Review: Ruthless! The Musical, Arts

Not even Tracie Bennett can save Ruthless! The Musical from itself

“Not a reason on Earth as far as I know
To write, mount and open a musical show”

Ruthless? Charging up to over £70 for a show at the Arts. Ruthless? Advertising yourselves as an all-female musical when you’ve a man in the cast. Ruthless? Putting said man above the title because he’s a talent show judge. Ruthless indeed. I didn’t mean to start off so grumpily for at times, Ruthless! The Musical is a riot of campy nonsense, your perfectly acceptable off-West-End fare. And with its kaleidoscope of nods to pretty much every example of the showbiz mom/bratty kid genre you can think of, you can see how its niche appeal might build up into cult status.

Richard Fitch’s production, the first major one in the UK, seems determined to achieve bigger things though and it doesn’t always come off. The story centres on strong-willed eight-year-old Tina Denmark who is determined to get the lead in her school play and egged on by a talent agent and a suspect family history, pursues that ambition mercilessly.     Continue reading “Review: Ruthless! The Musical, Arts”

2018 Laurence Olivier Awards nominations

An interesting set of nominations have been announced for the 2018 Laurence Olivier Awards. Perhaps predictably, the headline grabbers are Hamilton with their record 13 nominations, and The Ferryman which received 8. I’m pleased to see Follies and Angels in America represent a strong showing for the National with 10 and 6 respectively, and also lovely to see Everybody’s Talking About Jamie close behind with 5. Beyond delighted for The Revlon Girl too, my play of the year.

Naturally, not everything can get nominated and for me, it was most disappointing to see Barber Shop Chronicles miss out on any recognition. And with Hamilton crowding out the musicals categories, there was sadly no room for The Grinning Man, Romantics Anonymous and The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole (although I’m unsure of the Menier’s eligibility with regards to SOLT). And I think Victoria Hamilton (Albion). Philip Quast (Follies) and Louis Maskell and Julian Bleach (The Grinning Man)  are entitled to be a bit miffed.

How do you feel about these nominations? And what do you think should have been nominated instead?

Continue reading “2018 Laurence Olivier Awards nominations”

Round-up of the 2017 fosterIANs

2017 Theatre

Best Actress in a Play
Hattie Morahan/Kate O’Flynn/Adelle Leonce, Anatomy of a Suicide

Best Actress in a Musical
Janie Dee, Follies AND Josefina Gabrielle, A Little Night Music AND Josie Walker, Everybody’s Talking About Jamie

Best Actor in a Play
Ken Nwosu, An Octoroon

Best Actor in a Musical
Giles Terera, Hamilton

Best Supporting Actress in a Play 
Bríd Brennan, The Ferryman

Best Supporting Actress in a Musical
Tracie Bennett, Follies

Best Supporting Actor in a Play 
Fisayo Akinade, Barber Shop Chronicles

Best Supporting Actor in a Musical
Jason Pennycooke, Hamilton

And my top 10 plays of the year:
1. The Revlon Girl, Park
2. A Little Night Music, Watermill
3. Barber Shop Chronicles, National
4. Hamilton, Victoria Palace
5. Everybody’s Talking About Jamie, Crucible/Apollo
6. An Octoroon, Orange Tree
7. Follies, National Theatre
8. Romantics Anonymous, Sam Wanamaker Playhouse
9. Hamlet, Almeida
10. The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole Aged 13 ¾, Menier Chocolate Factory
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2017 Best Supporting Actress in a Play + in a Musical

Best Supporting Actress in a Play

Bríd Brennan, The Ferryman

Thinking about this most well-received of plays, it is the role of Aunt Maggie Faraway who lingers most in my mind, the elegiac beauty of her speeches an elegant way of folding in traditions of Irish storytelling and emphasising the deep bonds of family. Breathtaking work from Brennan.

Honourable mention: Kate Kennedy, Twelfth Night (Royal Exchange)
When done well, Olivia is one of my favourite Shakespearean roles and the statuesque Kennedy didn’t disappoint with a highly-sexed take on the character which embraced all the physical potential of her height.

