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Posts Tagged ‘Amy Lennox’

A collaboration between a musical hero for 45 years and a favourite theatre director. What could possibly go wrong? Well, an awful lot it turns out, starting with Enda Walsh’s obtuse and incoherent book.

Apparently it was all David Bowie’s idea. Producer Robert Fox came on board first, and he introduced playwright Enda Walsh, to whom Bowie gave four pages of notes and a selection of music to choose from. Director Ivo van Hove came on board last. What further involvement Bowie had is unclear. It would be impossible to stage The Man Who Fell to Earth, in which Bowie made his screen debut, but the idea was to take his character Newton and sort of pick up where the film left off.

It takes place entirely in a Manhattan apartment (uncannily like the one designer Jan Versweyveld built last year in the Young Vic for Song from Far Away).The band is on the other side of the apartment windows, with screens and curtains sometimes putting them out of our view. There are video projections on a central screen, and also on the apartment walls and ceiling, and even behind the band; they are very effective.

Newton is an alien who came to earth to find water and a way of transporting it home. He made a fortune patenting technological ideas from his more advanced planet. Now he’s stuck on Earth drinking gin and watching endless TV, and we’re watching him as he interacts with three new characters – some sort of mass murderer, his assistant Elly and a girl. There are a handful of others. Exactly who they all are or whether they’re even real is unclear. In fact, it’s a complete lack of clarity and coherence that’s the show’s problem. Apparently, during gestation, Bowie’s assistant said ‘yeah, but what happens?’. I couldn’t have put it better myself. The narrative is a bit of a mess and the show is ever so dull.

The score is a mixture of old and new, from 1969’s The Man Who Sold the World through to the wonderful Where Are We Now? from The Next Day. The trouble is they all sound so cold, clinical and bland, devoid of energy and emotion, as if they’ve had the very life squeezed out of them, and the sound doesn’t help. When a club scene turned up accompanied by that Glam Rock anthem All the Young Dudes, I went from disappointment to despair.

You can’t fault Michael C Hall as Newton, sounding uncannily and spookily like Bowie, or Michael Esper as Valentine, the scary ‘mass murderer’. Sophie Anne Caruso as ‘girl’ and our own Amy Lennox as Newton’s assistant Elly are good too, but a fine young musical theatre talent like Jamie Muscato is wasted, I’m afraid. I bet he wished he was back in Bend it Like Beckham or Dogfight.

Whatever the quality of the creative inputs, it’s the material that kills it. It was a long unbroken 110 minutes. A huge disappointment.

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The adaptation of British feel-good films as stage musical continues. This is the third in the last twelve months, following Made in Dagenham and Bend It Like Beckham, and in my book it’s another successful transition. This time, like The Full Monty before it, it came via Broadway, but thankfully without being relocated to an American town. It suffers from a dose of typically American sentimentality in the second half, but that can be forgiven for the pleasures elsewhere.

Northampton shoe factory Price & Son is struggling when Mr Price dies suddenly and son Charlie becomes the reluctant heir. The family loyalty to their employees means it has been on its uppers for some time and Charlie isn’t initially well disposed to flog a dead horse. A chance encounter with a drag queen gives him the idea of transforming it into a niche supplier of, well, kinky boots, and drag queen Lola becomes his unlikely business partner.

You can see why they had the idea of turning it into a musical and it works well. Though it’s ten years since I saw the film, Harvey Fierstein’s adaptation seems faithful to Geoff Deane & Tim Firth’s screenplay (apparently based on a true story). Cyndi Lauper might seem an odd choice for the music and lyrics but I thought her score suited the subject matter and period. It could do with toning down a bit (a bit too brash for Northampton!) but there are some very good solos and choruses. 

The clever design by David Rockwell facilitates speedy transition from a dull factory to the brash colourful world of drag, and ultimately a Milan catwalk, and Gregg Barnes costumes (presumably including footwear) are delightfully eye-popping. Jerry Mitchell is the perfect choice as director / choreographer; his irreverent sense of fun proven by Hairspray, Legally Blonde and Dirty Rotten Scoundrels. I thought the sound was too loud, losing some of the lyrics – this is unforgivable for a show four or five months into its run.

In his last two shows, The Commitments and Memphis, Killian Donnelly has shone vocally and here he adds acting honours, investing the role of Charlie with great passion yet every bit the boy next door. Matt Henry is terrific as Lola, again with exceptional vocals and very good acting, though I’m not sure how he can even move in those dresses and boots. There is a lovely performance from Amy Lennox as Lauren and excellent turns from Jamie Baugh as Lola’s nemesis Don and Michael Hobbs as factory foreman George.

An excellent, uplifting evening which I’m glad I caught up with at last and will no doubt re-visit.

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Is there no limit to the joy Hackney Empire can unleash during the festive season? Last year they lost (hopefully not forever) their regular Dame Clive Rowe and still came up trumps. This year they go ‘off piste’ with the rarer Puss in Boots and it feels like something new and familiar at the same time. Bliss.

Puss in Boots has somehow slipped from the panto repertoire. A 500 year-old tale made famous by Charles Perrault 200 years later, introduced to the UK another 100 years after that, with Joseph Grimaldi in the first cast. Now the cunning cat (brilliantly played with great athleticism by Kat B!) comes to Hackneyonia with his master who has inherited him from his father, whilst his elder brother got the mill and the donkey!

Here we get two dames – mother Nettie Knowall and daughter Amnesiah, played brilliantly by Stephen Matthews and Darren Hart respectively – a wicked witch played by Josefina Gabrielle and a wicked queen by Sharon D Clarke, both stars of musical theatre who shine just as brightly here, and King Konkers the Bonkers (an excellently hapless Tony Timberlake) and spoilt brat Princess Petunia (the lovely irritating Amy Lennox). Add in Matt Dempsey’s Thomas, a giant Ogre and a good sorceress and you have an abundance of superb performances.

Amongst the treats are a dance routine for colourful giant trainers (without people!), a trio of mice as backing singers for Puss, a tap dance to end Act I and a superb Les Mis spoof to open Act II. Just before the finale we got the singalong, obviously, and the sight of a couple of thousand people singing Madness’ It Must be Love in cat language with cat masks was a surreal delight. Lotte Collett’s design is a riot of colour and invention, with Dame Nettie’s costumes (and there a lot of them!) a particular treat.

This is Susie McKenna’s 15th Hackney panto. It’s only my 5th, but the imagination, enthusiasm, talent and energy hasn’t waned one bit. Steven Eadis has written a lot of excellent new music to add to a handful of known songs with a fair few nods to musical theatre, performed with exceptional musical standards by a small 5-piece band and singers who really can sing.

It might have West End production values and West End stars, but above all its a community pantomime which generates enough warmth to keep you going until the next one – here’s to Mother Goose in less than 12 months time!

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