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Posts Tagged ‘Bill Deamer’

It’s thirty years since I saw a large-scale production of this show – it’s first, and only, West End outing – though there were three others in quick succession between 2002 and 2010 – a semi-staged version at the Royal Festival Hall, a delightful fringe production at the Landor and another in Walthamstow during Sondheim’s 80th celebrations. Along with A Little Night Music, it’s never been my favourite Sondheim show, though it contains some of his best songs, but just five days after a stunning revival of that other show in Newbury, here we are at the National being blown away by Dominic Cooke’s sensational production, taking us back to the original Broadway version without interval. Now, where did I put my superlatives thesaurus……

It’s a reunion at the New York theatre where the Weismann Follies were between the wars. It’s about to be demolished and the girls of the 30’s and 40’s have been invited back one last time. Nostalgia gives way to regret for lost love and lost opportunities, as the main characters Buddy & Sally and Ben & Phyllis reminisce. There have been follies in their lives as well as Follies in their careers, and we learn how their relationships were formed and how they progressed. All four have the ‘ghosts’ of their former selves onstage, as do ten of the other stars from the past. Interwoven with their story, and ‘character songs’ as Sondheim calls them, we have routines and turns reenacted and a pastiche called Loveland within which all four leads sing of their individual follies.

Imelda Staunton follows her Mrs Lovett, Rose and Martha with another stupendous performance as Sally. It’s wonderful to see Philip Quast again, on fine form too as Ben, and Janine Dee is a terrific acid-tonged Phyllis, a particularly fine dancer as it turns out. Peter Forbes is less of a musicals regular, but he makes a great Buddy. Another piece of surprising but inspired casting is Di Botcher as Hattie, delivering Broadway Baby as if she was. Tracie Bennett takes I’m Still Here hostage with a particularly ballsy rendition, and the duet between opera singers Josephine Barstow and Alison Langer as older and younger Heidi is another stand-out moment in a show full of them. Dawn Hope’s Stella gamely leads the veterans in a thrilling tap dancing number with their former selves. The National is saved from prosecution by the musicals police by casting a Strallen, Zizzi, as Young Phyllis. This teally is a stunner of a cast.

Dominic Cooke isn’t known for musicals, but teamed with choreographer Bill Deamer, he’s done a great job, an elegant staging which is brash when it needs to be, at other times restrained and often very moving. Vicki Mortimer has created an atmospheric set and fantastic costumes. The unbroken 130 minutes was packed full of showstoppers and by the time we got to Loveland, I was overwhelmed and deeply moved. I think my previous, less enthusiastic reaction is down to timing. I was too young and too new to Sondheim and wasn’t really ready for this show – until now.

To the 37 performers and 21 musicians on stage, and the 200 production staff, and of course Messrs Sondheim & Goldman, it was worth every second of your time and effort. Unforgettable.

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The oddest thing about this 1978 Broadway show is its sub-operetta score by Cy (Sweet Charity / Barnum / City of Angels) Coleman. Oh, and the fact it takes place almost entirely on a train. This is my fourth production and the second at GSMD. I rather like it.

The score somehow suits a story about theatre folk. Producer Oscar Jaffee has had a series of flops and he’s on the run from those involved in the last one in Chicago, which closed mid-performance when the last audience member walked out, on the train named the 20th Century bound for New York. He hears that former star of stage, now star of screen, Lily Garland, is going to board the train. An idea for a new show about Mary Magdalene comes to him and a rich religious businesswoman, Letitia Peabody Primrose, falls into his lap and becomes his backer. He then seeks to bag Lily as his leading lady. With a book and lyrics by musical comedy masters Betty Comden & Adolph Green, there’s a lot of fun to be had, particularly in the second half scenes getting the investment and contracting Lily, plus a delightfully politically incorrect song called She’s A Nut and a running joke about everyone writing a play.

Adam Wiltshire’s set and costumes wouldn’t look out of place on a West End stage – two big gilt proscenium arches and a superb period train carriage – and where else would you get a full orchestra of 35 and a cast of 30 these days! There’s excellent choreography by Bill Deamer, especially in the Act II Mayfair party scene. The musical standards under MD Dan Jackson are high, and whereas last time GSMD staged it many of the cast struggled to play older, that is absolutely not the case here. Bessie Carter was particularly good as Letitia and Michael Levi Harris & Carl Stone a terrific double-act as Oscar’s sidekicks. I very much liked Claudia Jolly ‘s Lily and Josh Dylan provided a great cameo as her new love Bruce Granit. The chorus numbers showed off the vocal and dancing talents of a fine ensemble.

It’s another one of those shows where the second half is sharper than the first, and you can see why the original production never made it across the pond like Coleman’s other shows, but Martin Connor’s revival is a great introduction for anyone who hasn’t seen it, or a fresh look for musical theatre buffs like me who can’t get enough of it. 

