story for the cinema, and with a glorious score from the Sherman Brothers (as if they could do any other kind) beefed up with new songs by them as well, it captures much of the Disney noir feel of the film whilst bringing its own depths too. I’d forgotten how much sadness there was in the tale and that’s something Brining never lets us forget, even whilst delighting us with flying cars and fun. Continue reading “Review: Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, West Yorkshire Playhouse”

Review: A Damsel in Distress, Chichester Festival Theatre

“I’m a poached cake without a piece of toast
Yorkshire pudding without a beef to roast”

It’s no secret at all that I love a good old-fashioned musical but it is hard to feel that we need more of them in the world. PG Wodehouse’s A Damsel in Distress started life as a novel in 1919, has been adapted on both stage (with Ian Hay) and screen, where it was augmented by a suite of songs by George and Ira Gershwin, and now finds itself as a piece of musical theatre with a new book by Jeremy Sams and Robert Hudson and vibrantly directed and choreographed by Rob Ashford. 

With a cast that contains Richard Dempsey, Isla Blair, Nicholas Farrell, Sally Ann Triplett, plus the requisite Strallen (Summer, in this case), there’s little about which to complain. Yet I find myself grumbling a little, the bar at Chichester has been set so extraordinarily high with their recent successes, that even a very good production can seem a little lacklustre by comparison. And with so many great ‘traditional’ musicals of this form in the canon, do we really need new ones to be constructed?  Continue reading “Review: A Damsel in Distress, Chichester Festival Theatre”

Review: Just Another Love Story, London Theatre Workshop

“Pardon me, is everybody here? Because if everybody’s here, I want to thank you all for coming to the wedding, I’d appreciate your going even more, I mean you must have lots of better things to do, and not a word of this to Paul, remember Paul, you know, the man I’m gonna marry, but I’m not, because I wouldn’t ruin anyone as wonderful as he is”

Sondheim revues can feel two a penny – Putting It Together played the St James just a couple of months ago – but Ray Rackham’s Just Another Love Story has a real ace up its sleeve in the return of 2010’s Best Actor in a Musical fosterIAN award winner Sam Harrison to a London stage. His turn in Salad Days was an absolute treasure and being able to hear him sing again was something I couldn’t resist, so I made my way over to Fulham to the London Theatre Workshop above the Eel Brook pub.

The show is a real labour of love for Rackham, having evolved over several incarnations in the past couple of years and now including over 40 Sondheim songs from the widest range of his back catalogue, delving into rarities just as often as his more popular shows. They’ve been carefully stitched together into a free-flowing musical tapestry which includes solos, duets, medleys and even a bit of choreography to bring the music to life, celebrating the music of Stephen Sondheim by creating their own love story from his work.  Continue reading “Review: Just Another Love Story, London Theatre Workshop”

Re-review: Salad Days, Riverside Studios

“It’s true I’ve been led an amazing dance,
but why should I ever complain?
If I could be given a second chance,
I’d live it all over again”

One of the greatest pleasures of writing this blog has been being able to really champion the shows that really move me, the ones that I heartily recommend to everyone in my phonebook the moment I come out of the theatre and so it was in early December with this delightful musical. The ‘little show that could’, Salad Days has risen from fairly quiet beginnings to becoming one of the hottest tickets in town and their last few weeks have been playing to packed houses. Whether it was the snowy weather in December, or the length of time it took to persuade critics to visit Hammersmith I don’t know, but the press reviews took a long time to emerge and trickled out slowly from late December onwards. What impact this had I don’t know, but this has been, from my point of view, a genuinely huge word-of-mouth success which I think is testament to just how good a show it is.

It really is so very well put-together in all aspects: the book is genuinely funny which helps of course and delivered so cleanly and earnestly by all concerned, the songs are catchy and tuneful and the structure of the show with its plentiful brief reprises lends an air of familiarity with the music even on first listen, the costumes feel authentic and the design pitched just right. And as commented before, Tête-à-Tête’s casting has been spot-on in gathering an ensemble capable of singing beautifully, un-miked into the large auditorium whilst executing Quinny Sacks’ inspired choreography. Every single aspect of this production from the entrance to the breakfast eating sequence, the people walking through the park, the club scenes and Mark Inscoe’s interval patter, feels carefully thought through and perfectly judged. Continue reading “Re-review: Salad Days, Riverside Studios”

