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Posts Tagged ‘Cameron Mackintosh’

I’ve had a big soft spot for this show since its first outing at my then local theatre, Theatre Royal Stratford East, in 1990 (local boy Dudley Moore was in that night!). It got the quickest West End transfer ever when Cameron Mackintosh came, was blown away by the first half and sealed the deal in the interval. I followed it ‘up west’, unexpectedly caught the international tour in Germany and then saw a new production at the Edinburgh fringe seven years ago. Now here it is in a rather luxurious tent in the middle of the Marble Arch roundabout, and it’s still huge fun – the ultimate party show.

Clarke Peters’ homage to influential jazz legend Louis Jordan uses the story of Nomax to link together Jordan’s characterful songs, sending five Moe’s out of the radio to straighten him out after his woman’s gone and he’s turned to drink. Peters may well have invented the modern-day juke-box musical – a whole nine years before Mamma Mia. They are terrific songs that tell stories, often funny, sometimes poignant, always a joy to hear, with some of the funniest and cheekiest titles ever – I Like ‘Em Fat Like That. Messy Bessy, Pettin’ And Pokin’, Saturday Night Fish Fry, What’s The Use Of Getting Sober and Ain’t Nobody Here But Us Chickens!

This new production by Peters himself sits well in the big circular luxury tent, with a revolving stage around the central seating, the band coming forward on its moving platform for the club scene and New Orleans brilliantly evoked on the walls in the second half. All six performers, which included an alternate Big Moe and Four-Eyed Moe on the night I went, were excellent at singing, dancing and engaging with the audience and there’s a cracking six-piece band which does full justice to the music. The second half packs more punches than the first, but it’s well paced overall, with maybe a touch too much time devoted to audience participation for my liking.

Though it probably won’t match its original five year West End run, I suspect it will be revived regularly in the future, keeping this infectious music alive for future generations.

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I’ve been a big supporter of Pimlico Opera’s work in prisons. Before this, there was West Side Story, Guys & Dolls and Carmen in Wandsworth, Sugar in Send and Our House in Belmarsh. I’m drawn by the extraordinary contribution they make to rehabilitation, but the quality of the work is extraordinary too. This one, at HMP High Down, was particularly thrilling.

They use the shortened ‘schools edition’ (which I saw in a school a few years back!). There are fourteen professional actors, two officers and eighteen prisoners, with a full orchestra under MD Dan Jackson (something the current partly synthesised West End production can’t boast!). Lest you think the professionals are anything other than premiere league, Javert has performed the role in the West End production and Fantine won an Olivier Award earlier this year!

Having a cast of 34 and a full orchestra makes the choruses thrilling. Robin Bailey’s Javert, Jeff Nicholson’s Valjean and Rebecca Trehearn’s Fantine are as good as any I’ve seen in the West End (Bailey has played it there and Cameron Mackintosh’s people would do well to sign up the other two!). The prisoners are not confined to the chorus, with roles like Marius being taken by some. Amongst the amateurs, PE instructor / officer Mat Baxter made a fine Enjolras and Irish prisoner Pearce Murray a suitably cheeky Thenardier.

You would expect such a production to be a touch ragged at the edges, but this is more than made up for in Nikki Woollaston’s staging by the sheer spirit and energy of it all, giving people the opportunity to get something positive out of a negative period of their lives. Hopeful and uplifting.

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I was one of those who thought this Hereward Kaye & Robert Longdon show was fun first time around, 25 years ago. It wasn’t really West End material though, and I did wonder why Cameron Mackintosh put it on. The critics, of course, didn’t like it then as they don’t now. It’s not for critics. It’s a camp anarchic romp for people who go to the theatre to have fun – and it’s got a very good pop score.

The premise is that we’re in a St Trinian’s-like school called St Godley who are putting on a musical based on Herman Melville’s novel, written by one of the schoolgirls and performed by the girls, head teacher, teacher, caretaker and a security guard(!). It takes place in the gym with a ladder, gym bars and gym horse just about the only props. There are loads of sight gags and verbal innuendo, in truth too much to take in. It works better on this scale than in did in the vast Piccadilly Theatre. 

