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Posts Tagged ‘Aria Entertainment’

In many ways this is the ideal show for our current predicament. Open air, promenade, keep as much distance as you like. I joined a small group on a corner of Clapham Common, opened the App I’d downloaded and waited to be told what to do next.

What we did do was follow an actor around this corner of the common as her story unfolds through an excellent soundscape played through your headphones / earphones. She is joined by another actor. The location(s) aren’t significant. To say more would be to spoil it.

My problem with the piece is that even the dialogue is recorded, some mimed. most not, so the actors are almost incidental. I felt sorry for Katja Quist and Richard Heap who had to engage with the dozen followers and attempt to convey emotion in this way. It was also hard not to be distracted by the attention of the public, wondering what on earth we were up to.

Site specific, immersive work has given me some of my best and most memorable theatrical experiences, but this isn’t really site specific (it could be anywhere, and indeed is being performed elsewhere) and I didn’t find it immersive. I admire Katy Lipson & Aria Entertainment for finding something to feed theatre-goers in these times, but I’m afraid it left me hungry.

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Given the pedigree of its creators (music by Annie’s Charles Strouse, lyrics by Godspell’s Stephen Schwartz and book by Fiddler on the Roof’s Joseph Stein) this musical had a troubled life, surviving only three nights after its Broadway opening. Though there have been excellent drama school productions (I saw it at both GSMD & RAM in recent years), Manchester’s Hope Mill Theatre gave it its UK professional premiere, in a revised version with a book by David Thompson, last year, and have now brought it to London, substantially recast.

It’s the story of the American immigrant experience, in this case Jewish refugees fleeing the East European pogroms at the beginning of the 20th Century. Rebecca and Bella meet and bond on a  ship bound for New York. Rebecca and her ten-year-old son David are seeking a new life, Bella is joining her widowed father, who emigrated two years earlier to join his brother. Rebecca is unable to pay her entrance fee on arrival, so Bella persuades her father to vouch for her, then her uncle to house and employ her. From there, their lives are intertwined as they navigate sweat shop exploitation and anti-semitism and get caught up in labour disputes. Rebecca chooses the wrong man whilst Bella chooses a good one.

Bronagh Lagan’s production flows beautifully on a set by Gregor Donnelly defined by suitcases, like the 2016 RAM production, and lines of washing, with excellent costumes underlining the heritage and period. In an ensemble packed with fine performances, Carolyn Maitland shines as Rebecca, with beautiful vocals, passionately delivered. Dave Willetts is on fine form as Avram, Bella’s father, Alex Gibson-Giorgio is excellent as Italian union man Sal, and there’s a terrific performance from a boy actor as David. Two ‘Americans’, played as vaudevillians, pop up regularly to illustrate the ‘welcome’ these immigrants receive and. a four-piece Klezmer band do likewise to emphasise the Jewish roots.

This is the second Hope Mill / Aria Entertainment production I’ve seen in four days. Their march for domination of regional and touring musical theatre continues with five more productions between them in the first half of 2020. Long may it continue.

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This is the second of three January day-trips to catch musicals that aren’t scheduled to come to London, this time Hope Mill Manchester’s production of Mame visiting Northampton, a show the UK hasn’t seen since it’s premiere here 50 years ago, which is why I’ve never seen Jerry Herman’s iconic Broadway show.

Patrick Dennis’ novel Auntie Mame went from page to stage to screen before this musical adaptation, which was itself later filmed. It revolves around a New York socialite who loves life and likes to party. When her brother dies, her 10-year-old nephew Patrick comes to live with her, and she makes it her job to show him the world, sharing her Bohemian lifestyle. After losing all her money in the Wall Street Crash, she’s lucky enough to meet and fall for rich southerner Beauregard, who marries her and takes her on seemingly endless honeymoon, seeing even more of the world.

Patrick goes to boarding school, where conservative snobbery replaces fun living, and when the honeymoon ends in tragedy, with Beauregard’s death, Mame gets to see how her work has been undone. Patrick is about to marry into the rich but dull & tasteless Upson’s from Connecticut, but she is determined to prevent such a match. The hedonistic first half gives way to a clash of the party animals and the dull New Englanders, providing some sublime comedy.

Herman’s score has some great numbers, with superb orchestrations by Jason Carr, brilliantly played by Alex Parker’s terrific band. His lyrics, and Jerome Lawrence & Robert E Lee’s book, are sharp and witty. It’s scaled down from big Broadway / West End values, but with a cast of eighteen still fills the stage. You can see the dance background in Nick Winston’s slick and stylish direction and Philip Whitcomb’s art deco set and excellent 20’s costumes give it the perfect period feel.

The leading role needs a special actress and Tracie Bennett is perfect for the part, belting out those big numbers and squeezing every ounce of comedy from her dialogue, particularly in her scenes with her best friend, ‘Broadway baby’ Vera, superbly played by Harriett Thorpe. Patrick is a big role for a young actor, but Lochlan White was confident and assured, pulling it off with great aplomb. They are all part of a fine company who do the show proud.

I’ve seen and loved Hello Dolly, La Cage Au Folles and Mack & Mabel, so I’m so glad I finally got to see Herman’s other big show, thanks to Hope Mill, now an important part of the UK’s musical theatre landscape, plus Aria Entertainment and their hosts the Royal & Derngate in Northampton. Next stop Salisbury, then ?????

