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Posts Tagged ‘Andrew Lloyd Webber’

A musical at the Open Air Theatre has been one of my summer institutions for decades. Evita is one of the few Andrew Lloyd-Webber shows I like, I hadn’t seen it for thirteen years and the director and designer are favourites of mine, but it didn’t catch my imagination and I didn’t book early as usual. The reviews suggested it was more of a rock concert and I hadn’t liked a similar treatment of Jesus Christ Superstar, so decision confirmed. Then in its final week, a free evening, sunny days, a few single tickets available, a dose of FOMO and no willpower…….

It’s staged on eight large steps the width of the theatre with the band at the back in a corrugated roofed shed behind a giant EVITA sign. It isn’t long before the smoke and confetti bombs confirm the rock concert aesthetic, later joined by more of the same plus fire and fireworks. Even Fabian Aloise’s quirky, grungy choreography owes more to pop videos that musical theatre. Soutra Gilmour’s design palette goes from funereal black through greys to the Peronist pale blue, with at one point Evita’s white dress spectacularly coloured before our eyes.

Some of this works well, particularly big numbers like the opening Requiem, Act I’s closer A New Argentina, the European visit’s Rainbow Tour & the charity fundraising The Money Keeps Rolling In, but it doesn’t always serve the story well, with some of Tim Rice’s sharp lyrics inaudible. Somewhat ironically, presenting it as a rock concert emphasised how operatic it is, but opera really needs more subtlety and some restraint to go with its spectacle. This is a bit of a one dimensional Evita and I couldn’t help fondly recalling Hal Prince’s ground-breaking original in 1978 and Michael Grandage’s stylish revival in 2006.

I liked the all-shapes-sizes-and-colours ensemble very much, and Alan Williams’ band was simply terrific. Trent Saunders was an excellent Che and Ektor Rivera good as Peron. I felt Samantha Pauly was too shouty as Eva and her vocals sometimes shaky, though in all fairness it was a cool evening (I had a jumper and fleece on) and she was clothed in next to nothing, albeit under bright lights most of the time. I can’t help wondering why all three leads are American when we have many here, some no doubt unemployed, who would jump at and excel in these roles.

I enjoyed it more than Superstar, I respect and admire Jamie Lloyd for taking a fresh look and I don’t regret going, but can we move on from ALW revivals in concert and get back to business as usual please? Ah, Carousel next year – now you’re talking……

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Musical theatre parody Forbidden Broadway has been running in NYC for thirty-six years in a large number of incarnations and has had two London runs in the last ten years, one even transferring to the West End. I think its a mark of respect that they’ve renamed this 2016 incarnation after the show they’ve built it around.

Morgan Large’s design is a mini-Hamilton set and cloned costumes. Most of the show contains numbers from Hamilton with new lyrics, performed by just five actors. The way they’ve structured it, about as well as parodying Hamilton, they are able to go off at tangents with references to writers like Sondheim and Lloyd Webber, spoofing their shows too, plus others like Wicked and Annie, and we even get a visit from a famous diva.

It’s great fun, but I do think the pace is relentlessly fast. Though I’ve seen Hamilton, and most of the other shows it parodies, even I couldn’t keep up, missing more than I was happy with. It’s faster than Hamilton, which is probably the point, but it’s at the expense of total comprehension. I wished it would have come up for air and given the audience a breather every now and again.

The five main performers – Marc Akinfolarin, Jason Denton, Eddie Elliott, Liam Tamne and Julie Yammanee – are all terrific, good enough to be in the show they are spoofing. There are lovely cameos from Damian Humbley, notably as Hamilton’s King George, and Sophie-Louise Dann, including that infamous diva. Simon Beck gamely and brilliantly accompanies on a grand piano. The energy and enthusiasm of all eight is infectious; you have a ball because they are.

Writer / director Gerard Alessandrini gives us a parody that is also a homage to a show he clearly loves, and a musical form he’s a big fan of. Great fun.

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The weather hasn’t been kind to us this year at the Open Air Theatre. We managed to get through On the Town with delays and shivers, and this one with a thirty minutes unscheduled break in the first half. Though I’m a regular at OAT musicals, I didn’t book for this last year as I’m not that keen on Andrew Lloyd-Webber’s music (except Evita and his collaboration with Puccini, Phantom of the Opera!) and I’m an unbeliever (though if I was, I might take offence at some scenes). The reviews, awards and friends suggested I’d made a mistake, so we booked for this second run. Though there were things I admired, I think I was right first time.

