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Posts Tagged ‘Alex Parker’

I can’t think of a better way of marking International Women’s Day than visiting a women’s prison to see sixteen of their residents perform in Hairspray, with musical theatre professionals as creatives, musicians and in some of the lead roes. This is the sixth time I’ve witnessed Pimlico Opera’s therapeutic, rehabilitative work, in five different prisons, and each time the standard gets higher. I’ve had a soft spot for this particular show since I saw the original production in preview on Broadway eighteen years ago. I saw it in the West End three times and a new production in Leicester six years ago, but I can honestly say none were as uplifting as Sunday in HMP Bronzefield.

As the prison director reminded us, this year’s International Women’s Day theme is equality, so what better than a show about a feisty teenage girl fighting fat shaming, racism and segregation. Tracy Turnblad is obsessed with the Corney Collins Show, a TV dance programme featuring local teenagers, and infatuated with its lead dancer Link Larkin. When a vacancy arises for the show ensemble, she’s turned down because of her size. She meets up with Seaweed J Stubbs, a black boy whose mom runs a record shop, and becomes friends with his. Black kids aren’t allowed on the show, but are given an occasional ‘negro day’. Tracy is determined to get on the show, to get it integrated, and to get Link, a journey that involves protest and prison.

It’s such a feel-good show, its tongue firmly in its cheek, often hilarious, with great moral messages and so many catchy tunes and clever lyrics and lines, you hardly stop grinning. Nikki Woollaston’s terrific production has bags of energy and a superb sense of fun; her nifty choreography is a particular high. Alex Parker is as fine an MD as you can get and his 12-piece band sounds fantastic. Alex Doige-Green’s set makes great use of the space, on two levels, and Bek Palmer’s costumes are a period delight. Chloe Hart played Tracy in the West End for the last part of its run, before she’d even graduated, and she shines again here with particularly gorgeous vocals. Christopher Howell as mom Edna and Darren Bennett as dad Wilbur are pitch perfect and make a superb double-act. Amongst the rest of the professionals, Andre Fabien Francis and Sam Murphy impress as Seaweed and Corney respectively.

There is much talent amongst the sixteen resident performers. Dhonna Campbell-Grant brought the house down with I Know Where I’ve Been; if she’d been on The Voice, all four chairs would have turned! Mandy Webb played baddie Velma Van Tussle with great confidence, Christine Callaghan was very assured and appropriately bitchy as her daughter Amber and Tiffany Smart was so good as Tracy’s friend Penny I thought she was one of the pros. These are big roles and these women rose to the occasion with great aplomb. If this were a fully professional show, we’d have still been standing and cheering; by any standards, a joyous and uplifting evening.

On until Sunday 15th March. Catch it if you can.

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This is the second of three January day-trips to catch musicals that aren’t scheduled to come to London, this time Hope Mill Manchester’s production of Mame visiting Northampton, a show the UK hasn’t seen since it’s premiere here 50 years ago, which is why I’ve never seen Jerry Herman’s iconic Broadway show.

Patrick Dennis’ novel Auntie Mame went from page to stage to screen before this musical adaptation, which was itself later filmed. It revolves around a New York socialite who loves life and likes to party. When her brother dies, her 10-year-old nephew Patrick comes to live with her, and she makes it her job to show him the world, sharing her Bohemian lifestyle. After losing all her money in the Wall Street Crash, she’s lucky enough to meet and fall for rich southerner Beauregard, who marries her and takes her on seemingly endless honeymoon, seeing even more of the world.

Patrick goes to boarding school, where conservative snobbery replaces fun living, and when the honeymoon ends in tragedy, with Beauregard’s death, Mame gets to see how her work has been undone. Patrick is about to marry into the rich but dull & tasteless Upson’s from Connecticut, but she is determined to prevent such a match. The hedonistic first half gives way to a clash of the party animals and the dull New Englanders, providing some sublime comedy.

Herman’s score has some great numbers, with superb orchestrations by Jason Carr, brilliantly played by Alex Parker’s terrific band. His lyrics, and Jerome Lawrence & Robert E Lee’s book, are sharp and witty. It’s scaled down from big Broadway / West End values, but with a cast of eighteen still fills the stage. You can see the dance background in Nick Winston’s slick and stylish direction and Philip Whitcomb’s art deco set and excellent 20’s costumes give it the perfect period feel.

