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Posts Tagged ‘Bob Broad’

This musical has been created to raise awareness and pay tribute to the victims of a little publicised 1973 hate crime when a New Orleans gay bar was subjected to an arson attack killing 32, the biggest toll of such a crime before Orlando in 2016.

We meet fashion designer Wes in the present time. He’s relocating from New York to his home town of New Orleans, buying premises to showcase his work, without realising it’s the scene of the 1973 attack. As soon as he’s signed the deal, the magic of theatre brings the club alive again and we’re back in 1973 on the evening of the tragedy. Thus begins a conversation between two generations of gay people across more than forty years, with the seventies set as shocked at Wes’ openness as he is at their secrecy. The eight characters tell their stories, which together show the contrasting lives in the two periods.

Max Vernon‘s score goes from one ballsy number to another for the whole 120 minutes, with the vocal honours going to Tyrone Huntley as Wes, Carley Mercedes Dyer as bar tender Henri and Cedric Neal as Willie, with excellent backing from Bob Broad’s invisible band. Declan Bennett and Andy Mientus bring the homeless hustler Dale and Patrick, the boy abandoned by his parents at fourteen who ends up doing the same, to life with fine acting. It’s great to see Victoria Hamilton-Barritt again and she’s superb as Inez, the Latin mum of drag queen Freddy, a breathless high energy performance from Garry Lee. Lee Newby has created a realistic period bar and director Jonathan O’Boyle and choreographer Fabian Aloise use the small Soho space well.

You have to go with the fantasy of the time warp, but if you do you will be rewarded with a fascinating contrast between gay life then and now illustrated by some great songs.

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It’s hard to believe it’s taken 10 years for this Marvin Hamlisch show to get to the UK, a delay no doubt resulting from its lack of success on Broadway in a production by our very own Nicholas Hytner. It may be on the fringe, but the production feels very West End; a bit too slick maybe?

It’s set in 1952 (a good year!) in the manipulative, machaeavelian world of gossip columnist JJ Hunsecker. A mere mention in his column and you hit the bigtime or disappear into obscurity. Venues and people employ press agents specifically to get them into his column and he befriends one such agent, Sidney Falcone, in a club where Sidney poses as JJ’s sister Susan’s friend in order to cover up her relationship with jazz pianist Dallas – though he hasn’t even met her. JJ’s relationship with his younger sister is possessive, obsessive and rather unhealthy. They propel Dallas to stardom, but when JJ and Dallas discover the truth the shit hits the fan bigtime.

The seven piece band under MD Bob Broad makes one of the biggest sounds I’ve ever heard in the theatre and you jump as they hit the first notes. Fortunately, Ed Borgnis’ sound design maintains perfect balance with the vocals and it all sounds great. The new Arcola studio has seats on three sides and three galleries – one long one for the audience, a smaller one for the band and an even smaller performance space. Most of the action takes place on the unelevated stage floor, though the arrival of the chorus at the back in a space that has something to do with the building’s former use is ingenious. A few neon signs and some furniture constitute the minimalist but effective design by Mark Bailey – there are 17 scenes in 14 different places!

I was hugely impressed by Adrian der Gregorian as Sidney; great characterisation and superb singing. Stuart Matthew Price was in fine voice as Dallas and Celia Graham gives a lovely cameo as Sidney’s girl Rita. I thought David Bamber was good though he didn’t blow me away like Der Gregorian did. Caroline Keiff’s seemed to be singing uncomfortably high as Susan. There’s an excellent ensemble who are well choreographed by Nathan M Wright. Mehmet Ergen’s production is super-slick and that for me was a bit of a problem. The show is a bit cold and cynical (typical of book writer John Guare), failing to engage on an emotional level, and the production’s slickness just adds to that rather than trying to balance it. Perhaps coming just two nights after Howard Goodall’s deeply moving musical of  A Winter’s Tale at the Landor didn’t help.

Still, as impressive an outing as the show is ever likely to get and just 3 months after Hamlisch’s sad demise. Off to Dalston you go…..

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This was originally intended as a double-bill with Pins & Needles which has just finished its run at the Cock Tavern and you can see why (though it would have made for a long evening). They may be the only two musicals with left-wing political content ever to grace Broadway until Billy Elliott!

This one is more serious and earnest than the other and is very Brechtian indeed. First staged in 1937, it’s opening is itself an extraordinary story. Directed by Orson Wells, the show was shut down on the day of its first performance because its public funders were concerned at being seen to be promoting such a left-wing show. Though another theatre was found for that evening, the show went on without set, props, costumes or indeed actors or musicians whose unions prohibited them from being on stage or in the orchestra pit. The composer was alone onstage at a piano and when their cues came, the actors stood up in the audience and delivered their songs defiantly from where they were.

It’s an allegory of corruption and greed and its targets include a local businessman, his philanthropic wife, spoiled children, a faithless priest and artists who’ve sold out. It’s virtually sung-through and feels more like an opera than a musical. Because its over-riding purpose is to make its sociopolitical points, it’s light on story and characterisation and the music is quite difficult to get into on first hearing. It’s well staged here by Mehmet Ergen with a fine ensemble and pianist Bob Broad playing the whole score. I was particularly impressed by Chris Jenkins passionate performance as unionist Larry Foreman.

It’s not a great show but, like Pins & Needles, it’s an important part of 20th century musical theatre history and I’m glad I saw it – but I wish I’d heard the score first.

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