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Posts Tagged ‘Alan Menken’

I’ve had a soft spot for this Howard Ashman / Alan Menken musical since I saw the original London production 35 years ago. It was successfully revived at the Menier Chocolate Factory 12 years ago, heading off on tour afterwards. Now it’s the latest in the Open Air Theatre’s summer musicals, the 31st I think, reinvented by director Maria Aberg and designer Tom Scutt.

Based on Roger Corman’s iconic 1960 b-movie, the musical was an instant hit off-Broadway, on Broadway and in the West End, where it ran for two years. When it was itself made into a film, the budget was 1000 times that of the original (which gave Jack Nicholson his screen debut). You wouldn’t think it was a natural for the leafy green Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre, but it works. Scutt has built a B&W cartoon New York City, with a riot of colour provided by the characters and the plants of Mushnik’s shop where geeky Seymour breeds Audrey II and is in love with Audrey (I), his fellow shop assistant, who has a sadistic dentist as a boyfriend.

Audrey II becomes a sensation, leading to radio & TV interviews for Seymour and lots of new customers for the shop, but Seymour has been feeding the plant with his own blood and can hardly keep up. He ends up feeding it whole people, starting with Audrey’s boyfriend Orin, as the fame leads to magazine features, TV’s first gardening programme and a plant cutting franchise which sees plants take over America. Audrey II is normally voiced by an offstage actor / singer, but Aberg’s big idea is to bring her alive and onstage in the form of American drag queen Vicky Vox and a handful of assistants, and though a good idea, I didn’t think it really worked. Towards the end, they turned up the excess dial and it became pure fantasy with a stage full of colourful SciFi plants raising the non-existent roof in the finale of Don’t Feed the Plants. With what seemed like an additional song turning it into a bit of a rock concert, the cast invading the auditorium and green pods flying around, the audience went wild and you just had to give in.

It’s very well cast, with Marc Antolin shining as Seymour. I don’t associate Jemima Rooper and Forbes Mason with musical theatre, but they both did a great job as Audrey and Mr Mushnik. Busted’s Matt Willis was excellent as Orin the sadistic dentist, plus four great cameos as TV exec, (female) magazine editor, agent and business guru. Ms Vox was outrageous and cheeky; I’m not sure what the parents of the kids in the audience made of it. The show is famous for it’s chorus of three black girl singers (Crystal, Chiffon and Ronnette – get it), an idea Tony Kushner and Jane Tesori stole for Caroline, or Change twenty years later, and Seyi Omoomba, Renee Lamb and Christina Modestou were all great.

I’ve got mixed views really. Part of me missed the nostalgic, b-movie aesthetic and part of me admired the reinvention, but I’m glad I went nonetheless.

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The third and last of my cheapskate January catch-ups, and you can certainly see where your ticket money goes with this one. Bob Crowley’s set and Gregg Barnes’ costumes are the star of the show, though you’d be forgiven if you decided to wear dark glasses.

The surprise of this Disney animation-to-stage show is the tongue-in-cheek humour, albeit largely broad and corny. Alan Menken’s score is rather good too, though there are only a dozen songs, half of which are reprised. Other than that its a pretty bog standard recycling of the age old tale, an eighteenth century French addition to the Middle Eastern folk tales Arabian Nights.

The big number is Friend Like Me, in an extraordinarily designed cave where they throw absolutely everything at it in a truly slick, spectacular scene that seemed in itself a homage to musical theatre, with added pyrotechnics. On a smaller scale, the magic carpet ride of its most famous song A Whole New World was indeed magical and you really couldn’t see how it was done.

Trevor Dion Nicholas has great presence as the Genie and terrific, cheeky audience engagement when he breaks the fourth wall. Matthew Croke is a fine romantic lead and has great chemistry with Nicholas. It’s a fine supporting cast whose sense of fun seemed completely genuine.

It’s only panto with a mega-budget, but it’s very well staged and performed and I was glad I caught up with it, though there’s more joy at the Hackney Empire panto.

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