The leading role needs a special actress and Tracie Bennett is perfect for the part, belting out those big numbers and squeezing every ounce of comedy from her dialogue, particularly in her scenes with her best friend, ‘Broadway baby’ Vera, superbly played by Harriett Thorpe. Patrick is a big role for a young actor, but Lochlan White was confident and assured, pulling it off with great aplomb. They are all part of a fine company who do the show proud.

I’ve seen and loved Hello Dolly, La Cage Au Folles and Mack & Mabel, so I’m so glad I finally got to see Herman’s other big show, thanks to Hope Mill, now an important part of the UK’s musical theatre landscape, plus Aria Entertainment and their hosts the Royal & Derngate in Northampton. Next stop Salisbury, then ?????

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Opera

Handel’s Radamisto at GSMD had some lovely singing and playing, I liked the design and also the idea of framing it with an audience of leaders in conflict as a nod to its premiere before a royal squabble, but it was played too much for laughs, particularly the comic book King.

A summer visit to WNO at the WMC in Cardiff for Strauss R’s Der Rosenkavalier and Strauss J’s Die Fledermaus proved a treat. I love the former and it was the best production of it I’ve seen, with the orchestra under its new MD sounding great and a full house of terrific performances. I’m not really an operetta man, but it was hard to resist the fun of the latter, again well played and sung, with the cameo non-singing role of the gaoler brilliantly played by Welsh actor, Stella’s Steve Spiers.

There was some lovely singing in Charlie Parker’s Yardbird at Hackney Empire, but the subject didn’t really suit the opera form. Though it’s a story full of tragedy and emotion, the opera had none; I think a jazz musical would have served it better. Good to see work like this, a visit by Philadelphia Opera, on at Hackney though.

Contemporary Music

Smiles of a Summer Night was an evening of Sondheim songs from eight soloists, a twelve strong chorus and full orchestra at Cadogan Hall and the musical standards were sky high. It wouldn’t have been my selection of songs, but that might be a good thing as there are rarely heard items as well as well worn ones. Alex Parker, the musical director, has given us a superb concert version of A Little Night Music and a terrific production of compilation show Putting it Together, and this is yet another fine achievement.

Art

Into the Unknown: A Journey Through Science Fiction at the Barbican Centre is a very broad selection of paintings & drawings, story-boards, props & models, games, films, books, comics & magazines in three locations and the foyers. It has even taken over the Pit Theatre for three months with a giant installation. Fascinating, but too dense for just one visit.

I loved Chris Ofili’s new tapestry at the National Gallery, placed onto B&W walls decorated by him, in an exhibition called Weaving Magic that included preparatory sketches and drawings. Lovely.

I’m used to bright, colourful, uplifting paintings from Per Kirkby, so the exhibition of older 80’s dull and dark work at the Michael Werner Gallery was a big disappointment, I’m afraid. Shame.

Fahrelnissa Zeid was another artist unknown to me, and her retrospective at Tate Modern showed both her art and her life were fascinating, going from portraits to two different forms of abstraction and back to portraits, with a side-trip to sculpture along the way, and from Turkey & Iraq to Germany, France & Britain and finally Jordan. Intriguing.

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What a delicious hour of musical theatre for Sondheim fans, celebrating the 20th anniversary of the Sondheim Society, who co-produced the show. Based on an idea of the society’s administrator Lynne Chapman, who has been collecting material and ‘incubating’ the show for sixteen years, and staged by London Theatre Workshop at their new base in Fulham, it was both a tribute and a loving parody of the undoubted god of musical theatre.

Presented as a revue, it contained existing songs like Andrew Lippa’s Marshall Levin, Alan Chapman’s Everybody Wants to Be Sondheim and the late Jonathan Larsons homage / riff on Sunday plus excellent new material from Eamonn O’Dwyer, Matt Board and the show’s musical director Alex Parker. It’s set in a rehearsal space where writers, directors and performers step out to give us a song alone, in combination with one or more of the three others or as an ensemble, with terrific accompaniment from MD Alex Parker and excellent staging by Alastair Knights.

Most of all though there are four stunning vocal performances from recent winners and finalists of the society’s annual Student Performer competition. These were faultless star turns from four future stars which completely blew me away. They sang beautifully alone and together they soared. It is rare to see such uniformly fine and faultless performances on any stage and the ovation afforded to Emma Odell, Kris Olsen, Corrine Priest and Jay Worley was richly deserved.

The performance I saw was being recorded, so I hope God gets to see it as he cannot fail to be impressed and moved by this affectionate homage.

