Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘Alex Hammond’

This and Follies (which I’m seeing again in three days time) haven’t been my favourite Sondheim shows – I’ve always considered them a bit conventional, even old-fashioned, in comparison with the rest of his work. Well, that was until Saturday. This is another musical theatre triumph for the Watermill in Newbury, unquestionably the best of the four staged productions of the show I’ve seen over 28 years. It looks gorgeous, it sounds great and it’s much wittier.

Based on Ingmar Bergman’s 1955 film Smiles of a Summer Night, it revolves around three generations of Armfeldt women – actress Desiree, her mother Leonora and daughter Fredrika. Desiree is away on tour much of the time, leaving Fredrika at home to hear her grandmother’s endless tales of liaisons with European nobles. Her ex Fredrik has a new child bride Anne, who he takes to one of her performances. Her current affair is with the pompous military dragoon Count Carl-Magnus. In the second half, they all meet at the Armfeldt home for a weekend house-party where Anne and the Count’s wife Charlotte plot, Fredrik clashes with Carl-Magnus and Fredrik’s son, trainee priest Henrik, declares his love for his step-mother. It all untangles before it ends with three happy couples and a death!

Musically, it’s one long waltz, more delightful here as the actor-musicians sometimes dance with their instruments, including cellos hooked around necks, some serving an additional purpose, such as Fredrik’s trumpet seeming to duel with Carl-Magnus’ clarinet. Watermill regular Sarah Travis has created outstanding arrangements, mostly using strings and woodwind, with the brilliant use of chimes. The book and lyrics shone like never before, much funnier than I remember. David Woodhead’s design is beautiful to look at, a brilliant evocation of time and place and a superb use of the Watermill space. Amongst its delights are the transformation from house to garden as the first half ends. I haven’t seen much of director Paul Foster’s work, but he does an absolutely splendid job here.

The cast is without a weak link. Josefina Gabrielle has great presence as Desiree, her regrets palpable and deeply moving in Send in the Clowns. Dillie Keane is a revelation as Madame Arnfeldt, with an extraordinary ability to convey things like contempt or cheekiness with facial expressions alone. I loved both Alastair Brookshaw and Alex Hammond as Fredrik and Carl-Magnus respectively, one towering over the other, both determined to win. Benedict Salter’s characterisation of Henrik was excellent. Phoebe Fildes as Charlotte transforms well from naive to vengeful, Lucy Keirl is every bit the nervous bride Anne and Tilly-Mae Millbrook is a delight as granddaughter Fredrika.

This may be the definitive revival. Two more weeks to go. Don’t miss it, Sondheim fans.

 

Read Full Post »

Our annual outing to the lovely Watermill Theatre near Newbury for the second wild west musical of the month and it turns out they’re a little bit connected. Calamity Jane was also real and toured in Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show, the subject of Annie Get Your Gun. If I catch the tour of Seven Brides for Seven Brothers when I get back from my own wild west tour, that’ll be the complete set. This one of course started as a film musical in 1953, with Doris Day in the title role, and was adapted for the stage, with extra songs, in 1961. We don’t see it anywhere near as often as we should; I think the last time was ten years ago with Toyah Wilcox in the lead! In 1979 it was Barbara Windsor!!

The wood-slatted barn-like Watermill is the perfect venue for this show – hang a few of those iconic semi-circular coloured banners from the gallery and the design job’s done, though Matthew Wright went one better and built a pocket-sized proscenium stage for the saloon theatre. The cast of thirteen actor-musicians feels like a lot more in a rumbustious production in such a small space. Choreographer Nick Winston works wonders staging hoe-downs with next to no space. Nicolai Foster’s staging has great energy and enthusiasm and the cast seem to be having a ball, as the audience did. This is the same creative team that gave us NYMT’s terrific Hired Man at St. James Theatre earlier in the month.

Dedwood’s saloon owner Henry Miller gets his E’s and I’s mixes up and books a male Francis in error, causing a near riot amongst his male patrons. Calamity Jane (Calam to her friends!) heads to Chicago to fetch a replacement and returns triumphantly with Miss Adeleide, but she got the performer and her maid Kate mixed up and gets the latter in error, the right sex but without the talent. Kate’s given a chance, redeems herself and stays on as Calam’s room-mate. At this point, they both discover their love for Danny and all hell breaks loose, but its musical theatre so it all comes good and we end with a customary double wedding. The score includes The Deadwood Stage and The Black Hills of Dakota (which prompted a spontaneous singalong!) and Secret Love, which we know more out of context because of red-lipped Kathy Kirby’s 60’s hit (a bit like You’ll Never Walk Alone from Carousel).

The title role is very dominant and Jodie Prenger is well suited to it, with fine vocals and bucket-loads of warmth and charm. She’s well supported by two excellent leading men in Alex Hammond as Danny and Tom Lister as Wild Bill Hickok. There are lovely performances in smaller roles, most notably Anthony Dunn as Miller and Rob Delaney as Francis.

It’s embarking on a tour after this run in Newbury, but I suspect it won’t be as much fun as it is here. Terrific entertainment.

 

 

Read Full Post »