Posts Tagged ‘Alistair David’

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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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 is the archetypal Broadway 50’s musical comedy. Ella, at the  Susanswerphone messaging service does much more than take messages (….NO, this is 50’s Broadway….) – she’s a confidante and agony aunt and provides wake-up calls and instructions & advice from Santa. The main story revolves around her help for a playwright fast going off the rails, with a farcical sub-plot of a police investigation of the activities of the answering service itself. It’s one of those shows where you can leave your brain at the door and get lost in the fun and charm of it all. You even get a couple of standards for your money – Just in Time and The Party’s Over – but the song Bells are Ringing (for me and my girl) that you can now hear in your head isn’t from this show!

In recent years, the pocket-size Union Theatre has given us a trio of Sondheims and a trio of new musicals, a couple of all-male G&S operettas (with a third in the pipeline) and now a second Broadway musical comedy revival to follow its excellent Pyjama Game. There’s not much of a set, just a period switchboard and a few other props. They use the space sideways this time, which makes for a wider playing area. The costumes are good (though Adam Rhys-Charles really must press his first act suit – you can see everything in the three-row Union seating!). Peter McCarthy’s fine arrangements (particularly for Just in Time) and his small band made a big sound worthy of a big band.

The choreography of Alistair David, aided by the sideways configuration, is superb and the company dance sequences are particularly thrilling. There are some excellent performances – Corinna Powlesland is spot-on as Susan and well matched by Fenton Gray as her small-time crook boyfriend Sandor and there’s even a Strallen in the cast, this one called Sasi (how many of them are there and do all their names begin with S?). Gary Milner is an excellent leading man, but it’s the star turn (and for once I really mean STAR) from Anna-Jane Casey which takes your breath away. She combines innocence, naivety, kindness and cheekiness with bucketloads of charm and sweeps you away on a tide of euphoric smiles. Not only can she act, but she dances as if on air and sings beautifully. This really is one of those perfect performances you catch only occasionally. Delicious!

I’d love to think this will have another life, as the ‘sold out’ signs have been up at the Union for some time. If you’ve been, you now how I feel. If you haven’t, may your luck change – and you’d better book for Iolanthe now; I am.

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