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There was a time when I wasn’t interested in hearing songs from musicals performed out of context; now I can’t seem to get enough – this is the second of three evenings this month. There are five Sondheim compilation shows and this is one of the two most famous, but after it’s premiere run in Oxford 22 years ago (starring Diana Rigg, no less) it never got to the West End – well, until now. It’s been worth the wait.

It’s an unpredictable selection, with four from the film Dick Tracy, two from rarity The Frogs (which co-incidentally I will be seeing for the first time on Saturday) and numbers from the less well-known Do I Hear A Waltz? and Anyone Can Whistle and that’s actually part of its appeal. They are not just sung, they are performed by the characters for whom they were written by a quintet of seasoned musicals professionals – David Badella, Daniel Crossley, Janine Dee, Damien Humbley & Caroline Sheen. I loved the arrangements for piano, double bass, trumpet and three woodwind and they were played beautifully by an extraordinarily young band under Theo Jamieson.

As solos or in various combinations, these songs are interpreted with meaning and you savour every word of Sondheim’s incomparable lyrics. You know they’ve worked when you’re on the edge of your seat willing Janine Dee to make it through the manic Not Getting Married Today (which she does, to perfection), you’re laughing uproariously at Daniel Crossley’s hysterical take on Buddy’s Blues and Being Alive brings a tear to your eye just by being uplifting. There’s some sprightly choreography, a conceit that they’re all at a cocktail party and the only props are a chaise longue and a drinks table, but it’s the songs that make the show.

Producer & musical supervisor Alex Parker, director Alastair Knights & choreographer Matthew Rowland, like MD Theo Jamieson, have all graduated in the last 18 months and there’s a youthfulness, energy and freshness about the whole thing; a towering achievement indeed.

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This is a new chamber version of the Michel Legrand – Herbert Kretzmer / Alain Boubil / Claude-Michel Schonberg (the Les Mis team) – Jonathan Kent 2008 West End flop. I loved it first time around; went twice and bought the music. It’s much scaled down and now feels more like a Howard Goodall show, which is a compliment not a criticism.

It’s occupied Paris in the second world war and Parisian chanteuse Marguerite is a ‘kept woman’, showered with attention and gifts by a Nazi general. She falls for Armand, a young jazz pianist, but after an intense initial three-day relationship, its doomed. There’s no way her Nazi is going to allow her to go off with a younger model. Tragedy ensues as her best friend is killed and she is forced to reject Armand. Armand’s sister and her friends join the resistance and urge him to follow, but he’s obsessed with Marguerite.

The new orchestrations for a small 7-piece band under Alex Parker (who also produces) suits the music and there’s some lovely singing (though a few too many off-key moments and too little subtlety on the night I went). Overly loud solo’s notwithstanding, Yvette Robinson was a believable Marguerite, well matched by Nadim Naaman as Armand looking much like Julian Ovenden,who played the original, but without the age gap we have here. There’s good support from Michael Onslow as Otto, Mark Turnbull at Georges and Jennifer Rhodes as Madeleine. Director Guy Unsworth (who also contributed to the new book) makes good use of the small Tabard space with help from Max Dorey’s evocative set and excellent costumes.

If it had been more consistently sung I would be more enthusiastic. As it is, I was glad I went but don’t feel I saw it at its best.

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Well, the Edinburgh buzz was right again. I missed this during the fringe so followed my instincts (and whatsonstage.com’s recommendation) and headed to Croydon Warehouse Theatre (Croydon? well, it’s only 20 mins away!) and boy am I glad I did.

I can’t remember the last time I saw something so inventive. This young company zip through Ovid’s tales using every theatrical trick in the book from mime to puppetry to projections with great use of  songs and music by Lucy Egger. It took me a short while to get into it (I think it would have been a good idea to remind myself of the stories in advance) but when it gets hold of you it never let’s go.

There’s a simplicity to much of the staging, but that takes nothing away from the creativity of Peter Bramley’s direction and design. The Second World War setting is inspired, as is the use of screens for all sorts of purposes including scene changes. The props have a charming home-made feel. The seven performers are so good they all deserve a mention – Jonathan Davenport, Jo Dockery, Mabel Jones, Joseph Mann, Alex Parker, Hannah Pierce and Eloise Secker!

I think they should drop the unnecessary interval, which might improve the bar profits but hinders the flow a little, and maybe take a look at the ending to see if  they could make it less abrupt. Otherwise, a treat which reminded me of the first time I saw Kneehigh (I mean the excitement not similarity) and I can’t wait to see Pants on Fire (what a great name for a theatre company!) again.

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