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This was one of those early 60’s US TV comedy shows, along with The Munsters the first foray into gothic-comedy-horror, that became a regular feature of the TV viewing of my youth, though I was surprised to find that they only made 64 episodes over 2-3 years (mind you, thats five times as many as Fawlty Towers!). A brief movie franchise came along in the early 90’s. What I hadn’t realised was that it all started with cartoons in The New Yorker in the 30’s. This musical adaptation originated in 2010. I saw an amateur production at the Edinburgh Fringe two years ago, but it’s taken until now to get a professional production in the UK. I caught it at the WMC in Cardiff.

It’s very faithful to the TV series, with family members Gonez, Morticia, Wednesday, Pugsley, Uncle Fester, Grandma and butler Lurch all featuring. The story revolves around Wednesday’s attraction to, and possible engagement with, the rather more normal Lucas Beineke, son of Mal and Alice. A group of dead ancestors – Viking, Roman, Tudor, Warrior, Matador, Geisha, Madam, Ballerina, Jester and Ringmaster – complete the cast of characters. It’s fairly predictable oddballs-meet-normals stuff, though the book by Marshall Brickman & Rick Elice (responsible for the rather different Jersey Boys) is often funny. Andrew Lippa’s music and lyrics are OK but not particularly memorable.

Diego Pitarch’s designs precisely recreate the family home, and family, most know very well. Matthew White’s staging was functional, but didn’t sparkle. The star of the show for me was Cameron Blakely’s Gomez, with great comic timing, lithe movement and a glint in his eye. Carrie Hope Fletcher is excellent as Wednesday, though her vocals become a bit X-Factor at times. Dickon Gough plays Lurch perfectly straight until his delicious exit at the curatin call.

It’s a big gig for the ever enterprising producers Aria Entertainment, it was good to catch it, but I doubt the tour will make it back to London.

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This 1978 musical is based on Jack Rosenthal’s 1976 TV play of the same name. It seems to me to be an unlikely collaboration – book by Rosenthal himself, the master of gritty realism, a score by conservative Broadway composer Jules Styne (Gypsy and Funny Girl, 20 and 15 years earlier respectively) and Lloyd-Webber’s regular lyricist Don Black! 

The fact it’s taken 37 years to be revived is partly due to Rosenthal’s refusal when he was alive, haunted by his relationship with Styne and his dislike of the Broadway-style production of Martin Charmin (the basis for his play Smash, revived recently at the Menier – https://garethjames.wordpress.com/2011/04/15/smash!). This version is revised by David Thompson, original lyricist Don Black and director Stewart Nicholls, going back to source material and scaling it down, losing a number of extraneous characters.

Elliott Green is 13 and its time for his Bar Mitzva, the Jewish boy-to-man ritual. The first act sees the preparations and panic from mum Rita and back seat resignation by taxi driver dad Victor. Though Elliott is refusing to get his hair cut, everything else is on plan – until Elliott does a runner from the synagogue. In the second act, his whereabouts are leaked by school friend Denise and big sis Lesley persuades him to return home to face the music.

I felt the story might be pared back a bit too much; the second half in particular isn’t meaty enough. Styne’s score is very un-Broadway and very much in keeping with the material and Black’s lyrics are witty. The layout of the theatre results in a wide playing area which had both good and bad points, but I liked the authentic 70’s sensibility of Grace Smart’s design.

It’s great to see Sue Kelvin again and she makes a brilliant archetypal Jewish mom, well matched by Robert Maskell’s Victor. Lara Stubbs as Lesley and Nicholas Corre as her boyfriend Harold share the vocal honours. 13-year-old Adam Bregman steals the show though as Elliott, an assured and confident performance of great charm.

It works well as a chamber piece for eight actors and a 4-piece band, though it’s not as successful a musical adaptation as Rosenthal’s Spend Spend Spend some 20 years later. Despite protestations to the contrary by its creators at the time, I think the show still resonates more with a Jewish audience. 

A gold star to Aria Entertainment for giving us the chance to see it after such a long time.

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This is a very impressive and original new British musical by first timers Eamonn O’Dwyer and Rob Gilbert, and in good shape for a first outing.

Both acts start seven years in the past when David, who makes mirrors, dies in an accident in his workshop. His elder daughter Laura witnesses, and may have had a part in, his death.  Seven years on we see a family broken apart. Laura has withdrawn into herself and her relationship with her mother Anna is badly broken. Her younger 15-year-old sister Lily is precocious and promiscuous, to some extent encouraged by her mother, who has turned to drink. They take in lodger Nathan, who is working on an anthology of the poetry of an ancestor, to help pay the bills. All three women are attracted to Nathan and seek a relationship, though of different sorts. David’s ghost drifts in and out, but only appears to Nathan and Anna. Nathan unwittingly acts as the catalyst for the resolution of the family’s dysfunctionality.

It’s very well structured, unfolding like a mystery. O’Dwyer’s score is very attractive and not derivative like many new musicals, though it is vocally challenging and some of the performers sometimes misfire with a touch of harshness, flatness or over singing. It’s beautifully played by a trio of keyboards, cello and reeds under MD David Randall. David Woodhead’s design makes excellent use of both levels of the Arcola space, more so that just about anything else I’ve seen here. Leigh Davies’ sound is also amongst the best I’ve experienced in an amplified fringe musical (maybe you should hire him, Southwark Playhouse?!)

Gillian Kirkpatrick’s Anna is the emotional heart of the piece and she’s excellent. Jamie Muscato is outstanding as Nathan, with superb vocals, a very different role to the one he played in Dogfight but just as impressive. Graham Bickley is David and his musical theatre experience shows, again with particularly fine vocals.

It’s not faultless, but its an impressive first musical and an impressive first outing in an impressive production by Ryan McBryde. Musical theatre aficionados should be sure to catch it in its last two weeks.

 

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