Sheila Atim, Girl From the North Country
Laura Carmichael, Apologia
Romola Garai, Queen Anne
Lashana Lynch, a profoundly affectionate, passionate devotion to someone (-noun)
Kate O’Flynn, The Glass Menagerie

8-10
Susan Brown, Angels in America; Jessica Brown Findlay, Hamlet; Denise Gough, Angels in America

Best Supporting Actress in a Musical

Tracie Bennett, Follies

All I have to say is ‘I’m Still Here’. I’M STILL HERE!

Honourable mention: Rachel John, Hamilton
Only the tiniest of margins separated these two and it’s only really the fact that she’s not Renée Elise Goldsberry that held John back from the title.

Christine Allado, Hamilton
Julie Atherton, The Grinning Man
Sharon D Clarke, The Life
Joanna Riding, Romantics Anonymous
Lucie Shorthouse, Everybody’s Talking About Jamie


8-10
Nicola Hughes, Caroline or Change ; Cathy Read, Little Women; Sharon Sexton, Bat Out of Hell

2018 What’s On Stage Award nominations

 

It’s that time of year again and getting in early with the announcement of their nominees is What’s on Stage. Voted for by the public, they’re often skewed a little towards the bigger ‘names’ but this year’s set of nominations are relatively controversy-free. There’s something a little odd about the way that regional theatre has its own separate category but its actors appear in the main ones – I feel like regional theatre productions should either be considered entirely in or out, rather than this halfway house.

Naturally, big shows rule the roost – 42nd Street and Bat out of Hell lead the lists with 8 nominations apiece – and they’ve even found a way to shoehorn in Hamilton by nominating it for the two new categories of Best Cast Recording (which somehow includes Les Mis??) and Best Show Poster, thus being able to get round it not actually being open yet and grabbing the requisite headlines once it does, inevitably, win.

 
 
BEST ACTOR IN A PLAY SPONSORED BY RADISSON BLU EDWARDIAN
Andrew Garfield, Angels in America
Andrew Scott, Hamlet
Bryan Cranston, Network
David Tennant, Don Juan in Soho
Martin Freeman, Labour of Love

BEST ACTRESS IN A PLAY
Eve Best, Love in Idleness
Imelda Staunton, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
Olivia Colman, Mosquitoes
Natalie Dormer, Venus in Fur
Tamsin Greig, Labour of Love Continue reading “2018 What’s On Stage Award nominations”

Re-review: Follies, National Theatre

“Darling, shall we dance?”
Not too much more to say about Follies that I didn’t cover last time, suffice to say it’s just such a luxuriously fantastic show and I think I could watch it over and over! The head-dresses! Everything Janie Dee does! The orchestra! How no-one seems to be falling down that staircase! The staging! The shade of mint green in Loveland! The Staunton’s icy bitterness in ‘Losing My Mind’! The amount that Josephine Barstow has now made me cry, twice! The Quast! Just get booking now, while you still can.

Running time: 2 hours 20 minutes (without interval)
Booking until 3rd January, best availability from 6th November

Follies will be broadcast by NT Live to cinemas in the UK and internationally on Thursday 16 November.

Review: Follies, National Theatre

“All things beautiful must die”

