Not-a-re-review: Hamilton, Victoria Palace

“The plan is to fan this spark into a flame”

It’s not been a hot minute since I last saw Hamilton so just take a look at my original review for the deets.

Running time: 2 hours 35 minutes (with interval)
Booking note – keep your eyes open for returns, of which there have been quite a few.  And check your browsers, the Ticketmaster site is most temperamental with the likes of Opera, Firefox and Chrome in my experience, Microsoft’s Edge has been most reliable for me

 

Review: Hamilton, Victoria Palace

It’s here! Hamilton finally arrives in the West End and lights up the newly refurbished Victoria Palace Theatre for the ages

“A bunch of revolutionary manumission abolitionists, 

Give me a position, show me where the ammunition is”

Change doesn’t just happen, it has to be ushered in by visionaries determined to shake up the status quo to allow the rest of us to shuffle in in their wake. This is true of many things but particularly when it comes to diversity in our theatres, which makes it pleasing that this first production of Hamilton outside of the US has maintained its commitment to multiracial casting in its depiction of the travails of ill-fated Founding Father Alexander Hamilton.

Sure, shows such as Motown the Musical and Dreamgirls offer much-welcomed opportunities for performers of colour. But its the vision of the likes of Michael Buffong and Talawa casting an all-black Guys and Dolls and Hamilton writer Lin-Manuel Miranda and director Thomas Kail making this decision that allows those performers to get the kind of credits on their CV that would otherwise never be gained. Continue reading “Review: Hamilton, Victoria Palace”

Re-review: Yank! A WWII Love Story, Charing Cross

“I know it’s difficult to imagine it now
Here in a world that’s going mad
But picture the two of us

On some lazy day
When bombs away
Is just a game kids play”

Not got too much more to say about the gorgeous Yank! A WWII Love Story that I didn’t already say in my rave review from the beginning of the run (but blimey how those lyrics up top resonate in a different way now!). It’s been great to see the show getting such good reviews and fantastic word of mouth, not the easiest of things for an original new musical to achieve, and I always knew that I’d be paying a second visit to the show before it finished. You’ve got a couple more opportunities yourself and as if you needed any more convincing – here’s a video of the lovely Andy Coxon singing one of the show’s more emotional numbers. 

 

Running time: 2 hours 20 minutes (with interval)
Photo: Claire Bilyard
Booking until 19th August

Album Review: Memphis (2014 Original London Cast Recording)

“Open your eyes, I got a surprise!”

It was fascinating to revisit Memphis, a show that I enjoyed on seeing but in all honesty, isn’t one I’ve given much thought to since it left the West End after just over a year at the Shaftesbury Theatre (I went back once). I remarked then that David Bryan’s score was “highly tuneful if not instantly catchy” so was surprised that a fair few of the songs had managed to work their way into my subconscious and so provided that ‘ping’ of recognition which is always nice.

It was also interesting to listen to the songs in isolation from the show, as more of them than I remembered felt somewhat disconnected from the narrative, just happy in their sprightly pop song-ness. And thanks to the quality of the cast assembled here – leads Beverley Knight and Killian Donnelly, supported by the likes of Jason Pennycooke, Tyrone Huntley and Rolan Bell plus Claire Machin, it is a consistently enjoyable record to listen to. Continue reading “Album Review: Memphis (2014 Original London Cast Recording)”

Review: Yank! A WWII Love Story, Charing Cross

“We’re in a battle we never planned”

Seeing Yank! A WWII Love Story on the day that the streets of London were thronged with people celebrating Pride made what was already a strong show into a properly special occasion. Joseph and David Zellnik’s 2005 musical was first seen in the UK at Manchester’s Hope Mill Theatre which, with its collaborations with Aria Entertainments, has fast become a real fringe powerhouse (their production of Hair also transfers to London later this year) and with James Baker’s assured direction and James Cleeve’s rapturous musical direction, it is easy to see the love happening here.

Yank! was written by the Zellniks as a deliberate homage to the musicals of the 1940s but it is a Second World War love story with a difference. Beginning as a rites of passage tale for the barely 18 year old Stu who finds himself drafted into the army in 1943, the story grows in stature as his first real taste of the outside world is accompanied by his tumbling head over heels for his handsome fellow conscript Mitch, the revelation that those feelings are reciprocated, and then the crushing realisation of the impossibility of living their lives as proud gay men, whether within the army or without. Continue reading “Review: Yank! A WWII Love Story, Charing Cross”

Re-review: Memphis, Shaftesbury

“Have a beer drop a time in the blind man’s jar”

Never one to look a gift-horse in the mouth, the offer of a return ticket to Memphis (the show, not the place sadly) was one I was happy to accept and I was glad for it too. The show remains a hugely impressive showcase for its cast and creatives whilst never quite engaging satisfactorily enough with its subject matter (see my original review here) but the overall effect is certainly one that is entertaining and should set the show up for a successful UK tour in 2016 after it finishes in the West End.

The main change has been the arrival of X Factor winner (and stone cold fox – who knew) Matt Cardle in the cast as Huey, replacing Killian Donnelly who has headed over to Kinky Boots. And as a musical theatre debutant, he is very good indeed, slipping into the role of the fast-talking, highly charismatic DJ with great ease, nailing an adorkable charm that is most appealing. It helps that he shares great chemistry with Beverley Knight as rising star Felicia, herself now off to the latest revival of Cats, further cementing her own MT reputation. Continue reading “Re-review: Memphis, Shaftesbury”

Review: Memphis, Shaftesbury Theatre

“Rock ‘n’ roll is just black people’s blues sped up”

Though much of the US civil rights movement’s achievements came through political means, this time of huge shift in American society was also underpinned by significant cultural change and it is this that the Tony-award-winning show Memphis focuses on, in exploring how white radio DJ Huey Calhoun sent shockwaves over the airwaves of this Southern city in the 1950s by ignoring the entrenched racial divisions and playing ‘race’ music for all to hear. And as rock and roll began to capture the attention of the nation, so too was Huey’s attention completely captured by the soulful energy of upcoming singer Felicia Farrell and the underground blues club in which she performs (which belongs to her brother).

That she is black and he is not doesn’t matter to him but it sure as hell does to everyone else (they may sing that ‘Everybody Wants To Be Black On A Saturday night’ but there are still laws preventing mixed marriage) and it is this that provides the dramatic heft to Joe DiPietro’s book, such as it is, to this musical that otherwise puts its focus squarely on the music. And what an unexpected place that music comes from – David Bryan, who just happens to be Bon Jovi’s keyboard player – has compiled a fully original score which pulls in influences from Motown-flecked pop, gospel, R&B and 80s power ballads naturally (I mean, look at the guy’s hair!) – it’s highly tuneful if not instantly catchy but delivered with the conviction it is here, it demands the attention and will doubtless reward relistening (if not rewatching as well ;-)) Continue reading “Review: Memphis, Shaftesbury Theatre”

Review: A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Open Air Theatre

“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”

Review: Ragtime, Open Air Theatre Regent’s Park

“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”