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Posts Tagged ‘Brendan Cull’

From the moment the cast tap danced down the aisles onto the stage to Puttin’ on the Ritz, I was in musical theatre heaven. The Mill at Sonning’s Christmas musicals have become a treasured tradition in a very short period of time and waiting two years for this was agony, but it was worth the wait.

The show was made as a film in 1935 and only got on stage ten years ago with the world premiere in the UK, spending 2.5 years in the West End, winning the Olivier Award for Best Musical. When I saw it, I wasn’t that keen; I thought the production was too conservative, like a museum piece, with a wooden lead performance from Tom Chambers (https://garethjames.wordpress.com/2012/11/28/top-hat). This first revival, directed by Jonathan O’Boyle, is much much fresher.

British producer Horace Hardwick brings Broadway star Jerry Danvers to perform in London, where he meets and falls in love with fellow American Dale Tremont. The trouble is she thinks he’s Horace, and is not prepared to entertain a relationship with her friend Madge’s husband. Things become farcical when Jerry & Horace visit Madge in Venice, where Dale has already gone. Dale rushes into marriage with Italian dress designer Alberto before the truth is revealed, but the marriage proves to be invalid and it all ends happily.

Jason Denvir’s art deco design and Natalie Titchener’s costumes are gorgeous. Ashley Nottingham’s choreography is fresh and vibrant with some terrific tap dancing and fabulous ballroom dances for Jerry & Dale. Jack Butterworth shines as Jerry, with Billie-Kay as his love interest, and Paul Kemble is excellent as the much put upon and bashed about Horace. We don’t see much of Tiffany Graves, a favourite of mine, in the first act but she commands the stage as Madge in Act II. There’s a fine Italian comic caricature from Delme Thomas as Alberto, and a delightful set of comedy disguises from Brendan Cull as Horace’s loyal valet Bates.

Irving Berlin’s score includes such gems as Isn’t it a Lovely Day, Cheek to Cheek, Lets Face the Music and Dance and of course the title song (with White Tie and Tails!) brilliantly played by Chris Poon’s hidden band, which I was shocked to discover was only a trio (including him!).

Matthew White & Howard Jacques’ book is it’s weak spot, it’s a touch long, but its a delight nonetheless, as good as anything on a West End stage.

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In less than four years, Joseph Pitcher has made The Mill at Sonning an essential seasonal visit with sparkling productions of classic musicals – High Society, My Fair Lady, Guys & Dolls and now Singing in the Rain, which scales new heights, beating the West End at its own game in a 200 seat theatre.

This show started as a film in 1952 and didn’t reach the stage until 1983, in London first, with Tommy Steele. We’ve has two memorable productions since – a terrific West Yorkshire Playhouse production transferred to the Olivier stage almost 20 years ago, and a great Chichester transfer around ten years after that. They don’t come along often, though there’s another one due at Sadler’s Wells next year.

It’s set in 1927 as silent movies are about to give way to talkies, with all the ramifications that brings, particularly for silent movie stars whose voices may not suit. The star partnership of Don Lockwood & Lina Lamont is likely to be be a casualty because Lina squeaks and drawls rather than speaks and the elocution lessons are getting nowhere. She doesn’t of course see that, as she doesn’t see that her love for Don is unrequited; he has become besotted with budding actress Kathy Seldon. The studio decides to remake their recent film as a musical with Lina secretly dubbed by Kathy, but when Lina finds out she turns nasty and seeks revenge.

The score is packed full of great tunes, now standards, including All I do is dream of you, Make ‘em laugh, You are my lucky star, You were meant for me, Good mornin’ and of course the title song. The period means a gorgeous design aesthetic, with particularly fine costumes from Natalie Titchener, and there’s great use of projection. Ashley Nottingham’s choreography is as light as air, with some fantastic tap routines. You struggle to believe MD Francis Goodhand’s band is only a five-piece, as they do full justice to the score. Amongst the many staging highlights, we have a brilliant elocution lesson scene, a stylish Broadway Melody and a sexy duet between Don & Kathy. The title song is superbly done, with a lot of rain on a special stage, teasing the audience as they get sprinkled on, enough but not too much. It’s encore after the curtain call, with the whole company, ends the show on a huge fun high to send you home, in our case into the rain.

Philip Bertioli is superb as Don, great vocals, light on his feet and bucketloads of charm. He creates real empathy with the audience as he plays with them cheekily in the rain. Rebecca Jayne-Davies has a beautiful voice and just as much charm as Kathy, also moving with great grace. Sammy Kelly as Lina is very funny, delivering the squeaky voice and off-key vocals, but with a great transition to manipulator too. Brendan Cull is slick, funny and vocally very strong as Don’s sidekick Cosmo. I loved Russell Wilcox’s studio head R F Simpson, looking every inch the boss with what we now see as some rather unacceptable me too behaviour. They are supported by nine others in a faultless cast.

A delightful evening, a joy from beginning to end. I can’t wait for next year.

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Well, I bet that title got your attention!

This show started in Malta and has landed at Theatre503 in Battersea via the Edinburgh fringe. It’s writers Boris Cezak, Kris Spiteri & Malcolm Galea are also the show’s two musicians and narrator. It’s tongue is firmly in its cheek and its huge fun.

Stefan runs away (from Malta) to the US when he discovers his fiance is a whore. He gets caught up in the porn movie business and falls in love with his acting partner but returns to Malta on developing an STD he believes she has given him. He’s followed to Malta where the rest of the farcical story unfolds.

The story is merely a vehicle for the fun, the music is good enough (with some very good song titles and lyrics), but it’s the performances that make it. Brendan Cull is a brilliantly nerdy Stefan, Jody Peach is wonderfully OTT playing fiance / whore Jade, Sophia Thierens balances porn star with besotted  lover perfectly, Alain Terzoli captures the vanity of the male porn star with a phd (work it out!) terrifically and I lost count of the roles (and the laughs) Ahmet Ahmet gets as ‘miscellaneous man’. The actors occasionally step out of their roles to complain about their lot and this works really well, adding yet more laughs to an already overflowing cup. I’m not sure the role of narrator is entirely necessary and may be job creation for the writer / lyricist!

It’s great to go to something that’s this much fun that’s staged and acted so well and I can wholeheartedly recommend it.

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