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Posts Tagged ‘Anthony Drewe’

Well, it looks like I’m going against the critical flow again on this one; I rather liked it, particularly the design, the songs and the infectious enthusiasm of the cast. Treating it as a family show might be the key.

It doesn’t have the storytelling quality of Alan Bennet’s iconic non-musical NT adaptation. It’s more character-driven, though there’s more of a story, well, caper, in the second half. Once we’ve established who’s who on the riverbank, the mysteries of the wild wood and Toad’s status, it’s basically about his imprisonment and escape and the takeover and reclaiming of Toad Hall. Julian Fellowes book isn’t up to much, but George Stiles catchy tunes and Anthony Drewe’s witty lyrics do enough plot driving to make up for it.

Peter McKintosh’s design is cute for the riverbank and grand and imposing for Toad Hall, with some excellent train, car and boat journeys in-between. The costumes help define the characters and I thought they were lovely. Aletta Collins choreography also adds much to the characterisations. Rachel Kavanaugh’s production has, above all, a lot of charm, helped by delightful performances like Simon Lipkin as Ratty, Craig Mather as Mole and Gary Wilmot as Badger. I liked Rufus Hound’s very brash, loud, athletic (and green) Toad and Denise Welch’s Geordie mother Otter. Neil McDermott is a good baddie, a suitably oily weasel.

The 6 and 10-year-old seemed to enjoy it as much as the older members of my party and the producers get a gold star for the accessibility that the children-go-free policy provides. Much better than those cynical paid critics would have you believe.

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In 2000 this Stiles & Drewe show surprised many by beating Mamma Mia, The Lion King & Spend Spend Spend to win the Olivier Best New Musical Award. I like underdogs so I was rather pleased. Two of the others (guess!) have gone on, and continue, to play to zillions all over the world, but another surprise to many would be that this has also been seen by 6 million people in 8000 productions in 20 languages. It returns to London almost twenty years later on a much smaller scale than the NT’s Olivier production, with a cast of seven and a three-piece band in a 50-something seat theatre under a railway line!

It’s based on the 175-year old Hans Christian Anderson tale of The Ugly Duckling, a source of ridicule for his dad, his siblings and just about everyone else he meets, but loved regardless by his mum. She searches high and low for him when he goes AWOL, during which he meets an array of characters including a predatory cat and an encouraging frog, eventually discovering he’s a swan and falling in love. In this interpretation we get a more modern spin on diversity and respect. George Stiles has written better scores since, but this one has its moments. Anthony Drewe’s pun-laden book and lyrics are a delight.

It works well on this scale, swept along on a wave of charm, energy and enthusiasm. Andy Room’s staging and Emily Bestow’s design are inventive, in a homespun way. The performers play an array of instruments, from cello to saxophone, to supplement the small band, but it’s not really a full-blown actor-musician show. It’s a very good ensemble. I’m a great advocate of un-amplified chamber musicals, though here some of Drewe’s witty lyrics are lost when singers compete with electric instrumentation, percussion and saxes.

It’s good to see it again, though somehow it now feels even more like a kids show, and I do wish the director’s programme note hadn’t talked about post-Brexit / Trump relevance!

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This is the second collaboration between British musical theatre team George Stiles & Anthony Drewe and American book writers Ron Cowan & Daniel Lipman and it’s just as quintessentially British as their previous offering, Betty Blue Eyes (a musical adaptation of the Alan Bennett film A Private Function). This musical adaptation of Graham Greene’s novel isn’t as good as the previous show, but it still has much to commend it.

I rather wish I’d had an Aunt Augusta; someone to lead you astray, show you the world and encourage you to live life to the full, as she does with her somewhat old, recently retired nephew Henry Pulling. Come to think of it, I didn’t really need an Aunt Augusta. Their adventures take them from London on trains, boats and planes to Paris, Milan and Istanbul, and even further afield to Argentina and Paraguay, where she is at last reunited with her former lover Visconti. It lends itself well to musical adaptation and the songs are particularly good at emphasising the location of scenes. I wouldn’t say it was a great score, but it’s OK. The feel of the novel is maintained and the characterisations are spot on.

