“The objective of this session is not to conduct a show trial. We want to learn some lessons.”
There’s a rather lazy trope around ‘unlikely subjects’ for a musical which accompany any show that deviates from the apparent norm. Yet given that the Best New Musical Olivier award winners over the past few decades have covered Argentinian politics, Scouse twins, confused animals, missionaries in Africa and post-Impressionist painters, I’m not entirely sure what counts for normal here!
The latest show to use musical theatre to tackle an ‘unexpected’ topic is Committee… (A New Musical), written by Hadley Fraser and Josie Rourke with music by Tom Deering. To take its full name, The Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee Takes Oral Evidence on Whitehall’s Relationship with Kids Company, it uses Parliamentary transcripts to interrogate the public inquiry into the 2015 collapse of the children’s charity along with the millions of taxpayer money it had been given. Continue reading “Review: Committee… (A New Musical), Donmar Warehouse”
“I just popped into Pineapple for this”
There may be few real surprises to be had at Stepping Out but what Maria Friedman’s production here at the Vaudeville does, is to conjure a marvellously congenial atmosphere which is ideally suited to the play. Written in 1984 by Richard Harris and set the year before, to call this period comedy dated is beyond stating the obvious, its female characters wafer-thin, its gender politics non-existent.
But if it isn’t feminist with a capital F, there’s certainly lower-case feminism at work here, not least in the fact that it offers up 8 out of its 9 roles to women – bucking the male:female ratio that is stubbornly persistent in the West End. We follow this group of women, and the solitary man, as they muddle their way through a weekly tap class, building to the inevitable performance that they have to pull off. Continue reading “Review: Stepping Out, Vaudeville”
Also giving up precious time before Christmas in aid of a good cause, is this motley crew to the left. Rufus Hound will be hosting a concert featuring them at The Actor’s Church in Covent Garden in aid of Children with Cancer UK on Sunday 18th December from 7.30pm. Children with Cancer UK is the leading national children’s charity dedicated to the fight against childhood cancer. Almost 4,000 children and young people are diagnosed with cancer every year in the UK and their aims are to determine the causes, find cures and provide care for children with cancer. Continue reading “Festive news #2 – Christmas Concert by Music Theatre Masterclass”
“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”
That I’d defrocked a priest”
I quite often have problems with plays and musicals that are thusly described – “one of the acknowledged greats of twentieth century musical theatre” – especially when I’ve not heard a note of it. I’ve always preferred finding my own route into liking something and so such labels rarely help, the note of hyperbole indeed a little off-putting. So the buzz around Josie Rourke’s production of the Cy Coleman, Larry Gelbart and David Zippel musical City of Angels proved something of a double-edged sword for me.
This was actually my second viewing of the show – I decided to leave writing up a trip to a late preview whilst suffering from a bad cold as I wasn’t sure how constructive I could be whilst feeling so rough. But even on second viewing, the show struck as a peculiar beast indeed. A dip into the world of film noir with a play-within-a-play structure, City of Angels has quite a cold heart and a clinical feel to it as a novelist tries to make it big in Hollywood with his story of a hard-boiled detective working on a big case. Continue reading “Review: City of Angels, Donmar Warehouse”
“Nothing stays in fifty years or so, it’s gonna change you know”
The thrills of Kander & Ebb’s iconic work Chicago became somewhat lost as the show grew into a stalwart long runner in London’s West End, turning to an unending procession of stunt casting moves to keep the crowds coming. But though I’m a great fan of the show, the temptation to go and see it again was never there, not even as it closed, the innate razzle-dazzle had gone missing. So the prospect of a brand new production at Leicester’s Curve Theatre, directed by Paul Kerryson and choreographed by bright young thing Drew McOnie, raised hopes that it might be back.
And boy is it ever. The Curve has been home to some excellent musicals during Kerryson’s tenure and Chicago is right up there with the best, as a vibrant recasting of the familiar elements of the show infused with a fresh vitality that literally sparks off the stage. Away from the faux glamour of the latest evictee from the jungle or fading Hollywood star, the focus on genuine musical theatre talent restores an integrity to the show which allows it Kerryson to really play up the viciously biting satire of sensation-hungry audiences which is as relevant today as it ever was. Continue reading “Review: Chicago, Curve”
“Out of this wood do not desire to go”
As the first of Shakespeare’s works that I ever read and studied, I will always have a great affection for A Midsummer Night’s Dream and to this day, it has endured as probably my favourite of his plays. Something about its otherworldly (dream-like…) free-spiritedness really appeals to me, meaning there’s little of the suspension of disbelief often necessary to make the contrivances of his other comedies work, and it is a play robust enough to take many an interpretation, whether raucuous reinventions by Filter or Propeller, last year’s clever open air take by Iris Theatre or more classically inspired ones like the Rose Kingston’s Judi Dench-starring version from 2010. It is now the turn of Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre to revisit the show (though this was my first experience of it here) with a startlingly modern interpretation as it plays in rep with Ragtime, with which it shares much of its cast, over the summer.
First things first, this was a preview, the second I believe and due to the rain on Saturday, actually the first full run-through. Things begin with some pre-show business bustling about the trailer park set, reminiscent of the Dale Farm site with travellers squaring up to each other and to the encroaching building contractors, it sets the scene well but goes on a wee bit too long for too little effect in all honesty. But once the play proper starts with its arresting, punchy modernity, Matthew Dunster’s exceptionally well-balanced production clicks smoothly into gear, folding in classical references to this fresh new take and delving into some extremely dark places alongside the oft-times hilarious humour. Continue reading “Review: A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Open Air Theatre”
“Giving the nation a new syncopation”
Is there a greater opening number to a musical than the self-titled prologue to Ragtime? It surely has to be up there amongst the contenders as Stephen Flaherty’s music bursts open onto the stage at the Open Air Theatre in Regent’s Park in a blaze of syncopated rhythms and choreographic glory with one of those melodies destined to worm its way into your brain for days to come. It could be argued that the show never really reaches the same heights again, but it certainly tries hard.
Director Timothy Sheader’s high concept, supported by Jon Bausor’s eye-catching design, is of a contemporary society in the midst of the collapsed American Dream, looking back to its beginnings at the turn of the previous century in the stories taken from EL Doctorow’s novel and moulded into the book here by Terrence McNally. So in the ruins of an Obama-supporting billboard and the detritus of broken bits of Disney, McDonalds and Budweiser merchandise, the company enact the intertwining tales of 3 groups – African-Americans, WASPs and Latvian immigrants – at a moment in time where it seemed that great change was just on the horizon. Continue reading “Review: Ragtime, Open Air Theatre Regent’s Park”
“50 hard boiled eggs…in an hour”
A random fact about me is that I am terrible when it comes to having seen classic movies. It’s a constant source of amusement in pub conversations as people can’t quite believe the list of films I’ve never seen but for whatever reason, I’ve never really been particularly minded to watching them. Consequently I have a pile of unopened DVDs* that people keep giving me as presents or loans that are, honestly, on the list of things I will one day get round to watching.
This convoluted beginning should therefore present you with no surprise when I then say that I have never seen the film of Cool Hand Luke, a stage version of which has now started previewing in the Aldwych Theatre. Adapted for the stage by Emma Reeves, from the original novel by Donn Pearce, the story revolves around Luke Jackson, a WWII vet left unsupported on his return to the US and forced into desperate measures, soon ends up in a Florida prison camp. There, he soon becomes a legend with his fellow chain gang inmates with his nonchalant swagger, his impervious refusal to be broken by the guards and his constant prison escapes. Continue reading “Review: Cool Hand Luke, Aldwych”