The chief reason why this revival is a success is a hugely talented young cast of eight and two former X-Factor finalists – Anton Stephans and Brenda Edwards – who know how to belt out a tune and raise a laugh. Director / Choreographer Andrew Wright’s high energy dancing is made to look shambolic but is clearly well-drilled precision. There’s a fine band too under MD Lee Freeman. I was particularly impressed by the vocals of Rachel Anne Raynham and Laura Mansell and the dancing of Glen Facey.

I had as much fun as I did last time round.

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I’ve been apprehensive about seeing this new production lest it tarnishes my memory of multiple visits to the much loved original in the late 80’s / early 90’s, but a January offer saw me succumb and now I’m both relieved and happy that it has scrubbed up so well, reinvented for a new generation.

Of course it isn’t an original premise, it’s Puccini’s Madam Butterfly, but moving it from Japan to Vietnam and forward a century or so to the end of the Vietnam War is inspired. It’s very effective in telling the story of those effected by war, both local people and armed forces. The relationship of GI Chris with local girl Kim isn’t unusual, and their son is one of tens of thousands of bui doi, the children of such relationships, who weren’t recognised by the US until 13 years after the war ended, just before this show was first produced. The war still seemed recent then, but I suspect many seeing it today will be saying ‘what war?’. Above all of course it’s a love story and a personal tragedy, though I felt the backdrop had more of a visceral edge this time round. It’s also racier, with much more bare flesh on show!

I liked the design concept with bamboo spilling out of the proscenium and a realistic rather than idealised contemporary oriental feel. It’s a beautiful, lush (pucciniesque!) score and here it’s beautifully played by a 16 piece orchestra. There’s not much chance of a repeat of the controversy of Cameron Mackintosh’s original white casting – particularly Welshman Jonathan Pryce playing The (Vietnamese) Engineer! as it’s packed full of East Asian actors. Philipino Jon Jon Briones really is outstanding as The Engineer, though he’s in danger of overplaying what seemed to be occasional unscripted ad libs. This is Eva Noblezada’s professional debut, so we shouldn’t expect seasoned acting, but there’s no doubting the power and beauty of her singing. Both Alistair Brammer as Chris and Hugh Maynard as John deliver in both the acting and vocal departments, though I wish the latter would dump his X-Factor moment at the end of Bui Doi. We don’t see much of Thuy in the second half, but Kwang-Ho Hong impresses in the first half.

It impressed me more than it moved me, but Laurence Connor’s revival fully justifies it’s West End presence and it was good to see it again after all these years.

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The premiere of this musical in 2000 was a high-profile affair for a relatively unknown American musicals team, Dana P Rowe & John Dempsey – the Theatre Royal Drury Lane no less (they had Cameron Mackintosh as godfather). It wasn’t a bad show, but the theatre was way too big for it. It moved to the Prince of Wales, but didn’t survive the tumultuous summer of 2001. This revival is at the opposite end of the scale, in a theatre about 10% of the size (in truth, a bit too small now) but its good to take a second look and it scrubs up well.

The first adaptation of John Updike’s novel was the stellar cast film with Jack Nicholson, Susan Sarandon, Michelle Pfeiffer & Cher. It works as well as a musical, though the first half is a touch too long. Bored housewives Alexandra, Jane & Sukie get more than they bargained for when devil-like Daryl Van Horne arrives in suburban New England to spice up their lives and wreak havoc on the conservative community. Local do-gooder Felicia and her sometime philandering husband Clyde become casualties, leaving daughter Jennifer (Alexandra’s son Michael’s estranged girlfriend) exposed to the advances of Daryl now that he’s bored with the trio he’s been bedding.

It’s done in the now customary Watermill actor-musician style and it’s exceptionally well cast. Poppy Tierney, Joanna Hickman and Tiffany Graves are a fine trio of ‘witches’ and Alex Bourne makes a great ‘devil’. Rosemary Ashe reprises her world premiere role as Felicia and though her singing is sometimes too ‘operatic’, her ability to regurgitate anything and everything is impressive! Tom Rogers’ design takes your breath away; he brings American suburbia to a converted 19th century Berkshire mill with a grey clapboard house and beds and bars that emerge from nowhere.