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I never tire of this show. One of my top ten musicals (maybe top five, maybe 1st – ranking is impossible! ) but definitely the best musical comedy of them all. So my favourite drama school’s end of term production was an absolute must, but it’s a hell if a challenge for students, however good they are.

This show has everything. Set in a quintessential period in New York City as if time came to a standstill in the 50’s, from the moment you meet Rusty Charlie, Benny Southstreet and Nicely-Nicely Johnson (what names!) you’re swept up into Damon Runyon’s world. It has a wonderfully funny book by Jo Swerling and Abe Burrows with gamblers, missionaries, two love stories and a trip to Havana. Everyone’s lovable, even the rogues. Frank Loesser’s score is chock-a-block with wonderful tunes with brilliant lyrics (I’ll Know, If I Were A Bell, I’ve Never Been In Love Before, Luck Be Lady, Sit Down You’re Rockin’ The Boat…..). The guy gets his girl and the girl gets her guy and the mission is saved. Bliss.

The highlights of this particular production are the superb sound of a proper 23-piece orchestra under Michael Haslam, the luxury of extra Hot Box girls, great period costumes and an overture and entr’acte retro curtain light show! Bill Deamer’s choreography for Sit Down, You’re Rockin’ The Boat is sensational and Adelaide and Sarah’s duet, Marry The Man Today, has never been better. Luke Dale had great presence as Sky and Oscar Batterham’s characterisation of Nathan was spot on. Alexander Knox sang Sit Down beautifully (while coping with the energetic choreography) and Edward Sayer was a particularly fine Arvide.

Director Martin Connor has done many great shows here at GSMD and this was amongst his most ambitious. It wasn’t faultless, but it was huge fun and it shone when it mattered. For me, the superb encore could have gone on and on because by then I was in musical theatre heaven.

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Walking into the GSMD’s Silk Street Theatre you could be walking into any West End or Broadway theatre. Morgan Large’s two-story hotel foyer, complete with grand staircase, revolving door and chandelier, is something you don’t expect to see in a drama school production. That’s often the case at GSMD shows, though – productions any West End producer would be proud of at a fraction of the ticket price. I actually enjoyed this more than either the Dominion 1992 or Donmar 2004 productions!

Based on the 1929 Austrian novel & play rather than the 1932 film (with Greta Garbo, Joan Crawford & John Barrymore) the musical first appeared in 1958 but had a troubled life and it wasn’t until the equally troubled 1989 Broadway production, which transferred to the Dominion, that it truly arrived. Set in 1928 in Berlin, the coolest city of the time (Brecht & Weill, Marlene Dietrich, Josephine Baker & Louis Armstrong, Kandinsky & the Bauhaus, Fritz Lang & Billy Wilder!), it weaves together the stories of a bankrupt baron thief, a fast fading Russian ballerina, a man whose business is about to go down the pan, a junkie doctor with a death wish, a dying book-keeper wanting to experience life before he goes and a stagestruck secretary intent on Hollywood. Add in their assistants, the hotel staff and some entertainers and all life is here.

The score is better than I remembered it and here it is played by a full 27-piece orchestra under Steven Edis and it sounds glorious. The choreographer is Bill Deamer no less and the quality of dancing is another of its high spots, including a pair of professional dancers a match for any Strictly professionals. Director Martin Connor succeeds in the difficult task of staging the overlapping stories played by 32 actors. The overlapping makes it very fast moving, but you’ve got to keep your wits about you as there’s a lot going on. It’s often dark, sometimes surprisingly, but always captivating. Forthcoming events in Berlin are hinted at, which makes the ending a bit chilling and in truth a bit sudden.

I’m a regular at GSMD and other drama schools and though the hit rate is high, it’s rare you see a revival this good. Combining a premiere league creative team with bags of fresh talent can give you something very special indeed, and just about the best theatrical value for money you’ll find anywhere!

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This 1986 musical with a book by Joseph (Fiddler on the Roof) Stein, lyrics by Stephen (Godspell) Schwartz & music by Charles (Annie) Strouse is a lot better than its post-opening 4-day Broadway run suggests. It provides a drama school like GSMD with 30 roles, lots of different locations to set and a score suitable for a substantial orchestra. That’s a double-edged sword, of course, as that means ambition and challenge, but GSMD pull it off.

The show starts on board a ship full of Russian Jewish refugees bound for New York. Rebecca’s husband, now in New York for five years, has sent for her but fails to meet her at the port. Bella Cohen, who she as befriended on board, and her father Avram vouch for her, enabling her and her son David to enter the US. She lives with the Cohen’s, works in a sweat shop and gets involved with union man Saul. When she eventually finds Nathan some time later, he isn’t the man he was; he’s now one of the oppressors making life hell for sewing machinists like her.