fosterIAN awards 2010

 WinnerRunner-upOther nominees
Best Actress in a PlayMichelle Terry, TribesNancy Carroll, After the DanceZoë Wanamaker, All My Sons
Helen McCrory, The Late Middle Classes
Miranda Raison, Anne Boleyn
Sophie Thompson, Clybourne Park
Best Actor in a PlayJohn Heffernan, Love Love LoveBenedict Cumberbatch, After the DanceJacob Casselden, Tribes
David Suchet, All My Sons
Roger Allam, Henry IV Part I + II
Andrew Scott, Design for Living
Best Supporting Actress in a PlayRachael Stirling, A Midsummer Night’s Dream (Rose, Kingston)Jemima Rooper, All My SonsJessica Raine, Earthquakes in London
Sylvestra Le Touzel, Les Parents Terribles
Clare Higgins, Hamlet (NT)
Madeleine Potter, Broken Glass
Best Supporting Actor in a PlayRobin Soans, Palace of the EndNigel Lindsay, Broken GlassAdrian Scarborough, After the Dance
Eddie Redmayne, Red
Stephen Campbell Moore, All My Sons
William Gaunt, Henry IV Part I + II
Best Actress in a MusicalTracie Bennett, End of the RainbowEmma Williams, Love StoryCora Bissett, Midsummer
Sheridan Smith, Legally Blonde
Katie Moore, Salad Days
Kirsty Hoiles, Spend! Spend! Spend!
Best Actor in a MusicalSam Harrison, Salad DaysJon-Paul Hevey, Once Upon a Time at the AdelphiJohn Owen-Jones, Les Misérables
Alan Richardson, Iolanthe
Matthew Pidgeon, Midsummer
Dean Charles Chapman, Billy Elliot
Best Supporting Actress in a MusicalHannah Waddingham, Into the WoodsJodie Jacobs, State FairKaren Mann, Spend! Spend! Spend!
Siobhan McCarthy, The Drowsy Chaperone
Jill Halfpenny, Legally Blonde
Twinnie Lee Moore, Flashdance
Best Supporting Actor in a MusicalMichael Xavier, Into the WoodsMatthew James Willis, IolantheTom Parsons, Avenue Q
Michael Howe, The Drowsy Chaperone
Liam Tamne, Departure Lounge
Earl Carpenter, Les Misérables

2010 in summary, including 2010 fosterIAN award winners

So 2010 is very nearly over and I can honestly, hand on heart, say that I managed to see every single play that I wanted to see this year…all 271 of them. It was a mostly highly enjoyable experience, although writing about all of them came close to tiring me out on a couple of occasions…I might try to see a bit less in 2011 but we’ll see, I’m not sure I’ll be able to cut down!

What I particularly loved this year was the reaffirmation of the strong ensemble in so many plays. After a lot of recent kerfuffle about big stars dominating the West End, it was gratifying to see shows like All My Sons, After the Dance, Broken Glass, Clybourne Park, Tribes, all doing so well with fantastic group efforts and quality acting across the board rather than relying on star names. Continue reading “2010 in summary, including 2010 fosterIAN award winners”

2010 Best Actor in a Play & in a Musical

Best Actor in a Play

John Heffernan, Love Love Love
One of those risky occasions when I allowed expectations to rocket sky-high was with Love Love Love, a new play by Mike Bartlett, fast becoming one of my favourite new playwrights, and featuring the delectable John Heffernan, fast becoming one of my favourite actors, to which I ventured to Manchester’s Royal Exchange in order to see it. And fortunately it paid off in dividends with (to my mind at least) a stronger play than Earthquakes in London and anchored by a stunning central performance from Heffernan, anchoring the play in a solid reality that allowed Daniela Denby-Ashe to play off him with huge amounts of fun as his raucous partner but also provided a strong platform for Bartlett to present the counter-case defending the baby boomers. Heffernan managed the leaps in age extremely proficiently, delivered the sharp dialogue well yet still brought a beautiful subtlety to the role: combined with his own turn in the superb After the Dance, mark my words, he really is a name for the future. He will be playing Richard II at the Tobacco Factory in Bristol early next year, I shall of course be there!

Honourable Mention: Benedict Cumberbatch, After the Dance
Before coming to the attention of the nation in a huge way with Stephen Moffat’s Sherlock, Benedict Cumberbatch has been steadily building a strong reputation for himself which was further continued with this excellent performance in Rattigan’s After the Dance. As the emotionally repressed David, he continued his hedonistic lifestyle, blissfully unaware of the damage he was causing to others around him and seemingly incapable of change: a sterling performance in a cracking production. He is of course taking to the stage at the National again in February in Frankenstein, cross-cast with Jonny Lee Miller as the doctor and the monster.

Jacob Casselden, Tribes
David Suchet, All My Sons
Roger Allam, Henry IV Part I + II
Andrew Scott, Design for Living

7-10
Antony Sher, Broken Glass; Tom Goodman-Hill, Earthquakes in London; Matt Zeremes, Holding the Man; Richard Clothier, Richard III

 

Best Actor in a Musical

Sam Harrison, Salad Days
For a while John Owen-Jones was in the running for this award for finally making me like the character of Jean Valjean who, despite me loving Les Mis like nothing else, has always been rather annoying to me! But when Salad Days swept me away on a gloomy Sunday afternoon to an altogether happier place and I realised just where I recognised the leading man from, the award moved into Sam Harrison’s hands. For it was he, amongst others, who helped me to fall right back in love with Avenue Q after I had had a bit of overkill, but in an understudy-heavy performance, he reminded why I loved that show so much. And going to see Salad Days with no idea what to expect, he brought his huge likeability to bear in a beautifully old-school take on his character, harking back to musical stars of old with nifty moves, strong pipes and a straight earnestness that was just so refreshing to see. Salad Days continues at the Riverside Studios through February.