This is Craig Revel Horwood’s sixth Watermill show and his staging and choreography is as witty and playful as ever. I felt it was a bit crowded and loud (with inaudible lyrics) occasionally, and there’s so much going on it takes a while to settle, but by the second half its steaming (in more ways than one). There aren’t that many musical black comedies, and it’s well adapted for the form, even if it isn’t that memorable a score. Still, a good enough reason for the annual pilgrimage to Newbury and to be recommended.

 

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This is the perfect show to fill Chichester’s temporary ‘Theatre in the Park’. It’s an up-market, comfortable big-top with a great atmosphere and the show’s about 19th century American circus legend Phineas T Barnum. I don’t think it has been seen in the UK since it’s UK premiere 30 years ago and its a lot better than I remembered.

In truth, the story of Barnum’s life has little depth. We follow his relationship with his wife, his fling with Swedish soprano Jenny Lind and his business dealings with Brit Julius Goldschmidt and eventual partner James A Bailey, but this is family entertainment and on those terms it succeeds. There’s singing, dancing, acrobatics, clowns and marching bands. Cy Coleman’s music has a lot of numbers you didn’t think you knew and is often rather rousing.

Scott Pask’s design and Paul Willis’ costumes are superb. There’s a two-tier backdrop with the band hidden on the second tier and twin spiral staircases that revolve! Performers enter from the back, the auditorium and down ropes from above. Liam Steel & Andrew Wright’s choreography has people becoming props and doubled-up to play one person. The arrival of a giant elephant is simple but breathtaking and the acrobatics even happen in the auditorium. Director Timothy Sheader, moonlighting from the Open Air Theatre where he has had much musical theatre success, does a cracking job pulling this together into a cohesive entertainment that lifts you up and keeps you on a high.

Given this country is awash with musical theatre talent, I’m not sure why they’ve had to import their Barnum from the US (or his wife from Australia, come to that), but Christopher Fitzgerald is hugely impressive and very hard-working. Walking a tightrope whilst singing a song can be no mean feat. The extraordinarily good-looking, athletic and energetic ensemble is outstanding.

I can’t imagine a better revival or a more appropriate space. With Cameron Mackintosh on board as co-producer, I think we should expect a London outing (bringing the theatre with it when it finishes its time here at the end of September or, with a few changes, Mr Sheader could take it to his Open Air Theatre next summer?). This continues Chichester’s important role in musical theatre. They’ve transferred Singing in the Rain, Sweeney Todd, Love Story & Kiss Me Kate in the last few years, so why not Barnum?

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Time to reach for the superlatives thesaurus…..

This musical comedy is based on Alan Bennett’s film A Private Function which featured Maggie Smith & Michael Palin (that’s three national treasures in one sentence!). It’s set in post-war Britain, with rationing still in place and a royal wedding about to take place (sounds familiar?). The (mildly) corrupt local councilors and businessmen are fattening an illicit pig for a banquet to mark the occasion whilst normal folk (this is ‘up north’ after all) can’t even get a pork chop, partly due to an eager meat inspector who keeps closing down the butchers. It’s pretty faithful to the film (though it’s a long time since I saw it last) with the notable exception of the ending.

I can’t remember the last time I laughed and smiled so much at a musical. Americans Ron Cowan & Daniel Lipman have produced a thoroughly British and extremely funny book perfectly matched by Anthony Drew’s deliciously witty lyrics. George Stiles music is also thoroughly British – but also completely infectious (copious whistles from the audience as they left the theatre). Richard Eyre hasn’t directed that many musicals but his staging for this one is up there with his Olivier Guys & Dolls, still the definitive production of this show, this time with the benefit of Stephen Mears’ witty choreography – yes witty choreography! Tim Hatley’s simple sets allow the show to zip along.

