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Posts Tagged ‘Blair Robertson’

My track record with this Irving Berlin show isn’t great. On Broadway in 1999, Bernadette Peters was too demure and not enough of a tomboy. At the Young Vic in 2009, Richard Jones inventive production, brilliantly re-scored by Jason Carr for four pianos, miscast Jane Horrocks and had dreadful sight lines. In the 2014 touring production, Jason Donovan’s Frank was no match for Emma Williams’ Annie. Well, this revival has none of those problems, and a lot to enjoy.

It’s easy to forget that this is based on the true story of Buffalo Bill’s show which toured, not just in the US but in Europe in the late 19th century, before merging with competitor Pawnee Bill’s show. When we open (with There’s No Business Like Show Business, one of the greatest opening numbers ever), Frank Butler is the show’s star sharpshooter, but young Annie Oakley turns up from nowhere and ends up challenging and usurping him, which rather scuppers their mutual attraction. Annie heads off to Europe, with Chief Sitting Bull now involved with the show, and Frank defects to Pawnee Bill’s show, but when they return triumphant but broke, love eventually wins.

This staging uses Peter Stone’s 1999 revision of Dorothy & Herbert Fields’ original book, making it more politically correct (changing some, but not all, of the racism towards native Americans), adding a romantic sub-plot and a song, but dropping a handful of other songs and making it a play-within-a-play, a feature which I don’t think really works. It was particularly odd when Annie’s brother Jake puts on a headdress and becomes Chief Sitting Bull, initially with script in hand. Kirk Jameson’s production is appropriately costumed, but with limited props, leaving plenty of space for Ste Clough’s excellent choreography. It’s lacks pace occasionally and the band sometimes drown the solos, but otherwise I liked it. The most important thing is that the standard-laden score is very well sung.

I very much liked Gemma Maclean’s Annie, an excellent transition from naïve tomboy to star turn. She’s well matched by Blair Robertson’s Frank, with great presence and great vocals. They are well supported by a cast of thirteen others who shine in the ensembles and choruses.

Good to see it at last without miscast leads and poor sightlines!

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The musical theatre summer shows at the Royal Academy of Music were a real treat this year.

The day started with a rare revival of Cy Coleman & Neil Simon’s Little Me (like the proverbial bus, about to be revived again at Ye Olde Rose & Crown), a show I’ve never managed to catch before now. Belle is recalling her life to biographer Patrick Dennis, during which we flash back to scenes from her action & husband-packed life. A poor kid in love with a rich kid, she set about getting wealth, culture & social position in order to get her man. By the time she does, he’s taken a turn for the worse through drink.

It’s a really funny musical farce. The plot’s preposterous twists and turns provide plenty of opportunities for fun and a fresh & sprightly production by Karen Rabinowitz (well designed by Alistair Turner) makes the most of them. The 25- piece orchestra (so rare these days) made a magnificent sound and the performances were excellent, with Kristin Lindstrom a superb Young Belle.

Hey, Look Me Over was a revue of Cy Coleman songs which reminded you how good his 12-show back catalogue is. Some familiar, some new, the 12 performers packed a lot into 60 minutes, with some lovely lyrics about the performers themselves (and their pending job search!) bookending the selection.

The second show, John Bucchino & Harvey Fierstein’s very un-American American chamber musical, A Catered Affair, was a big contrast. Somewhat like Howard Goodall (so I liked it!), it was a very beautiful piece telling the story of a working class New York family in the early 50’s. Son Terence has died in the Korean War. His sister wants a quick & simple wedding to take advantage of an expenses paid trip to California as a honeymoon, but her mum’s having none of it. Things get out of control, as they have a habit of doing with weddings, and relationships are threatened and finances become precarious.

There’s another excellent and simple design, made up of ladders and washing lines, from Alistair Turner,  fine staging by Matt Ryan and a smaller but again gorgeous sounding orchestra. In another fine cast, Christine Allado & Blair Robertson stood out as Janey’s parents. Together they created a production as close to perfect as you’d get.

The future of musical theatre is clearly safe in the hands of RAM.

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