It tells the story of the last year of Jesus’ life, sung through, more rock opera than musical, a year after The Who started the genre with Tommy. The music seems dated, much more so than other music of the period. The seriousness of the story doesn’t really allow Tim Rice to shine lyrically, with his trademark sharp wit. Timothy Sheader’s production seems more rock concert than musical theatre, returning the show to its first flash Broadway outing rather than following the more restrained London production.

Here we have Tom Scutt’s giant two-story metal structure with a huge fallen cross, something like 300 spotlights and smoke, flares and fire. I found myself admiring the spectacle, but not at all engaged with the story. The singing honours belong to Tyrone Huntly as Judas, who is as sensational, as had been suggested, and as he was in Dreamgirls, and there’s a terrific band under Tom Deering. Drew McConie’s choreography is bold and is the freshest aspect of the show.

Great spectacle, but I went to a musical not a rock concert, so not enough for me I’m afraid.

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When I discovered the master of mush was going to adapt Richard Linklater’s 2003 film I was a bit baffled. Julian Fellowes also seemed an unlikely candidate for the book, and Glen Slater only a bit more likely as lyricist. Only when I read the reviews did I decide to give it a go.

The story concerns failed rock musician Dewey Finn, who impersonates his best friend and temporary landlord Ned Schneebly to get a teaching job at a prep school. He discovers the musical talents of his pupils and decides to mould them into a rock band and enter them into the Battle of the Bands, up against his old band, No Vacancy, which dumped him. He manages to cover up the fact his class have only been studying the history and practice of rock music and rehearsing the band until the day of the contest, when both the principal and the parents find them at it. Dewey disappears, but the kids won’t give up and they find him and persuade him to take yet another risk and perform at ‘the battle’, after which all is forgiven in a sea of goodwill. It follows a similar path as last Saturday’s Strictly Ballroom – allow kids to be themselves and their true talents will emerge.

It’s even more fun on stage than on screen, largely because of the talent and infectious energy of the thirteen kids and their pied piper Dewey. There’s something delightful about seeing pre-teenage kids playing cracking guitar licks, mean bass lines, thrilling drum solos and keyboard pyrotechnics on what sometimes seem like giants instruments, and the singing and dancing (mostly jumping!) is terrific. It’s also very funny, even more so than I remember the film being. I got the alternate Dewey, Gary Trainor, who was no second best – superb – as was Rosanna Hyland, covering the role of the school Principal, with sensational vocals. The kids were ridiculously good.

I surprised myself by how much I succumbed to the infectious charm of Laurence Connor’s excellent production. The master of mush has, at least for the moment, become the master of rock. Great fun.

 

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Biblical musicals aren’t really my thing. I’m not at all fond of the Lloyd-Webber / Rice pair, Jesus Christ Superstar and Joseph & the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat, or Godspell by Stephen Scwartz, who also wrote this (which flopped when it went straight to the West End twenty-five years ago). Somewhat perversely, I prefer it to the other three – all hits – but that may have a lot to do with the chamber scale and high quality of this revival.

Based on the Old Testament Book of Genesis, it tells the stories of Adam & Eve, Cain & Abel and Noah, the first two in Act I and the latter in Act II. I thought the score was rather good, as were Schwartz own lyrics, better than his other shows like Godspell, Pippin and Wicked. John Caird’s lucid book provides a cohesive structure. Even for an unbeliever like me, these are good yarns.

The staging (director Christian Durham) choreography (Lucie Pankhurst), design (Kingsley Hall) and lighting (Nic Farman) all come together to create a fresh, energetic and attractive whole. The animals were conjured up brilliantly and the use of umbrellas was very clever. Musical director Inga Davies-Rutter led an excellent quartet with particularly lovely woodwind sounds. It was very pleasing on the eye and ear.

There was a lot of doubling-up in the excellent young cast of eleven performers. I was particularly impressed by Stephen Barry as Adam / Noah and Canadian Natasha O’Brien (in her first UK role) as Eve / Mama Noah. There were other fine leading performances from Guy Woolf as Cain / Japeth, Daniel Miles as Abel / Ham and Nitika Johal as Yonah, and an excellent ensemble. They deserved a medal for getting through with the distraction of a front row of kids consuming an entire sweetshop with their mothers two rows behind necking cans of lager!

A very pleasant surprise, well worth catching.

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Well, that’s a turn up for the books – an Andrew Lloyd Webber show I rather enjoyed. I’d convinced myself he only produced pompous pop operas with mushy scores after Starlight Express, but I hadn’t seen this when it was first produced fourteen years ago. It probably helps seeing it on a small scale and in an imaginative production with a fine young cast.