You’d have thought Sarah Lancashire has spent her whole life on a West End stage, such is her confidence and presence, with knowing smiles that seem to be directed to you personally – but it’s actually only her third time in the West End. She has a great voice, moves fluidly with such grace and you just fall in love with her within minutes – for me, she’s got the 2011 awards in the bag already. One of those slips of paper fell out of the programme as we entered – leading man Reece Shearsmith wasn’t performing and it was to be understudy Neill Ditt first performance. Well, I refuse to believe Shearsmith is better; apart from a few minor glitches and with some discreet help from his colleagues, he delivered an extraordinary performance of great charm and distinction that perfectly matched his leading lady. This must surely be his career high – and he got the biggest ovation of the night!

Singling out others in this wonderful company is going to be tough, but I have to mention octogenarian Ann Emery delivering another gem to match her grandma in Billy Elliott, Adrian Scarborough’s delicious cartoon baddie meat inspector, Jack Edwards great turn as pig loving Allardyce and another brilliant baddie from David Bamber as local doctor and head of the council.

I’ve waited twenty years (since Just So at the Tricycle) for Stiles & Drew’s masterpiece and here it is. I consider Billy Elliott the greatest British musical of all time; I think this might be this is the greatest British musical comedy of all time. Though apparently not intentional, the timing of the opening couldn’t have been better and Cameron Mackintosh has a stonking great big hit on his hands. I’ve booked to go back and I’m already seriously over-excited. Bliss.

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I think this was Stiles & Drew’s first show. It’s first production at the Tricycle Theatre, twenty years ago, was directed by Mike Ockrent no less and Cameron Macintosh was its godfather. I loved it, and amongst my fond memories is the appearance of a young Clive Rowe who’d impressed me in the Guildhall School of Music & Drama’s end-of-year musical Girl Crazy – it may even have been his professional debut.

It still strikes me as an impressive debut musical, with catchy tunes from Stiles and witty lyrics from Drew. Based on Rudyard Kipling’s Just So stories, it’s more about the characterisation of the animals than it is about the simple story.

In this production, it is mostly well sung, though the small band feels as if it’s in the room next door – well, it almost is, sitting behind a screen on a ‘shelf’ to the left of the stage. The performances too are mostly good – particularly by the three leads. Lee Greenaway is cute and charming as Elephant’s Child, Ian Knauer an authoritative presence as The Eldest Magician and I loved Lisa Baird’s feisty Glaswegian Kolokolo Bird.

The Tabard is a small stage for 11 actors; unfortunately designer Christopher Hone has made it even more difficult for them by over-designing a two-tier set which restricts movement and adds little. In addition, the costumes, though clever, fail to create the magical animal world.

So, a good show well performed but let down by the design and staging I’m afraid…..but worth a second look twenty years on.

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Twenty-five years ago we didn’t have blogs and Twitter, so it’s even more of a miracle that this critic-panned show survived. Those like me who were captivated and fell in love with it called our friends and re-booked to see it again and the rest is history. We had people power then too, but I certainly wasn’t expecting to be back at the Barbican where it began 25 years later watching a new touring production.

It’s good to report then that it’s in fine shape and some aspects of the new production have improved upon the original, most notably the scene in the sewers of Paris and the death of Javert. I found the longish prologue a bit clunky, but from the moment the opening music of act one began, the tingling and tension of the muscles returned and by the interval we were cheering the wonderfully uplifting first act finale.

The new staging of directors Laurence Connor & James Powell, with set design by Matt Kinley, does work well – it seems much zippier without feeling rushed or without losing any narrative. I was very impressed by Earl Carpenter’s Javert, Gareth Gates (yes!) Maruis, Jon Robyns’ Enjolras the Thenadier’s of Ashley Artus and Lynne Wilmot. There was much to admire about the acting performance of Valjean’s understudy Christopher Jacobson, though his vocal’s were a bit hit-and-miss in the upper register. Rosalind James as Eponine let herself down by wandering into pop diva mode occasionally and I’m afraid I found Fantine Madalena Alberto’s voice highly unattractive. I don’t know which kids were playing little Costette and Gavroche, but whoever they were they were terrific. The chorus sounded great and the new orchestrations are so much better than the synth-heavy budget version now at the Queens Theatre.

I do wonder if Cameron Mackintosh been around at the beginning of the 20th century, whether Puccini would have had similar long runs with Madam Butterfly and La Boheme, for this is the musical territory this show occupies. When they write the history of 20th Century musical theatre, this will most certainly be in the top ten, in the top five of dramatic musicals and maybe even…..

