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Posts Tagged ‘Alex Young’

I criticised the new London production of The King & I for being conservative and overly reverential; like visiting the Museum of Musical Theatre. Well, this show is 14 years older, but that’s the last thing you’d say about this brilliant revival; it feels freshly minted, with an extraordinary sense of fun and its full of joy.

It’s a quintessentially British story. The trustees of the aristocratic Hareford family have been looking for a male heir born to a working class girl and solicitor Parchester thinks she’s found him, cockney lad Bill Snibson. He’s about as interested in joining the nobility as they are in having him, but the Duchess of Dene is determined to gentrify him and get rid of his girlfriend Sally Smith. Fellow trustee Sir John has a different view. Cue lots of lovely class culture clash involving a lot of toffs and pearly kings and queens.

Sally feels she should leave Bill so that he can inherit the title and all that goes with it, but Bill is having none of it. Sir John decides to gentrify Sally instead. Cue references to Pygmalion (if they were in the original) or perhaps My Fair Lady (if they were added by Stephen Fry for the hugely successful 1985 revival). It works, and Bill and Sally are reunited and wed, as are the Duchess and Sir John. Along the way, we get a brilliant scene where they conjure up the ancestors – tap dancing knights in armour! – a great drunken scene which bonds Bill and Sir John, and sensational ensemble set pieces to end Act I and start Act II.

My recollection of the 1985 London revival, with Robert Lindsay and Emma Thompson, which ran twice as long as the original – eight years! – was ‘too twee for me’, but this time it swept me away and my spirits soared. It’s a terrific music hall inspired score by Noel Gay, including the title song, The Sun Has Got His Hat On, Leaning On A Lamppost and of course The Lambeth Walk. The combination of Les Brotherston’s superb design (in particular, his costumes), Alistair David’s light-as-air choreography and Daniel Evans astute direction ensures it sparkles like a diamond, literally some of the time. Gareth Valentine’s arrangements are thrilling and his band sound sensational; he even gets to do a turn at the curtain call.

Matt Lucas is a revelation as Bill. He talent for comedy is well known, but he adds good vocals and sprightly dance to create a classic cheeky cockney. Alex Young is lovely as his intended Sally, whether she’s leading a knees-up or breaking her heart and yours with Once You Lose Your Heart. Caroline Quentin and favourite of mine Clive Rowe are delightful as the Duchess and the Knight. What I love most about this cast is that it’s all shapes, sizes and races whose talent, energy and enthusiasm sweep you away.

I’ve often left Chichester musicals on a high, but this and Half a Sixpence are special because they bring great British shows alive for today. Daniel Evans apparently said he wanted a new lick of paint, well in my book its a thrilling makeover. Don’t even think about not transferring it; London needs it !

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Though it was revived on Broadway in 2010, this Neil Simon / Bacharach & David musical hasn’t been seen here since its 1969 London premiere. It’s based on Billy Wilder’s classic 1960 five Oscar winning film The Apartment featuring Jack Lemon and Shirley MacLaine. It may be the only musical to feature a Personnel Director!

In case you’ve never seen the film, the story concerns Chuck, a young insurance company employee who helps his career by loaning his apartment to senior executives’ for their affairs. When the Personnel Director Sheldrake becomes his fifth ‘customer’, he gets his promotion, but Sheldrake insists on exclusivity, so the other four turn on him. Then he realises Sheldrake’s mistress is Fran, the object of his own affections. With men lusting after girls young enough to be their daughters, what may have been just amusing c. 50 years ago seems more lecherous and distasteful today. It changes tone in the second half when these behaviours suddenly become unacceptable, seedy men are put in their place and true love wins.

Given the pedigree of the song-writing pair, the score is a bit of a disappointment. The best known song in the original production was I’ll Never Fall In Love Again, a hit for Dionne Warwick, but the Broadway revival added two other Bacharach & David hits – Say A Little Prayer and A House Is Not A Home – to their one and only musical score. Neil Simon’s book is pretty good though, but at just under three hours it’s desperately in need of some cuts, particularly in the longer first half. They could start with dumping the incongruous numbers Turkey Lurkey Time in the office Christmas party scene and A Young Pretty Girl Like You, when Chuck and the doctor are trying to cheer up their ‘patient’ Fran.

Simon Wells’ design and costumes capture the sixties faithfully (but he needs to do something about the dodgy door!). It’s a good ensemble, with Gabriel Vick and Daisy Maywood a fine pair of leads. There’s excellent support from John Guerrasio as the doctor and a terrific cameo from Alex Young as Marge. Paul Robinson makes a good baddie (and a believable Personnel Director, and I should know!).

It has dated more than its contemporaries, its overlong, the two contrasting halves seem like they might be from different shows and it doesn’t live up to the standards of its writers / composers, but I’m a fan of all three and I’m very glad I had the chance to catch it.

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Will someone move Sheffield nearer to London, please? Sheffield Theatres reputation continues to rise and now they outdo the West End by touring probably the best production of Anything Goes I’ve ever seen. This is unmissable.