Set in the late 60’s in Northern Ireland, it follows a catholic soccer team and the fate of its players and their partners during ‘the troubles’. Thomas joins the IRA. John gets married. Ginger is the victim of protestant paramilitaries. Daniel turns to crime. Though only Thomas becomes a terrorist, the others are dragged in. It does a good job showing how the troubles affected peoples lives and has more edginess and less sentimentality than I was expecting.

It’s traverse staging is effective (well, unless you get a pillar to partially block your view, like me) with particularly good presentation of the football games, with spectators behind the audience. David Shields’ simple but evocative design puts the band behind barricades, political slogans painted on doors & walls and four benches creating dressing rooms, churches and coffins. The musical standards are exceptional, with both band and vocals consistently hitting the mark. It’s a fine young cast with uniformly good acting, movement & singing.

The Irish influenced music is surprisingly good, but its let down by Ben Elton’s weak book and lyrics, which delivers some excruciating moments. That said, this is the kind of high quality intimate staging that can paper over the cracks in the show itself. Director Lotte Wakeham and choreographer Tim Jackson have done a fine job.

A surprise hit for me, which made me wonder if there are other ALW shows which would benefit from more intimate and less overblown productions.

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Having failed to revitalise his flagging career with the Phantom sequel, Lloyd Webber returns to the docu-musical style of Evita, which was probably his best show. Sadly, Stephen Ward is nowhere near as interesting as Eva Peron and the music isn’t a patch on the earlier show. That notwithstanding, the creative team and performers do their best and there’s enough to enjoy to keep you interested for a couple of hours.

ALW’s premise is that Ward was the fall guy for those more powerful than him. The show takes a swipe at politicians, police, lawyers & the gutter press which is fine by me as they’re amongst my least favourite people. I don’t know how true it is, but it sounds plausible and is interesting but hardly fascinating or riveting.

I never thought I’d hear an ALW score containing a reggae song or a chorus number set in a sex party. It’s good that he’s moved on from the pompous pucciniesque pop opera mush (though he can’t resisit an overuse of ‘incidental’ music behind dialogue), but he’s replaced it with a score that’s a ragbag of musical styles. Wheras his music used to sound like other people’s (you know what I mean!), it now sounds like he’s re-cycling his own tunes. Christopher Hampton & Don Black have provided some witty lines and sharp lyrics, but they don’t rescue it.

A lot rests on Alexander Hanson’s performance as Ward, on stage virtually all of the time, and he is very good indeed. In an excellent supporting cast, Joanna Riding’s huge talent is underused in a small role as Profumo’s wife with just one song, though possibly the show’s best, and Ian Conningham is great as Yevgeny Ivanov, a journo and a copper.

I’m enjoying Richard Eyre’s late flowering as a director of musicals (Mary Poppins, Betty Blue Eyes & the Pajama Game) and he stages this very well, with choreography by Stephen Mear & excellent designs by Rob Howell featuring Jon Driscoll’s projections. The 24 scenes on 15 different locations are slickly handled.

For me, a great production of mediocre material. It has just extended by three months though on a Friday night with best seats discounted by over 40% (one of the reasons I went!) it was a far from full house, so it’s difficult to see why.

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This was written after Ken Hill’s Stratford East original but before Lloyd-Webber’s show, which sadly scuppered its Broadway intentions and quite possibly changed history. Even so, it’s had over 1000 productions worldwide but, astonishingly, this is its London professional premiere – and Maury (Nine, Grand Hotel & Titanic) Yeston & Arthur (Nine) Kopit’s show is rather good.

Of course, it shares the same source in Gaston Leroux’s book, but we get more of the phantom (Eric!)’s history / back story and the music is a nod to French operetta (somewhat appropriately for its late 19th century Parisian setting) rather than ripped off from an obscure Puccini opera set in the wild west! It’s a whole lot less pompous that Lloyd-Webber’s, with some nice tongue-in-cheek touches (this could be the production rather than the show, of course).

This is a room above a pub in Walthamstow, so there’s no multicoloured masquerade, boats sailing on dry ice lakes or falling chandeliers – indeed,the entire budget is probably less than the other one’s chandelier cleaning bill – but it’s a terrific production. This is largely due, as before at Ye Olde Rose & Crown, to sky-high musical standards plus, on this occasion, excellent casting by Ben Newsome (also responsible for One Touch of Venus here last year plus more recently A Class Act & Sleeping Arrangements at the Landor and Rooms at the Finborough).

