Review: Sweet Charity, Royal Exchange

“Life will be frozen peaches and cream”

 
I’ve seen a couple of comments questioning whether Sweet Charity is an appropriate choice for the Royal Exchange’s festive musical – I assume they avoided last year’s Into the Woods and the year before’s Little Shop of Horrors, neither show hardly known for their jazz hands and perma-smiles. For the joy of great musical theatre, of any theatre, is when it can find shades of darkness and light in its storytelling, finding a way to reflect the richness of life in its downs as well as its ups.

Director Derek Bond (whose Little Shop… remains a stunning high point) acknowledges all of the problems inherent in Neil Simon, Cy Coleman and Dorothy Fields’ tale of a dancer, the titular Charity Hope Valentine, and her repeated, desperate lack of luck in her romantic life and through his interpretation and the directness of Aletta Collins’ choreography, also takes it seriously. Anchored by a properly star-making and heart-breaking performance from Kaisa Hammarlund, it just works. Continue reading “Review: Sweet Charity, Royal Exchange”

CD Review: Lord of the Rings (2008 Original London Production)

“Eä, Arda, Ainulindalë.
Aratar, Maiar, Rána, Nénar”

Believe it or not, there was a time when I lived in London and I only saw a handful of shows a month, actually making considered decisions about what I wanted to see. And I have to say the musical of Lord of the Rings did not make the cut (obvs I wasn’t aware of who Rosalie Craig was at that point, or else I would have gone!). The show lasted just over a year at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane and probably lost a shit-ton of money (it allegedly cost £12 million to make) but we do have a cast recording to remember it by.
 
And what a rather odd-sounding show it is, little surprise really when you consider that producer Kevin Wallace brought on three different composers to complement the book and lyrics by Matthew Warchus and Shaun McKenna. So Bollywood supremo A. R. Rahman, Finnish folk group Värttinä and Lloyd Webber-wannabe Christopher Nightingale all contributed to an altogether epic score, but one which sprawls in an unwieldly manner as these three strands struggle to cohere into an effective whole.

Continue reading “CD Review: Lord of the Rings (2008 Original London Production)”

Review: Little Shop of Horrors, Royal Exchange

“That thing went bang, kaboom. And he’s havin’ some fun now”

There are shows I love and then there are shows I LOVE and Little Shop of Horrors most definitely falls into that latter category. I fell for its undeniable charms when I was 11 or 12 I think, when my mum was involved in her school production of it, letting me wander backstage, and the MD, who was also my piano teacher, snuck out a copy of Alan Menken’s most tuneful of scores to enliven my lessons for a good few weeks. Combined with the cult classic that is the movie version, I was utterly hooked and have remained so ever since. So I was most delighted to see the Royal Exchange announcing it as their festive fare and with the ever-exciting Derek Bond directing, who in recent years has delivered a bewitching As You Like It, the hugely under-rated Many Moons and Lost in Yonkers, through which I cried pretty much non-stop.

The gloriously rich vocal harmonies of Ibinabo Jack, Ellena Vincent and Joelle Moses as Chiffon, Crystal and Ronnette, the girl-group Greek chorus who doo-wop their premonitions of doom, are an ever-present and magnificent hook into the action and never more so than in the stellar one-two that opens the show. ‘Little Shop of Horrors’ is a stone-cold classic theme tune with its shang-a-langs and throaty comma comma commas but ‘Skid Row’ – one of my all-time favourite songs from a musical, I should add – blooms into resplendent life, benefitting from a slightly slowed tempo and some sympatico choreography to really nail the air of quiet desperation that lies at the song’s heart as we’re introduced to this classic “boy-meets-girl-feeds-plant-her-boyfriend-gets-famous-kills-boss-sacrifices-girl-and-dies” story. Oh yeah, spoiler alert 😉 Continue reading “Review: Little Shop of Horrors, Royal Exchange”

Review: Sweeney Todd, West Yorkshire Playhouse

“You shouldn’t harm nobody”

It is always good to hear that major UK theatres are co-producing shows, especially with the trans-Pennine co-operation between the West Yorkshire Playhouse and the Royal Exchange on this production of Sweeney Todd – The Demon Barber of Fleet Street. I couldn’t help but wonder though how the show will make the leap from Leeds to Manchester, from the vast expanse of the Quarry to the intimacy of being in-the-round. Director James Brining has form though, this adaptation was first mounted at the Dundee Rep (and will undergo an additional transformation next year to fill the Wales Millennium Centre) and as a debut for this newly installed Artistic Director, it does feel like a canny choice.

