Review: Chess, London Coliseum

Nobody’s on nobody’s side – an all-star cast can’t save this game of Chess from itself, for me at least

“From square one I’ll be watching all sixty-four”

It’s taken over 30 years for Chess to return to the West End (though it was seen at the Union in 2013) and though it has a huge amount of resource thrown at it in Laurence Connor’s production for English National Opera, it doesn’t necessarily feel worth the wait. An 80’s mega-musical through and through with an intermittently cracking score from ABBA’s Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus, Richard Nelson’s book hasn’t aged particularly well and bears the hallmarks of the  substantial tinkering it has had at every opportunity.

It’s not too hard to see why it has needed the tinkering. The mix of Cold War politics told through the prism of rival US and Soviet chess Grandmasters, love triangles and power ballads is a tricky one to get right and part of the problem seems to be just how seriously to take it all. On the one hand, the chess matches are backgrounded with montages of the real-life tensions of the 80s; on the other, scenes that take us through the various locations of the tournaments are a cringeworthy riot of cultural stereotyping that revel in their utter kitsch. Continue reading “Review: Chess, London Coliseum”

Review: An American in Paris, Dominion

“Who could ask for anything more”

True to its name, An American in Paris premiered in 2014 at the Théâtre du Châtelet in the French capital to ecstatic reviews before transferring to the Palace Theatre on Broadway for another well-received (and Tony-winning) run there. It now rocks up at the newly refurbished Dominion Theatre, just ahead of another huge dance-heavy Broadway musical in 42nd Street, producers clearly banking on audiences wanting distraction from the realities of the outside world.

And that it certainly provides – director and choreographer Christopher Wheeldon’s reinvention of the 1951 film (new book by Craig Lucas) is an absolute feast for the eyes and ears. George and Ira Gershwin’s score is beyond classic (‘I Got Rhythm’, ”S Wonderful’, ‘They Can’t Take That Away from Me’ et al) and sounds luscious in Rob Fisher’s new arrangements musically directed by John Rigby, and Bob Crowley’s set and costumes look divine in all their old-school charm. Continue reading “Review: An American in Paris, Dominion”

Album Review: Mrs Henderson Presents (Original London Cast Recording)

 

“We’ll never close…”

I was sad to see Mrs Henderson Presents close prematurely in the West End, having enjoyed it both there and in its first run at the Theatre Royal Bath, but pleased that we at least had a cast recording to remember the show by. I have to say though, that this was one of those occasions where just listening to the musical failed to capture what made it work on stage. 

The period charms of George Fenton and Simon Chamberlain’s pastiche-laden score feel rather old-fashioned on record – not simply in the age that they are trying to evoke but in its very nature. Without the visual, it soon becomes clear that there isn’t a huge amount of narrative drive in the songs, they set the mood of the piece well but don’t tell much of a story on their own. Continue reading “Album Review: Mrs Henderson Presents (Original London Cast Recording)”

Re-review: Mrs Henderson Presents, Noël Coward

“Everyone loves a bit of filth” 

I really enjoyed Mrs Henderson Presents when I saw it last year in Bath, it came 13th out of all the shows I saw in 2015, so I was most delighted to hear that it would be transferring into the West End. It managed the journey with its main cast almost entirely intact, Tracie Bennett, Ian Bartholomew and Emma Williams all there, just Mark Hadfield dipping out to (re)join The Painkiller and replaced by Jamie Foreman, and its opening at the Noël Coward Theatre has been largely very well received. 

And second time around, it pleased me just as much as the first. Terry Johnson’s direction of this ineffably British show (as with Andy Capp, playing the spoons is up there with the Union Jack) and from my memory, I don’t think that much has significantly changed (though I’ve seen a lot in the intervening 7 months…). That means that the shonky narrator/compere role is still there, which still wears thin quickly, but it also means that its generosity of spirit and warmth of heart is very much present.  Continue reading “Re-review: Mrs Henderson Presents, Noël Coward”

Review: Mrs Henderson Presents, Theatre Royal Bath

“Where’s that damn woman?”

That woman is of course Laura Henderson, a rich widow who in 1937 decides to save the Windmill Theatre from closure and together with Jewish entrepreneur Vivian Van Damm, introduces a continuous variety revue called Revudeville. And seeking to keep their nose ahead of their competitors, nudity is added to the bill, a la Moulin Rouge though unprecedented in the UK, but the censorship battles with the Lord Chamberlain’s office pales into insignificance once war breaks out and the theatre becomes a landmark, refusing to close even as London is battered by the Blitz. 

Terry Johnson’s book for Mrs Henderson Presents wisely adapts Martin Sherman’s screenplay from the film of the same name to create a more tightly encapsulated world centred on the backstage lives of the theatre folk. It dives straight into the main story from the outset and switches things about just enough to keep anyone familiar with the film on their toes. And George Fenton and Simon Chamberlain’s score dances around the period beautifully, pastiche songs evoking the 30s spirit perfectly with a smattering of vaudevillean fun here and driving musical theatre anthems there, always remaining tuneful.  Continue reading “Review: Mrs Henderson Presents, Theatre Royal Bath”

Review: Follies in Concert, Royal Albert Hall

“Flawless charmers
Every one”

An early birthday from my Aunty Jean saw me get to revisit those wonderfully swiveling seats at the Royal Albert Hall for the matinée of Follies in Concert, a semi-staged version of the Sondheim show directed by Craig Revel-Horwood for just two performances with an all-star cast, featuring none other than Diane Lockhart herself, Christine Baranski. Having never seen the show before, I have nothing to compare it too but after hearing the score played by the City of London Philharmonic Orchestra and conducted by the inimitable Gareth Valentine, I suspect I may never need to hear another version! 

The set-up of a reunion concert for an old theatrical troupe as per James Goldman’s book works wonders for the show and especially this production. There seemed to be real joy and appreciation amongst the company as they watched their colleagues each take their turn to reprise their former glories – Anita Harris and Roy Hudd’s light-hearted skip through ‘Rain on the Roof’, Stefanie Powers’ glamorous swish through ‘Ah, Paris!’, Lorna Luft’s quirky take on ’Broadway Baby’, Betty Buckley raising the roof with a soaring ‘I’m Still Here’ – whether the onlookers were acting or not, seeing them give each turn hugs, kisses and standing ovations felt real. Continue reading “Review: Follies in Concert, Royal Albert Hall”