Kieran Brown is outstanding as the phantom and Aussie Kira Morsley (her UK professional debut?) is a fantastic Christine, with the perfect voice for the part. I loved Pippa Winslow’s Carlotta and there are other fine performances from Andrew Rivera as her husband, Sean Paul Jenkinson as the count also in love with Christine and Tom Murphy as outgoing theatre manager Carriere. They are all supported by a fine ensemble.

I adored MD Aaron Clingham’s arrangements for piano, woodwind and strings and the idea of atmospheric ‘incidental’ music is a very good one. American Dawn Kalani Cowle (it’s a proper United Nations up there in Walthamstow) does a fine job of staging this in such a small space, with clever use of a red curtain across the whole space.

I thought One Touch of Venus was a turning point for this venue, and I think this proves it. Anyone interested in musical theatre should be heading to Walthamstow right now. No excuses.

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When his partnership with Andrew Lloyd-Webber ended, Tim Rice collaborated with the boys from ABBA to create this show about chess champions with a cold war political backdrop and plenty of love interest. I saw it, but somehow it has been erased from the memory – I can’t even remember whether I liked it or not! So off to Woking we go to find out……

I’ve loved most of Craig Revel Horwood’s actor-musician productions since he picked up the mantle at The Watermill Newbury from John Doyle. The best of them was 2009’s Spend Spend Spend and I even liked 2010’s Copacobana! They can breathe new life into weak shows like Sunset Boulevard. Here they scale up considerably with an onstage team of 29 and I’m afraid it doesn’t work. Here’s why:

1. The design is very clever, using light panels and projections. The costumes are good, but there are next to no props. With 21 scenes in 16 different locations, you’re given few references to help you follow the story. Apparently, at one point we were in the Temple of the Reclining Buddah in Bangkok; you’d never know it. It feels more like a staged concert than a show.

2. The sound design buries a lot of Tim Rice’s lyrics and given that it’s virtually sung through, that means burying some of the story too. The onstage musicians sound as if they are miming to a backstage band, so distant is the sound. The lead vocals are over-amplified above this, compounding the problem – it seems like they are on The X-Factor singing to a backing track.

3. With the actors doubling up as musicians, the stage is very crowded for most of the show. This is fine in a ‘big’ scene or chorus number, but completely distracting in a more intimate scene.

4. The show is clever, but maybe too clever for its own good. The slickness means you don’t really engage with the characters or their stories. Frankly, I didn’t give a shit about any of them and was completely unengaged and uninvolved – I found myself watching the stagecraft as if I was its producer taking a look at how my show was shaping up, preparing to give notes to the team.

5. For people who wrote some of the most iconic pop songs ever, the score has nothing remotely as good. It’s mostly sub-operatic mush, with I Know Him So Well the only showstopper. Tim Rice’s lyrical trademark is his wit, but there’s little of that too – though some may have got buried in the sound design.

6. The Theatre Royal, Woking isn’t The Watermill Theatre, Newbury!

The seven leads are fine – particularly Shona White as Florence, who sounds uncannily like Elaine Paige (the original Florence). Unfortunately, the production forces them to act and sing with little subtly. The chorus of clearly talented actor-musicians work very hard.

More is less I’m afraid – lots of talent and energy leading to little entertainment.

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Considering the thinness of the material, they’ve worked wonders at the Landor to find enough fun in Andrew Lloyd Webber & Alan Ayckbourn’s 35-year old musical comedy to justify the revival – just!

It’s Panto meets farce meets Boys Own story, a play-within-a-play that’s very silly indeed. The story, dialogue and songs are entirely undistinguished and inconsequential, so it’s left to the performers and production team to mine it for whatever they can – and they certainly find a lot more laughs than you’d find on the page.

Kevin Trainor plays Wooster as a cheeky chappie, which provides some welcome charm, whilst Paul M Meston rightly plays it straight as Jeeves. The supporting cast is excellent; I particularly liked Charlotte Mills gung-ho turn as Honoria Glossop. Designer Morgan Large has created a finely detailed and brilliantly realistic village hall in this tiny space. Nick Bagnall’s staging fizzes with the chorus numbers superbly staged (and choreographed by Andrew Wright). There’s a fine four-piece on-stage band but they don’t have a score worthy of their talents and enthusiasm, I’m afraid.

There are six producers and associate producers, in addition to the Landor’s new in-house producer, listed in the programme which I suspect means they planned for life after the Landor? As much as I admired the production, in my opinion the show certainly doesn’t deserve that.

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