Cole Porter’s classic musical comedy is 80 years old now, but here it’s fresh and sparkles like new. The score is littered with classics like I Get a Kick Out of You, You’re the Top, It’s De-Lovely, Blow Gabriel Blow and of course the title song, with witty lyrics by Porter and a very funny book, originally by P G Wodehouse & Guy Bolton but revised twice so I’m not sure whose is in use now. Still, who cares, its fun aboard a liner crossing the Atlantic with gangsters disguised as evangelists, evangelists who’ve become nightclub singers, Wall Street businessmen, an American heiress and a British Lord. Singer Reno loves stockbroker Billy, who loves heiress Hope, who’s engaged to nobleman Evelyn but they all get their man / woman in the end, but not until we’ve had a lot of fun aboard ship.

Daniel Evans production has a lovely art deco set by Richard Kent, with the ship’s deck rising up to form the backdrop as well as the stage, and great period costumes. Choreographer Alistair David doesn’t have a lot of space, but works wonders with what he has. There’s a zippiness about the whole thing that lifts you up and sweeps you along. The 9-piece band sounds terrific, and a lot more than nine. Debbie Kurup is sensational as Reno Sweeney, the complete package of great dancer, beautiful singer and comic actress and Stephen Matthews is wonderful as Lord Evelyn Oakleigh, a clumsy but lovable toff. In addition to these star performances, there’s great work from Matt Rawle as Billy, Zoe Rainey as Hope, Hugh Sachs as Moonface Martin, Alex Young as Erma, Simon Rouse as Whitney and the lovely Jane Wymark as Hope’s mum. A fine ensemble of 18 ensure the set pieces sparkle.

The New Wimbledon Theatre isn’t the most suitable (vast) or welcoming (shameful latecomers policy and noisy audience), but with work this good, you’ve got to go where you can, though with hindsight I wish I’d gone to Sheffield, where it appears they outdo the West End regularly. Unmissable indeed.

 

 

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This isn’t a panto, but a made-for-TV musical by the masters of the form. It starred Julie Andrews and when it was aired in 1957, some 100,000,000 watched – 60% of the US population! Though it has been on stage before, outings are rare. I saw a lovely production at Bristol Old Vic almost exactly 8 years ago, but I’m not sure it has been in London in the 30 years I’ve lived here. So off to Turnham Green we go…..

They haven’t changed the age-old story, but it’s stripped down to nine characters, with an excellent Helen Colby here doubling-up as the Stepmother and the Fairy Godmother, and an ensemble of two! The music isn’t their best, but better than much (and certainly better than any panto version I’ve seen) and its played really well here by a 5-piece band (which sounds a lot bigger). Christopher Hone’s design is superb, working wonders with the tiny Tabard Theatre space in very inventive ways that themselves make you smile and Alex Young’s direction is very sure-footed indeed.

Kirsty Mann and Vlach Ashton are excellent romantic leads and Brendan Matthew & Sarah Dearlove very good as the King & Queen. I loved the interpretation of Cinderella’s sisters – Kate Scott as a somewhat manic Joy and Lydia Jenkins with rather more ‘attitude’ as Grace. The prince’s Steward Lionel was given a bit of a camp makeover by Josh Carter to good effect.

Given the time of year (and this was a matinée too), this somewhat sophisticated entertainment was played to rather too many young children I’m afraid and the seat kicking, crisp & sweet eating and fidgeting rather wore me down. This is far too good for kids (and in my opinion certainly not suitable for under 7’s) and maybe an evening performance would have been better. That said, congratulations to the Tabard for quality alternative seasonal fare.

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RAM seems to be the only one of our major music / drama colleges joining in with the celebrations of the great man’s 80th, but boy did they do it in style.

I’ve always found A Little Night Music one of Sondheim’s least satisfying shows. The story is very conventional (for Sondheim) and the music – virtually all waltz – a little twee for my taste. The Menier started to change my mind last year with Trevor Nunn’s terrific production, but it was this one which was the real revelation. It really brought out the humour but contrasted it with more poignancy. I’ve heard Hermione Gingold, Judi Dench & Hannah Waddingham sing Send in the Clowns on stage, but only Alex Young in this production moved me to tears. Sarah Covey’s interpretation of The Millers Son was positively uplifting and there were fine performances from Becky Moult, Matthew Crowe, Daniel Cane and Michael Storrs. On a simple set, it was left to the gorgeous period costumes to provide appropriate style. Overall, the singing was better than the acting and the orchestra played the score like it’s never been played before, so a  musical triumph I think.

Assassins didn’t live up to my memories of earlier productions. It’s a highly original show – linking the assassinations / attempted assassinations of eight US presidents – but a hard one to pull off. This production seemed a lot darker, sometimes burying the black humour completely. It was staged well, but this time the acting bettered the singing and the band was too loud, losing a lot of the subtley in the music.

In between the shows, there was a wonderful cabaret of lyricists Comden & Green songs. They wrote the lyrics to more shows that any other Broadway writers, working with Leonard Bernstein, Jules Styne and Cy Coleman. The twelve singers & pianist more than did justice to their brilliantly funny songs and it was more treat than filler.

This musical theatre feast followed Saturday’s theatrical feast; the lack of aircon made the day more challenging, but a feast just the same.

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