Honourable Mention: Jon-Paul Hevey, Once Upon A Time at the Adelphi
Another unexpected pleasure came in Once Upon A Time at the Adelphi which became one of those shows that I texted everyone about as soon as I left the theatre, such was my enjoyment of it. Helped immeasurably by the classically handsome Jon-Paul Hevey (I swear he is a shoo-in for Sex and the City the musical!) as cheeky chappie Thompson and demonstrating the charm and vitality that sustained Alice’s love for such a long time and for good reason.

John Owen-Jones, Les Misérables
Alan Richardson, Iolanthe
Matthew Pidgeon, Midsummer [a play with songs]
Dean Charles Chapman, Billy Elliot The Musical

7-10
Michael Xavier, Love Story; Roger Rowley, The Buddy Holly Story; Lee Greenaway, Just So; Chris Fountain, Departure Lounge

Review: Salad Days, Riverside Studios

“We mustn’t say these are our happiest days, but our happiest days so far”

Despite leading with the tagline of ‘one of Britain’s best loved musicals’, I must admit to never having heard of Salad Days before this Riverside Studios and Tête à Tête production. Composed by Julian Slade and with book and lyrics by him and Dorothy Reynolds, it was apparently the longest-running musical in the West End until My Fair Lady so quite how it has passed me by until now I do not know, but I am ever so grateful that its cheery optimism is now in my life .

Set in 1954, Timothy and Jane have both just graduated from university and are facing pressure from their respective parents for him to find suitable employment through one of his influential uncles and for her to find an appropriately advantageous marriage. But anxious to make their own way in the world, they decide to get engaged to each other and to accept the first job that comes along, which just happens to be…looking after a mobile piano that when played, makes people dance uncontrollably. Predictably, the government in the form of the Minister of Pleasure and Pastime want to get their hands on this instrument of social disruption but in their efforts, the piano disappears and then events take an even more wonderfully insane turn. Continue reading “Review: Salad Days, Riverside Studios”

Review (or more of a love letter): the fourth-to-last Avenue Q, Wyndhams

“Everything in life is only for now”

There’s no show really that best typifies my love for the theatre, and specifically my love for London theatregoing, than Avenue Q. From its arrival at the Noël Coward Theatre in 2006, this was a show I fell head over heels for from the opening song and one that has provided constant pleasure to me ever since. Looking back, I think this counts up as my seventh visit to the show, plus one special Valentine’s Day cabaret show, and like every relationship it has had its ups and downs, but ultimately that’s only made my love for the show stronger and I was really pleased to be able to squeeze in one last visit to the final Friday afternoon show to bid it ‘furwell’. 

As if I couldn’t have loved this show more, the grace and humour with which the closing notices were announced just melted my heart. I’ve borrowed images of the set of posters from the Avenue Q Facebook page and posted them here to show you what I mean, I particularly love the ‘Available for Panto from 30 October’ line, it is so typical of the humour of the show and whoever has been in charge of the publicity should be commended for keeping a sense of humour throughout. The YouTube clip at the bottom is also well worth a watch.

Continue reading “Review (or more of a love letter): the fourth-to-last Avenue Q, Wyndhams”

Review: Avenue Q, Wyndhams

“Ethnic jokes might be uncouth, but you laugh because they’re based on truth”

Now in its third home in the West End in its fifth year altogether, Avenue Q is proving to be something of an enduring success which fills my heart with joy. It is a couple of years since I’ve seen it, but when it first came out I just fell completely in love with the show, and particularly with the opening cast, and ended up seeing it about 5 times in the space of two years. A couple of trips to later incarnations of the cast left me a little disappointed, Jon Robyns, Simon Lipkin and Julie Atherton were just the dream team for me, and plus I ran out of people to take to it, so I hadn’t thought I would go again. However, a visit from a dear musical loving Canadian friend and a slight booking snafu for Wicked with lastminute.com meant we ended up at the half price ticket booth at Leicester Square and we plumped for this familiar old friend.

Having seen it so many times and having the soundtrack on my iPod means I know the songs inside out now, but I do maintain that Avenue Q is one of the best new musicals to have been written in the last decade. So many of the songs are classics, instantly catchy and running the emotional gamut from laugh-out-loud funny (so many to choose from but my favourites are probably ‘If You Were Gay’, ‘The Internet Is For Porn’ and ‘Everyone’s A Little Bit Racist’) to tear-in-the-eye touching (the end of ‘Fantasies Come True’, the beginning of ‘It’s A Fine Fine Line’). And they are just so sharp lyrically, full of zippy one-liners and the ring of truth. Continue reading “Review: Avenue Q, Wyndhams”