Well this is what we have a National Theatre for. For Vicki Mortimer’s set design that both stretches towards the heights of the Olivier and lingers some 30 years back in the past; for the extraordinary detail and feathered delights of the costumes; for the lush sound of an orchestra of 21 under Nigel Lilley’s musical direction; for a production that revels in the exuberance and experience of its cast of 37. And all for what? For a musical that, despite its iconic status in the theatre bubble, is more than likely to raise a ‘huh?’ from the general public (at least from the sampling in my office!).
Stephen Sondheim (music and lyrics) and James Goldman’s (book) Follies is a show that has a long history of being tinkered with and more often than not, is as likely to be found in a concert presentation (as in its last London appearance at the Royal Albert Hall) as it is fully staged. Which only makes Dominic Cooke’s production here all the more attractive, not just for aficionados but for the casual theatregoer too. Using the original book with just a smattering of small changes, this is musical theatre close to its most luxurious, and a bittersweetly life-affirming thrill to watch.
Follies is set in the decrepit surroundings of the Weismann Theatre in 1971. Scheduled to be demolished the very next day, a party is being held for the performers who once graced its stages but as present company reunite and reminisce over champagne, ghosts of the past haunt their every move. And what Cooke does is to remind us that we’re all surrounded by memories, the might-have-beens and the shoulda-coulda-wouldas, it’s how we deal with them that differentiates us. And for long-suffering couples Buddy and Sally, Phyllis and Ben, it’s almost too much. 
The doubling device is achingly beautiful and threaded so assuredly into the production it seems a no-brainer. So as the 11 showgirls being celebrated make their entrance in ‘Beautiful Girls’ in the present day, we also see their past selves mirroring their movements, making their own arrivals in their own time. The glorious tap routines and kickline of ‘Who’s That Woman’ sees 7 of them hoofing it magnificently with their respective young’uns. And in the case of Josephine Barstow’s Heidi, there’s emotional interaction, a duet (with Alison Langer) on a simply exquisite ‘One More Kiss’, a gorgeous making of peace with the past.
For our central quartet though, things are much more tangled. Past and present frequently collide as Sally’s long-held passion for Ben bursts free with shattering consequences for all concerned, cutting through any notions of faded showbiz grandeur. Imelda Staunton invests her contained ‘Losing My Mind’ with so much psychological damage it breaks the heart, Philip Quast’s Ben is no less shattering as his swaggering Ben steadily loses his composure, and Janie Dee (getting to show off how great a dancer she is) is dry as a bone throughout and cold as ice in a brilliantly furious ‘Could I Leave You?’.
I could go on listing the things I loved – Tracie Bennett’s stunning reinterpretation of ‘I’m Still Here’, Di Botcher’s adorable take on ‘Broadway Baby’, Fred Haig, Adam Rhys-Charles, Zizi Strallen and Alex Young as the younger quartet…but I’ll stop and encourage you to get booking while you still can. There are still some slight weaknesses inherent in Follies itself – its sprawling dramatis personae some of whom we barely meet, the leap of faith you have to take as the show ruptures into its final third – but played without an interval as it is here by Cooke, you can’t help but be carried along a gorgeous wave of marabou, melancholy and musical theatre at its best. 
Running time: 2 hours 20 minutes (without interval)
Photos: Johan Persson
Booking until 3rd January, best availability from 6th November
Follies will be broadcast by NT Live to cinemas in the UK and internationally on Thursday 16 November.

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New season at the NT: June 2017 to January 2018

Lots of exciting news in the National’s new season announcement, taking us up to January 2018, rather putting the lie to the cries of “crisis” that pop up far too easily when a less-than-well-received show (or two) takes up residency there.

Highlights for me include the perfection of this production pic:

The return of Barber Shop Chronicles:
Justine Mitchell and Sam Troughton appearing in a thing together (this may or may not be their feet:
And of course the Ivo van Hove/Lee Hall/Bryan Cranston amazefest that will be Network (which will have some onstage seating!):

Olivier Theatre

Follies
Book by James Goldman
Music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim
Previews from 22 August
Tracie Bennett, Janie Dee and Imelda Staunton play the magnificent Follies in Stephen Sondheim’s classic musical. Featuring a cast of 37 and an orchestra of 21, the production is directed by Dominic Cooke (Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom).

Saint George and the Dragon
A new play by Rory Mullarkey
Previews from 4 October
John Heffernan plays Saint George; the cast also includes Paul Brennen, Richard Goulding, Tamzin Griffin, Conor Neaves, Amaka Okafor, Daniel Ryan and Grace Saif. Directed by Lyndsey Turner (Chimerica, Light Shining in Buckinghamshire). Hundreds of Travelex tickets at £15 available per performance.

