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Posts Tagged ‘Alex James Ellison’

This delightful chamber musical is based on the inspired idea of the journey of a five pound note through London over more than fifteen years. The quality of the songs and their performance elevates it above many others, and the surprising amount of story and character development it packs in makes it more than a song cycle.

The fiver starts with a busker, who becomes our narrator, and moves through shopkeepers, a homeless man and many more. Along the way we get the stories of its temporary owners, and there’s a whole fifteen year journey during the interval. Relationships form, children are born and the world goes on whilst the fiver changes hands. There’s a touch of audience involvement, which added to its charm.

Alex James Ellison, who also plays the busker, and Tom Lees, who’s both director and MD, have written something original with a fine set of songs in a diverse range of styles. In addition to Ellison, Luke Bayer, Dan Buckley, Aoife Clesman and Hiba Elchikhe play all roles, singing all of the songs superbly, accompanied by Lees’ fine band of keyboards, bass, cello and drums.

I’d previously seen a lovely show co-written by Lees, https://garethjames.wordpress.com/2014/12/12/apartment-40c also based on an inspired idea, and this has stylistic similarities. I can’t wait for the next one.

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This isn’t the 1996 Andrew Lloyd-Webber show, but an earlier 1989 musical by Russell Labey and Richard Taylor written for performance by young people, getting its London professional première. I never saw The Lord’s piece as I’d given up on his pompous mushiness by then, but this is a lovely, sweet chamber musical based on the same 1959 novel, filmed in 1961, given a fine production by Sasha Regan.

The three Bostock children stumble upon a man they believe to be Jesus when they’re looking for somewhere to hide the three kittens they have rescued from drowning by farm labourer Eddie. They can’t tell their widowed dad about either the kittens or The Man, but they do eventually introduce other children to him when they visit with food and other supplies. He is of course the well publicised convict on the run, but their belief makes them blind to that. It beautifully represents that blind faith that children have. Some may call it naivety or gullibility, but it’s really faith. The score has a very English feel, redolent of folk and choral traditions, with particularly fine choruses – think Goodall meets Britten, a touch operatic, with a nod to Sondheim!

The production faithfully represents both the period and Lancashire village life thanks to Nik Corralll’s simple but evocative design. I loved the instrumentation – piano, violin and horn – of David Griffiths’a small ensemble. The young adults playing the children completely capture the world of a child in the 50’s (and I should know!). Grace Osborn, Imelda Warren-Green and Alex James Ellison (who I admired in Apartment 40c last month) are all completely believable as the Bostock children and  Chris Coleman and Callum McArdle are excellent as Dad and The Man respectively. They are supported with a fine ensemble, as we’ve become accustomed to at the Union.

Three more weeks. You know what to do!

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London seems to have more Christmas shows than ever this year, so here’s the antidote – a lovely home-grown new musical without the tiniest fragment of tinsel in sight. Tom Lees & Ray Rackham, London Theatre Workshop’s Artistic Directors, have written, produced, directed and MD’d a hugely impressive show.

Apartment 40C is in New York City and newly graduated Eddie & Katie discover it has been leased to both of them. The fighting doesn’t last long before they agree to share it, and more. Their older selves Ed & Kate, now successful lawyer and journalist respectively are still living there when they arrive at a turning point in their relationship. The even more mature Edward & Kathryn, now divorced, meet back at the apartment where their son has been living at another turning point in their lives.

The show moves back and forth in time between these three life-changing moments and as it does you unravel the story for yourself; I very much liked the jigsaw effect this creates. There are often more than one pairing on stage, with an occasional glance between an older and younger self. The space doesn’t need much of a makeover to pass for an apartment and given the resources of this small company there’s a real authenticity to the set-up. I really liked Tom Lees songs and arrangements, played by himself on piano, with others on cello and violin, and Ray Rackham’s book and lyrics tell the couple’s story well.

They’ve got a uniformly excellent cast. Alex James Ellison & Alex Crossley (an impressive professional début) invest Eddie & Katie with youthful energy and optimism. Drew Weston, who seems to be a new arrival from Australia, and Lizzie Wofford, particularly impressive playing older than her age, are both outstanding as Ed & Kate (four years ago, before her training at Mountview, Lizzie was a terrific Mrs Lovett in NYMT’s Sweeney Todd https://garethjames.wordpress.com/2010/08/05/nymt-sweeney-todd). Peter Gerald & Nova Skipp provide both maturity and musical theatre experience as the mature Edward & Kathryn.

I’m not sure why they chose to set this in NYC, given that its a new British musical – perhaps it seems more plausible there? I’m also not sure how we get from a (controlled rent) apartment to an owned one, but these are minor points in a major achievement. If you are interested in musical theatre or sick of Christmas fare, or both, you really shouldn’t miss this lovely show.

 

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