He relocates Sondheim’s musical to the early Thatcher years, arguing her particular brand of socially transformative politics gave rise to as desperate a despondency as is familiar to us from Dickens. But what moving it out of its original Victorian context to something altogether more modern really achieves is to create an altered, and more chilling, sense of horror. It becomes a scarier psychodrama which is light on laughs and somehow more realistic as a serial killer thriller, although one does have to suspend a little disbelief when it comes to some of the finer points of transportation. Continue reading “Review: Sweeney Todd, West Yorkshire Playhouse”

Review: Wonderful Town, Milton Keynes Theatre

“Here we live, here we love, this is the place for self-expression”

Providing a much needed, strong reminder that large-scale musical revivals can come from north of the Watford Gap as well as below, Wonderful Town marked a major collaboration between Manchester’s Royal Exchange Theatre, The Hallé Orchestra and The Lowry on this Leonard Bernstein show, which I have to admit to never having heard of before. As many a musical that has gone before and come after it, it is gossamer-light in plot but this is more than made up for with a richly evocative score, some nifty design and best of all, sparkling choreography from Andrew Wright who is now consistently making the case to be considered one of the best choreographers working in the country.

Connie Fisher and Lucy Van Gasse play Ruth and Eileen Sherwood, sisters from Ohio who are determined to escape their boring lives and move to New York City. Of course, on arriving in the Big Apple, following their dream ain’t quite as easy as it seems but in their quest for success, romance and a free meal or two, they meet and charm a wide range of colourful new friends and neighbours who help them through their trials. And matching the creative and production expertise on hand, director Braham Murray assembled a cracking ensemble which included particular favourites around these parts (albeit for different reasons) Michael Xavier and Tiffany Graves. Continue reading “Review: Wonderful Town, Milton Keynes Theatre”

DVD Review: The Winter’s Tale (RSC at the Barbican, 1998)

“Verily, I speak it in the freedom of my knowledge”

It is no surprise to anyone who reads this blog that any mention of Alexandra Gilbreath – recent winner of the Best Supporting Actress in a Play fosterIAN to be sure – sends me all a quiver. So when someone told me about this production of The Winter’s Tale which features not only her as Hermione but also has Nancy Carroll lurking in the ensemble, I was most keen to watch it. Plus there’s the small matter of Antony Sher as Leontes, an actor whom I am always intrigued to see more of as I’ve have actually had little experience of him as a performer.

An RSC production from 1998, this was recorded at the Barbican and so as a straight filming of the stage show, it is free from the kind of directorial innovation that blighted (IMHO) the versions of A Midsummer Night’s Dream and The Tempest also covered this weekend. Instead, we get the theatrical experience minus the live thrill but with the added bonus of close up work. And it is a great bonus here. Sher does so much acting with his eyes as a paranoiac Leontes, mentally damaged as suggested by a prologue and incapable of not seeing the dark shadows in the corner of the room. The way his suspicions are aroused by Polixenes’ attentiveness to his wife is brilliantly done as she is actually suffering from pregnancy pain but Leontes misses the crucial moments and all too easily lets the darkness consume him. Continue reading “DVD Review: The Winter’s Tale (RSC at the Barbican, 1998)”

CD Review: My Fair Lady Original 2001 London Cast

“An average man am I, of no eccentric whim”

Unless you can’t buying all sorts of theatrical related goodies in charity shops, I have few eccentric whims myself, and one such shop in Wigan surrendered a veritable treasure trove of goodies, including the soundtrack to the National Theatre’s production of My Fair Lady. I wasn’t living in the country at the time, nor obsessed with theatre for that matter, but I was still aware of the travails of erstwhile leading lady Martine McCutcheon, who managed incredibly to still win an Olivier Award despite managing fewer performances that her understudy in the original NT run.

Lerner and Loewe’s classic is another of those shows that I’ve never actually seen on stage myself, and so I have to admit that this CD didn’t really catch my attention whilst listening to it, not that it wasn’t good but rather that I felt disengaged from it. Without having seen this production either at the NT or the Theatre Royal Drury Lane to where it transferred, there was nothing to relate it back to which is often the joy of official cast recordings of classic shows. Instead, one becomes a little too aware of the differences without the context in which they were made. Continue reading “CD Review: My Fair Lady Original 2001 London Cast”

Review: Guys and Dolls, Piccadilly

Though the big draw for this Donmar production of Broadway classic Guys and Dolls in the West End was Ewan McGregor, I was actually much more excited to see Jane Krakowski on stage. As the ditzy receptionist Elaine in Ally McBeal, she frequently stole the show for me and having displayed her vocal talents on the TV too, I was very much excited to see her. I hadn’t actually seen the show (or the film for that matter) before but it really was one of those where I discovered that I knew far more of the songs than I realised.

Set in 1950s New York, Nathan Detroit is an organiser of gambling tournaments whose long-suffering showgirl fiancée Miss Adelaide is determined to finally get him up the aisle. Sky Masterton is a gambler who is bet that he can’t get a woman of Detroit’s choosing to have dinner with him in Havana, but when he chooses missionary Sarah Brown, the unexpected happens for all of them. But the show is probably best known for Frank Loesser’s songs, a genuinely classic score full of amazing numbers. Continue reading “Review: Guys and Dolls, Piccadilly”