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Posts Tagged ‘Arts Ed’

The programme for this caught my imagination this year, so I booked for six of the eight showcases of new musicals at the Turbine Theatre. The first was cancelled, so I ended up seeing five. Each was around an hour long, with no set but some costumes and props.

I started with Jet Set Go!, not exactly new, a reworking of an eleven year old Edinburgh fringe show by Pippa Cleary & Jake Brunger, who went on to give us a superb adaptation of The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole which I saw in Leicester, the Menier & the West End. It’s a very funny piece set on a transatlantic flight (and during their stopover in NYC) exploring the lives of the crew. Great fun, with a brilliant cast, in which Lizzy Connolly and Samantha Thomas shone with show-stopping comedy numbers.

The Assassination of Katie Hopkins wasn’t new either, having had a full production at Theatre Clwyd in 2018. I’m not sure this unstaged one hour version did it full justice, but the originality of the score and the suitability of the subject matter to the form left me wanting to see a full production. MD Mark Dickman did a fine job playing Mark Winkworth’s score on solo piano and the cast of six delivered Chris Bush’s lyrics with relish.

The festival hit a high note with veteran musical theatre partnership Stiles & Drew’s new musical adaptation of the film Soapdish, whose writer, Robert Harding, also responsible for the show’s book, made the transatlantic journey to be part of it. The premiere league cast included Louise Dearman and Laura Pitt-Pulford, who squeezed every ounce of comedy from this hilarious piece about a soap star and her nemesis. It was great to see Alice Croft and Nic Myers, Arts Ed students who wowed me there in Freaky Friday last month, in this exceptional cast. I can’t wait to see a full production.

Another established writer, Jason Carr, better known as an orchestrator, arranger and accompanist, was responsible, with Poppy Burton-Morgan, for the fourth offering, Coldfront. This is a very different, original two-hander set on a park bench where an unlikely relationship unfolds. The songs were nice, but there was a little too much sung dialogue and the performances weren’t well matched, though it was good to see Anna Francolini again.

The final showcase wasn’t new either, the third iteration over 12 years of Craig Christie’s Eurobeat, a satire / homage to that contest. They weren’t able to camp it up as much as it needed, with no set and few costumes, though Daniel Jacob was excellent as the glittery drag host Marlene Cabana. The four entries – Spain, Ukraine, Norway and Vatican City (!) – were very good, but there were only four, plus one for the compere.

For some reason, I was expecting brand new shows as work-in-progress from people new to musical theatre, so with only two out of four shows not produced before and those from established writers, one which had been workshopped twice before, it didn’t really fulfil my expectations, though I didn’t dislike any of them, the performances were excellent and I had a lot of fun.

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The Landor Theatre continues its roll with this revival of the American updating of one of Gilbert & Sullivan’s most poplar operettas. It’s a pretty bonkers idea really, but in this production it works, largely because the stage is teeming with talent, energy and enthusiasm that just sweeps you away.

The only previous production I’ve seen was the Watermill actor-musician touring version at Kingston three years ago – I blogged at the time that I found it pointless and it left me cold (https://garethjames.wordpress.com/2009/09/27/hot-mikado) so Robert McWhir’s production has really turned me around. He’s staged it as a 30’s(ish) US radio show, though in the second half this is more in the background. The story is intact, it’s still set in Japan, but the dialogue is modern and the music is adapted to a range of contemporary styles like swing and be-bop.

Robbie O’Reilly’s choreography makes good use of the small space and Richard Lambert’s lighting turns a simple design into something elegant and period perfect. The musical standards are what make this production shine, though. Michael Webborn has a trio rather than a big band but they know how to swing. There are some excellent vocals in both choruses and solos. Mark Daley and Victoria Farley are lovely as romantic leads Nanki-Poo and Yum-Yum, Nathanial Morrison is an excellent Poo-Bah (chief high everything) and Ian Mowatt provided much of the comedy as Ko-Ko the hapless executioner. Piers Bate, who impressed me as Leo Bloom at Arts Ed earlier in the year (https://garethjames.wordpress.com/1012/01/30/the-producers) stood out in the smaller roles. It is an exceptional ensemble who sing and dance their hearts out.

You’re unlikely to see a better production and you have two more weeks to find out why!

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