Amadeus
by Peter Shaffer
Previews from 11 January
Following a sell-out run last year, Amadeus returns to the Olivier in 2018. Michael Longhurst’s acclaimed production of Peter Shaffer’s iconic play features live orchestral accompaniment by Southbank Sinfonia. Adam Gillen and Lucian Msamati reprise the roles of Mozart and Salieri. Further casting to be announced.

Lyttelton Theatre

Queer Theatre: LGBT+ Stories and Social Change
in partnership with Pride in London
To mark 50 years since the partial decriminalisation of homosexuality in England and Wales, the NT looks at how theatre has charted the LGBT+ experience. Events include a debate on LGBT+ rights, talks on Queer Stages, Trans Culture and Drag as an Art Form, and film screenings of Paris was a Woman, Bette Bourne: It Goes with the Shoes and Tangerine. The series features rehearsed readings in the Lyttelton Theatre with full casting to be announced. Post show talks will follow each of the readings.
Neaptide by Sarah Daniels, directed by Sarah Frankcom | Thu 6 July, 7.30pm
Wig Out! written and directed by Tarell Alvin McCraney | Fri 7 July, 7.30pm
Certain Young Men written and directed by Peter Gill | Sat 8 July, 7.30pm
Bent by Martin Sherman, directed by Stephen Daldry | Sun 9 July, 2.30pm
The Drag by Mae West, directed by Polly Stenham | Mon 10 July, 7.30pm

Oslo
a new play by J.T. Rogers
The Lincoln Center Theater production
Previews from 5 September
Bartlett Sher’s Tony Award-winning production of this new play by J.T. Rogers comes to the National Theatre following a sell-out run in New York. It then transfers to the Harold Pinter Theatre in the West End from 30 September. Cast to be announced.

Jane Eyre
based on the novel by Charlotte Brontë
devised by the original company
a co-production with Bristol Old Vic
Previews from 26 September
Following a critically-acclaimed season at the National Theatre and a 21 city UK tour, Jane Eyre returns this September. This innovative reimagining of Charlotte Brontë’s masterpiece is a collaboration between the National Theatre and Bristol Old Vic and is directed by Sally Cookson.

Network
adapted by Lee Hall
based on the Paddy Chayefsky film
Previews from 4 November
The iconic film by Paddy Chayefsky won four Academy Awards in 1976. Now, Lee Hall (Billy Elliot, Our Ladies of Perpetual Succour) and director Ivo van Hove (Hedda Gabler) bring his masterwork to the stage for the first time, with Bryan Cranston making his UK stage debut in the role of Howard Beale.

Pinocchio
by Dennis Kelly
With songs and score from the Walt Disney film by Leigh Harline, Ned Washington and Paul J Smith
adapted by Martin Lowe
Previews from 1 December
For the first time on stage, featuring unforgettable music and songs from the Walt Disney film including ‘I’ve Got No Strings’, ‘Give a Little Whistle’ and ‘When You Wish upon a Star’ in dazzling new arrangements, Pinocchio comes to life as never before. This spectacular new production brings together the director of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child and the writer of Matilda the Musical.

Half-price tickets for under-18s are available for all performances (excluding £15 tickets). Additional family tickets for the run will be released in a ballot closer to the performance dates.

Cast includes Joe Idris-Roberts (Pinocchio), Audrey Brisson (Jiminy Cricket), Annette McLaughlin (Blue Lady), David Langham (The Fox), David Kirkbride (Coachman), Dawn Sievewright (Lampy), Chris Jarman (Stromboli) together with Stuart Angell, Trieve Blackwood-Cambridge, Stephanie Bron, James Charlton, Rebecca Jayne-Davies, Sarah Kameela Impey, Anabel Kutay, Michael Lin, Jack North, Clemmie Sveaas, Michael Taibi,Scarlet Wilderink and Jack Wolfe.

Dorfman Theatre

Mosquitoes
by Lucy Kirkwood
Previews from 18 July, continuing in repertoire until 28 September
Mosquitoes by Lucy Kirkwood will have its world premiere in the Dorfman Theatre in July. Rufus Norris will direct this new play about families and particle physics with Olivia Williams in the role of Alice and Olivia Colman as her sister Jenny. Cast also includes: Amanda Boxer, Cait Davis, Vanessa Emme, Yoli Fuller, Paul Hilton, Joseph Quinn and Sofia Stuart.