Patricia Hodge is perfectly cast as Aunt Augusta – stern, strong willed and more than a bit naughty. She’s not really a singer, but her sung dialogue seemed in keeping with the character. Steven Pacey also perfectly captures the conservative Henry, more than a bit dull, torn between continuing to be stuck in the mud and being led astray, but plumping for the latter in the end. In a fine supporting cast, I particularly liked Hugh Maynard’s Wordsworth, the life and soul of the party. Colin Falconer’s clever design anchors it in an old-fashioned railway station, with the band in an elevated signal box, a waiting room that moves, destination board and those iconic cast iron pillars. His costumes are great too. Christopher Luscombe’s staging benefits from the intimacy of the Minerva Theatre.

I’m not sure why it doesn’t quite sparkle, but there’s enough to make it a worthwhile adaptation and a decent night out.

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I’ve been a fan of Stiles & Drew since Honk. They’re not particularly prolific, but last year brought us – in my view – the best new musical of the year in Betty Blue Eyes. It looks like they may have done it again in 2012.

This is an inventive, modern & very radical updating of the Cinderella story. Cinderella is a gay male escort with step-sisters who run a Soho strip club. Buttons is a girl called Velcro (!) who runs the launderette below his flat and the prince is a London mayoral candidate! Stephen Fry is an off-stage narrator (he was actually in the row behind me). It may sound preposterous but it works! Some of Anthony Drewe & Elliott Davies’ book and Drewe’s lyrics are corny, but for me that’s part of its charm. It’s a very pop score which may prove one of George Stiles’ best.

Designer Morgan Large’s backdrop is a street scene with giant neon signage telling you we’re in Old Compton Street, W1 which allows speedy movement from location to location. His costumes for the step-sisters are hysterical. There’s some excellent choreography from Drew McOnie and Jonathan Butterell has staged it with pace, humour and just a touch of sentimentality.

What makes it though is a hugely talented cast. Tom Milner is a real find as Robbie (Cinders). Though he’s done much TV, this is his stage debut; he has bucketloads of charm and a fine voice. Amy Lennox is just as good as Velcro, a bit dim but ever so lovable. They are both upstaged in the comedy department by the simply terrific double act of Suzy Chard and Beverley Rudd as step-sisters Clodah & Dana; brilliant creations in every way. Gerard Carey is a great baddie as spin doctor George and Michael Xavier continues to impress, here perfectly cast as the Tory ex-swimming champion with a secret. The wonderful Jenna Russell is underutilized as his fiancée Marilyn, but she has excellent chemistry with Xavier and she sings and acts beautifully, particularly when betrayed – it must be hard to provide the serious side to a largely rumbustious story.

This was such a heart-warming uplifting evening. You’ll have to accept its risque content and grossness (the sisters!), but you will be rewarded with lots of laughs and some lovely music, but ultimately a story for our times. This isn’t actually that implausible!

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This isn’t exactly culture, but after plays about dysfunctional relationships, broken Britain, grief & sectarian conflict and an opera set in Auschwitz, it was a welcome tonic to end the week!

It’s a 22 year-old reworking of a 44 year-old Broadway show by Clark Gesner based on Charles M Schultz  ‘Peanuts’ comic strip, given a delightful small-scale production by Anthony Drewe at the little Tabard Theatre in Chiswick. There’s no story as such – just cartoon strips turned into sketches with songs – but it’s the characters which make it hang together. The songs aren’t particularly distinguished, but its funny in a panto sort of way, appealing to adults and children, but each getting something different. For us adults, it’s wry, tongue-in-cheek and quirky.

It’s the performances that pull it off – six lovely characterisations. It’s great to see Hairspray’s Leanne Jones again here as Lucy, with Adam Ellis terrific as her brother Linus, with comfort blanket and speech defect. Nathanial Morrison has a wonderfully expressive face, which means you rarely stop smiling at his Schroeder and Hayley Gallivan gives us a cheeky gregarious Sally. Of course, it all revolves around Charlie Brown and Snoopy and Lewis Barnshaw & Mark Anderson respectively are spot on with their sense of resignation at whatever they encounter.

Great for kids and adults who’ve overdosed on angst and bleakness!

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