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Posts Tagged ‘Anna-Jane Casey’

This is the first time I’ve seen a ‘big’ production of this Jerry Herman ‘problem’ musical and now I’m struggling to understand what the problem is. Fascinating true life story. Good book (revised by Francine Pascal, the original writer Michael Stewart’s sister). Great songs. I loved it.

The story is framed by scenes where silent movie maker Mack Sennett looks back at his relationship with his leading lady, and love of his life, Mabel Normand. We flash back to learn that he discovered her when she delivered food to his film set (I think this is a departure from the real life story for dramatic purposes) and she immediately begins a successful but punishing career making several ‘two reel’ movies a week. Sennett is forever innovating then milking his ideas – pie-in-the-face, bathing beauties, keystone cops etc. He’s an uncompromising slave-driver who’s ego and pride mean he eventually loses her, and just about everyone else, though he does get her back – but by now she’s lost to drink and drugs. The onset of talkies puts an end to his career as he can’t / won’t embrace the change.

There are only 12 songs but every one is a winner. The overture is terrific, and the opening scene is thrilling, as Mack is surrounded by three screens with his films projected onto them. The screens drop and he turns on the deserted studio lights and we’re back filming a movie, starting our chronological journey forward. The pace doesn’t let up as it moves between New York and Hollywood. Train journeys and boarding a liner are superbly created using projections. There are great set pieces filming movies, stunningly staged keystone cop chases, bathing beauty scenes and a show-stopping tap dance routine. It’s great when it fills the stage but it works well too in more intimate scenes.

Jonathan Church’s production is terrific, with classic period choreography by Stephen Mear. They’ve even brought in those Spymonkey boys to get the physical comedy right. Robert Jones set is excellent, enabling speedy scene changes, with Jon Driscoll’s projections and Howard Harrison’s lighting well integrated. Robert Scott’s big band sounds even bigger than fifteen and the ensemble is as fine as they come. This is the third consecutive role in twice as many tears that Michael Ball has made his own – Mack follows his Olivier award winning Sweeney and Edna! – in what appears to be a mid / late career high. I don’t know why Chichester have, like they did for Barnum, had to import a leading actor from the US again but Rebecca LaChance is indeed very good. Anna Jane Casey, herself a Mabel at the Watermill Newbury (replaced by Janine Dee when it got to the West End) almost steals the show as Lottie.

For me, this up there with the best shows the ‘National Theatre of Musicals’ has done and deserves to follow the others to the West End, if only to prove that either there was never a problem or the problem is solved. I’d certainly go again.

 

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I wasn’t sure I wanted to see a new ‘edition’ of this revue show just five years after the last one, but the reviews suggested otherwise and I have zero willpower, so off to the Menier we go.

Gerard Alessandrini’s show parodies musicals and it has been running on-and-off (but mostly on) in New York City for 32 years; now in its 19th ‘edition’. It has apparently had outings in Sydney, Tokyo and Singapore and this is the 2nd UK version. The format is the same, but the shows change. Four singers, accompanied by a pianist, solo or in combination, perform parodies of 13 shows plus a few performer profiles. Some hit the mark better than others, but they’re all fun.

In this edition, the highlight for me was that old warhorse Les Mis; it’s extraordinary how many laughs you can get from a (non-existent) revolve. Miss Saigon, The Book of Mormon and Once were also huge fun, probably because they were also amongst the most biting, and the title song of Sondheim’s Into the Woods became Into the Words, with performers charting the challenges of singing Sondheim. Of the performer parodies, there was a great song duel between Rita Moreno and Chita Riviera.

You have to know and like musicals to appreciate this show, and you also have to expect things you love to be treated mercilessly, but if you do it’s great fun. What helps here is the fact that it’s delivered by four of our finest musical performers. Damian Humbley is more than good enough to sing the lead in Les Mis, but even better parodying it. Ben Lewis is a dead ringer for Charlie’s new Willy, complete with matching costume. Anna-Jane Casey is way too good for Wicked but her parody is a hoot. Sophie-Louise Dann is an absolutely hilarious Matilda.

The Menier was a bit like a sauna and there was an unscheduled 35-minute technical break 15 minutes in, but neither could dampen the immense fun had by all. Though it’s written by an American, given that 11 of the 13 shows parodied are currently in the West End (and another recently departed), with 6 starting out here, maybe it’s time to change the show’s title?

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You’d be forgiven for thinking the proscenium arch which helps create the Criterion Theatre in the blitz was a permanent feature of this theatre. This Noel (Me & My Girl) Gay show, set onstage and backstage at a wartime radio show, is so ‘at home’ here in Tom Rogers design.

I was never that keen on Me & My Girl (too twee for my taste) and the most recent outing of this show in the West End was mediocre fare. The Watermill has become such a trusted musicals friend of late, that this didn’t put me off (as it didn’t Copacabana last year) and how right I was. Director Caroline Leslie’s first musical for the Watermill is as good as any that have gone before in their illustrious recent history.

The radio show has a new producer, keen to enforce the rules about what can and can’t be broadcast. The MC / comic / scriptwriter regularly flouts them with his sauciness and double entendres. The ventriloquist doesn’t turn up, which means the producer has to become performer. The guest star is a Hollywood hearthrob, old flame of the MC’s girlfriend, whose arrival threatens that relationship. Oh so simple but with a very funny book by Abi Grant and some fine tunes.

As always here, the actors double-up as musicians, so we get lady saxophonists and an eleven piece ukulele band; the musical standards under MD Paul Herbert are outstanding. The Grosvenor Girls give us those classic forties harmonies and look gorgeous in liberty print frocks and period hairdos and we have Amy the forces sweetheart. There’s a comic number, Ali Baba’s Camel, with everyone dressed in arab robes and fez’s and the song Run Rabbit Run! The smile never left my face.

Many of the lines are corny beyond belief and the double entendres are often familiar, but when they are delivered by Gary Wilmot they are absolutely delicious. He’s the archetypal music hall entertainer who has exceptional comic timing and bucketloads of charm. His hapless sidekick Wilfred is played to perfection by Julian Littman. Andrew C. Wadsworth morphs brilliantly from ‘Can’t Do ‘grump to a stage-struck and unlikely star. Anna-Jane Casey (for it is she!) is of course as fine a romantic lead as you could wish for and her chemistry with Wilmot is key to the show’s success.

This is my ninth Watermill musical and the fifth consecutive one at their lovely home base. It has now become as much of a summer fixture as the Proms, the Globe and the Open Air Theatre. As the show’s best tune says – they’re publishing the sun.

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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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