The Majority
a new play by Rob Drummond
Previews from 11 August
Following the acclaimed run of Bullet Catch in The Shed, Rob Drummond returns to the National with a new one-man show about democracy, directed by David Overend. Originally co-commissioned with The Arches, Glasgow.

Beginning
a new play by David Eldridge
Polly Findlay directs this new play by David Eldridge (Market Boy, Under the Blue Sky, In Basildon). Tender and funny, it’s an intimate look at the first fragile moments of risking your heart and taking a chance. Justine Mitchell plays Laura, Sam Troughton plays Danny.

Barber Shop Chronicles
by Inua Ellams
a co-production with Fuel and West Yorkshire Playhouse
Opens in November
Following a sell-out run at the Dorfman this summer, Inua Ellams’ play about stories from barber shops across the globe returns to the National Theatre in November. Tickets go on sale on the National Theatre website from 1pm on Monday 19 June. Casting for November to be confirmed in due course.

National Theatre Live

Saloméa radical retelling of the Biblical story of one young woman’s political awakening. Written and directed by Yaël Farber.
Broadcast live from the NT on Thursday 22 June.

Angels in America
Marianne Elliott’s new production of Tony Kushner’s Angels in America will be broadcast live from the NT in two parts. Part 1: Millennium Approaches on Thursday 20 July and Part 2: Perestroika on Thursday 27 July.

Yerma
Billie Piper plays Yerma as a woman driven to the unthinkable by her desperate desire to have a child. Simon Stone creates a radical production of Lorcha’s achingly powerful masterpiece. Broadcast live from the Young Vic on Thursday 31 August (international screenings from 21 September).

Young Marx
Rory Kinnear plays Marx and Oliver Chris, Engels, in this new comedy about Marx’s time as a 32-year-old revolutionary in 1850 London. Written by Richard Bean and Clive Coleman and directed by Nicholas Hytner. Broadcast live from The Bridge Theatre on 7 December.

Julius Caesar
Ben Whishaw and Michelle Fairley play Brutus and Cassius, leaders of the coup, David Calder plays Caesar and David Morrissey is Mark Antony, who brings Rome back under control after the conspirators’ defeat in this production of Shakespeare’s classic. Directed by Nicholas Hytner. Broadcast live from The Bridge Theatre on 22 March 2018.

Album Review: Wit and Whimsy – Songs by Alexander S Bermange

“If only I were famous from the telly”
 
Across its two discs and twenty-three tracks, there’s an awful lot of whimsy to Alexander S Bermange’s latest compilation album Wit and Whimsy and not quite enough wit to sustain it. Bermange is a composer who has had as much success writing comic songs for radio as he has in straight-up musical theatre (the two shows of his that I’ve seen – The Route to Happiness and Thirteen Days were both part of festivals).
 
That said, he has an impressive contacts list as evidenced by the range of people who have joined in on the action here – Laura Pitt-Pulford, Tracie Bennett, David Bedella, Cassidy Janson, Emma Williams, even Christopher Biggins. And with a guest list of this quality, naturally there are moments that shine here.

Continue reading “Album Review: Wit and Whimsy – Songs by Alexander S Bermange”

CD 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.

Songs that exploded onstage, like the climactic ‘If Mountains Were Easy To Climb’ just don’t pop in the same way despite Emma Williams and Tracie Bennett’s sterling vocals; the comedy of the ‘Lord Chamberlain’s Song’ feels laboured and overlong; even the charm of ‘Anything But Young’ lacks the vaudevillean dazzle that Bennett and Ian Bartholomew so memorably radiated.

Consequently, it’s a rather unaffecting listen, which is an unexpected disappointment. But there’s no doubting its struggles in the world of modern musical theatre, as the lack of sophistication in Don Black’s lyrics is exposed alongside the lack of any wow factor to the music. A real turn-around from the theatre then but sometimes that’s just the way it is.