Review: Romance Romance, Above the Stag

Caught in a bad romance, a gayed-up take on Romance Romance does nothing for me at the Above the Stag theatre

“There are days he blows his fuse now 
And there are nights he’s just not there”

Romance Romance was nominated for 5 Tonys in 1988 and performance nods aside, you have to wonder what the standard of the other nominees was (actually, they included The Phantom of the Opera and Into the Woods…!) as its charms really rather eluded me. 

Steven Dexter’s production reframes Barry Harman’s book and lyrics into a gay context which certainly has interest. But the disparity of the two acts, based respectively on Arthur Schnitzler’s The Little Comedy and Jules Renard’s Le Pain de Ménage, means it is a curiously disengaging watch. Continue reading “Review: Romance Romance, Above the Stag”

Review: Young Frankenstein, Garrick

If gay jokes and boob jokes and dick jokes are your thing, then Young Frankenstein is for you. Not for me though, not at all. 

“Though your genitalia
Has been known to fail ya
You can bet your ass on the brain”

It’s alive…barely. Mel Brooks’ Young Frankenstein staggers into the West End after some more time on the operating table since its 2007 Broadway opening (2 new songs are among the changes made) and a short run in Newcastle to tighten the bolts. But for a piece of new musical theatre, it is so desperately old-fashioned that you half expect Russ Abbot and Bella Emberg to pop up and do a turn.

Given that Brooks is now over 90 and that the film on which it is based dates from 1974, it is perhaps little surprise that it feels dated. But also given director/choreographer Susan Stroman’s close collaborative relationship with him, the opportunity to be necessarily brutal about what works and what doesn’t feels to have been lost, lightning really hasn’t struck twice for the creators of The ProducersContinue reading “Review: Young Frankenstein, Garrick”

Album Review: Love Never Dies (2010 Concept Album)

“The world is hard, the world is mean

It’s hard to keep your conscience clean”

I hadn’t listened to Love Never Dies since seeing its very first preview (oh how we laughed when ALW ran furious from the stalls when the set broke down) and having popped on the concept album that was released in tandem, I was soon reminded why. The not-a-sequel to Phantom of the Opera too often feels like a lazy retread of familiar ground, demonstrating zero musical progression and revealing a stagnation where there once was innovation.

The Coney Island setting undercuts any attempt to get close to the gothic horror of the opera house, the ‘freak show’ elements are desperately tame there. The swerves into rock are ill-advised in the extreme. Lyrically, there’s no ingenuity here at all, the words play second fiddle to the music to their peril And above all, the interpolation of themes from Phantom serve as a constant reminder of what this is not, and also the ultimate folly of the enterprise. Continue reading “Album Review: Love Never Dies (2010 Concept Album)”

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: Life of the Party, Menier Chocolate Factory

“I planned a well-rendered, one-gendered lesbian love story”

You’d be forgiven for not being familiar with Andrew Lippa, whose work is being celebrated at the Menier Chocolate Factory with a vivacious show that cherry-picks from his career so far. Although born in Leeds, his successes have been over the Atlantic with shows like The Addams Family, Big Fish and The Wild Party which have helped him to build a considerable, if niche, audience. With the help of some classy West End friends though, this sparkling revue could well encourage a further groundswell of popular support in the UK and get Lippa’s work produced here more often. 

In the meantime, the concert format works well here with The Life of the Party. Lippa is a born raconteur and from his piano, he is a hugely entertaining presence full of gossipy tidbits but more importantly, brimming with enthusiasm for the world of musical theatre and his continued place in it. Talking about the songs and shows that have made up his oeuvre, there is no mistaking his sheer love for what he does and that brings something extraordinary to the material, an intensity that might not even been matched when the songs are being performed in their natural context within the shows. Continue reading “Review: Life of the Party, Menier Chocolate Factory”

2013 Laurence Olivier Awards nominations

Best New Play 
Constellations by Nick Payne – Duke of York’s Theatre
The Audience by Peter Morgan – Gielgud
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Simon Stephens, adapted by Mark Haddon – National Theatre Cottesloe / Apollo
This House by James Graham – National Theatre Cottesloe / Olivier

Best New Musical
Loserville – Garrick
Soul Sister – Savoy
The Bodyguard – Adelphi
Top Hat – Aldwych

Best Revival 
Long Day’s Journey into Night – Apollo
Macbeth – Trafalgar Studios
Old Times – Harold Pinter
Twelfth Night – Globe / Apollo Continue reading “2013 Laurence Olivier Awards nominations”

Review: Top Hat, Aldwych

“You’ll declare it’s simply topping to be there”

On the face of it, Top Hat should have been a rip-roaring extravaganza of a show that tapped and waltzed and strutted its way right into my affections, featuring some of my favourite things like a healthy selection of classic songs from the Irving Berlin back catalogue and the kind of choreography from Bill Deamer that genuinely makes me wonder if it isn’t too late to find my inner Billy Elliot (don’t worry, I know it is…). But at this Tuesday matinée, I found it was particularly topping to be there and I was sadly left a little underwhelmed by the whole shebang.

It seems perverse to comment on the plot of a musical being far-fetched, especially one based on an old-school Broadway film as this is, but the book here – adapted by director Matthew White and Howard Jacques – is criminally lame. The story is a whole lot of silliness, which is fine – girl complains about guy dancing in the room above her, guy flirts with girl, girl gets cold feet when she think s guy is married to her best friend. Oh, and the guy is a leading Broadway star about to open a show. Where the problem lies is in the incredibly dated humour, which one can just about explain away as a period piece, but which just sags and droops with lame joke after overblown stereotype which was lapped up all too easily by this audience, of whom I was the youngest member by quite some margin.  Continue reading “Review: Top Hat, Aldwych”

CD Review: Act One – Songs from the musicals of Alexander S Bermange

“Every moment’s one to treasure”

Composers who put together albums of their songs, especially if they are up and coming talent who haven’t necessarily had a breakthrough show yet, are often in something of a bind. Do you go for as diverse a selection of your material as you can find or do you concentrate on showcasing your strengths – both approaches have their merits and their disadvantages and I don’t personally think there is any easy, or right answer. Act One – Songs from the musicals of Alexander S Bermange is probably closer to the latter option and sure enough, it has its strengths and its weaknesses.

Bermange has quite a list of credits to his name but has arguably yet to really mark his mark on the London scene. I only really became aware of him recently when his show Thirteen Days had a small run as part of this year’s Arcola’s Grimeborn Festival. As a musical treatment of the Cuban missile crisis, it was a work of mixed qualities, not always entirely successful but one which equally showed intriguing promise, not least in the firmly old-school manner of rousing song-writing. And that is what comes across most clearly in this collection, which bypasses the post-Sondheim school to cleave closer to the likes of Schwartz and balladeer. Oh, and it features a simply sensational cast of sheer quality. Continue reading “CD Review: Act One – Songs from the musicals of Alexander S Bermange”