There’s a sub-plot where orthodox Avram seeks to thwart the relationship between Bella and Ben, a romance which started on board ship, and lots of insight into the plight of these poor immigrants. Some funny scenes lighten the mood, notably a Jewish Hamlet, and its at its best in the big numbers which allow the terrific ensemble and orchestra under Stephen Eadis to shine. With a team as good as Martin Connor (director) & Bill Deamer (choreographer), the staging is of course excellent – flowing smoothly from ship to port to tenement to sweat shop to street with a simple but clever two-tier design.

Amongst the individual performances, those that have to play older or younger fare particularly well. Christopher Currie plays old Akram well (despite the dodgy beard!), as does Eva Feiler as Rachel, who befriends him with a view to marriage. Rhys Isaac-Jones does equally well in reverse as young David. Nathan is an unsympathetic character which Alex Large turns you against, as he should, in the same way that Maximilien Seweryn gets all of your empathy as Ben.

A rare chance to see a big Broadway show with the big numbers delivered to thrilling effect.

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The problem with this stage premiere of the 1939 Fred Astaire / Ginger Rogers RKO picture is that’s its way too reverential. Most new stagings of 30’s shows (Anything Goes, Girl Crazy, On Your Toes, Babes in Arms…..) have scrubbed up fresh, but this feels like a visit to the RKO Musicals Museum.

It’s typical musical comedy fare. American hoofer Jerry Travers falls for Dale Tremont during a London run, but she thinks he’s producer Horace Hardwick. The mistaken identity unravels and resolves during a visit to Horace’s wife in Venice, where a rather cartoon Italian dressmaker Alberto Beddini gets caught up in the plot. It all ends happily (except for Alberto).

From Hildegard Bechtler’s lovely art deco sets & Jon Morrell’s accompanying costumes to the perfect wigs & make-up to the period choreography to the permanent smiles, it’s as if they set about recreating the film in colourful 3D. It felt like you’d dozed off on the sofa watching the movie in B&W on a Sunday afternoon and awoke disorientated with these people live in colour in your living room.

I found the leads a bit wooden; Charlotte Gooch is new, so she could be excused, but Tom Chambers has been doing it for 15 months. The smaller parts fared better, particularly Vivien Parry as Madge Hardwick, Stephen Boswell as Bates and understudy Paul Kemble as Horace Hardwick.

Director Matthew White has produced exciting revivals of Sweet Charity and Little Shop of Horrors at the Menier and choreographer Bill Deamer has produced fresh choreography for shows like The Boyfriend and Lady Be Good at the Open Air Theatre, so I’m a bit puzzled why they chose to be so conservative here. A disappointment.

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Presenting the London premiere of this show by Americans Ernest Kinoy, Lee Goldsmith & Roger Anderson may be considered a coup for the Guildhall School of Music & Drama. Thirty years ago, the Broadway production was cancelled just before the first rehearsal when financing fell through after another show about Chaplin was being prepared. Sadly, it proves a bit of a disappointment.

The show (somewhat pretentiously sub-titled A Memory as Entertainment) concentrates on Chaplin’s early life, up to his departure from Keystone films when he was just 26. It’s a fascinating life and reading Eliot Shrimpton’s excellent programme notes before the start heightens the anticipation.

The fatal flaw of the show proves to be the long first half (despite the fact it appears to have lost 15-20 mins in the last few days!) when a fascinating life is presented very slowly and made dull. The music, newly orchestrated by prolific MD Steven Edis, is unremarkable and the book rather clunky. It was all a bit Oliver! without any of the sparkle. Things improve in the second half, which starts on the ship to the US and zips through the five years that took Chaplin to stardom, but its a bit late.

Mark Bailey’s design is outstanding. There is a giant gold picture frame at the back, with projections onto its canvas, red velvet curtains descend for the music hall scenes and the costumes are excellent. The opening of Act II on a liner heading for NYC with the projection of the sea, a large smoking funnel and a pair of handrails looks brilliant. Bill Deamer, who has done such good work at the Open Air Theatre, choreographs well. In fact there’s nothing much wrong with Martin Connor’s staging other than its pacing.

The acting is better than the singing. Though the musical standards in the pit are good, the singing onstage is (unusually for GSMD) often ropey with far too many off-key moments. The most impressive performances come from Tim Bowie as elder brother Sydney (though he looks four years younger rather than four years older), Sion Alun Davies as Keystone films supremo Mack Sennett, Katherine Rose Morley as his Mabel and Rose Reynolds as the Lily Chaplin marries.

In the 20 or so years I’ve been going to the GSMD end-of-year musicals, I’m not sure I’ve ever left as disappointed as I did last night. Most of their previous shows have been revivals of tested material. This just shows that however good the talent, if the material isn’t good enough, you’re bound to end up with a dud.

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