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Monday started with England’s best baritone (and the world’s second best – guess who’s the best), Simon Keenlyside, in the lovely Queens Hall with a programme of Rorem (never heard of him until this year, now featured in two concerts in quick succession), Buttterworth and Schumann. The Butterworth songs were gorgeous and the Rorem intriguing, but I wasn’t expecting to enjoy the Schumann so much; I normally find German lieder a bit too strident, but this was beautiful – though we had some strident Shubert for the encores****

I’m off to the Outer Hebrides on Friday, staying in Stornaway on Lewis, so I was thrilled to find that the British Museum and the National Museum of Scotland had combined their collections of the Lewis Chessmen for a special exhibition here in Edinburgh. The story of the pieces (well, what’s known of them) was well told, but it was disappointing to find the pieces split up within the exhibition – I’d have liked to see a complete set at some point***

I lost a shit load of money investing in the West End production of the rock musical Spring Awakening – a critical success but a financial loss – but I have to say I’m proud to have been a small part of it as I consider it ground-breaking stuff and I’ve been thrilled to see the talented cast subsequently turn up all over the place; the last occasion only 6 days ago at the National. I couldn’t resist seeing the first amateur production by the Royal Scottish Academy of Music & Drama here at the fringe. The decision to cast the London production with raw talent was completely vindicated. In the hands of singers /actors in training at a premiere league conservatoire, it lost a lot of its edge. Though it was well sung (and particularly well played by the small band) there was a sort of ‘posh boys saying fuck to be cool’ about it – though I have to say the ending was somehow more moving***

Back at the main festival in Greyfriars Church we went to some Latin American Vespers that were both fascinating and beautiful. I’d had no idea how liturgical music was transported with Spanish colonisation (and apparently back again). There were fewer Latin American touches than I was expecting, so it did sound rather European, but a treat nonetheless****

Monday ended with our first stand-up (we missed Sarah Milican because I’d misread the 24-hour clock and double-booked us), Shappi Khorshandy. She’s gone through a divorce recently and she chose to make this a very personal show (therapy?) and I thought it was very funny; she has a genuine charm and appealing self-deprecating humour***.5

Back at the Traverse Tuesday morning for a play called Girl in the Yellow Dress about the relationship between an English teacher and her French (adult) pupil. It took an age to take off, but the second half – when the psychological games between them unravel – was excellent***

The rest deserted me at this point, but I stayed for a quirky show called The Not So Fatal Death of Grandpa Fredo. I’d seen a show before by the same company and I liked their cartoonesque style with ingenious sets and great use of music. This wasn’t as satisfying as the previous show, but it was even more inventive as a small hut became, amongst other things, a diner, a laboratory, and ultimately a boat on a lake in Norway!***.5

We had lunch 100ft above Edinburgh at a table raised by a crane – this is true!!! It was a great experience and the food was surprisingly good. I had to have a drink beforehand for Dutch courage, but it actually wasn’t scary at all and I even looked down and twirled my seat!****

I saw the original production of Five Guys Named Moe at its first outing at Stratford East (that night local boy Dudley Moore was in the audience and in the interval impresario Cameron Mackintosh allegedly made the Theatre Royal Stratford an extraordinarily generous offer for a speedy transfer) and subsequently in the West End and in Germany. It’s based on the terrific 30’s / 40’s jazz of Louis Jordan and Cab Calloway and this new production is at least as good as the original. Its toe tapping, funny, high energy stuff which they’ve updated cleverly without losing the essence.  All six performers were outstanding and the six-piece band was terrific. Catch it when it comes back to Stratford East, though I suspect its West End bound once more****

Tuesday ended at a Comedy Gala for AIDS charity Waverley Cares with 26 stand-ups over 3.5 hours. In truth it was exhausting and I suspect less would have been more, but there were excellent mini-sets from Welshman Mark Watson, Edinburgh’s Danny Bhoy, Aussie Adam Hills, Tooting’s Stephen K Amos, and archetypal Englishman Simon Evans. It’s a great way to ‘sample’ and decide who to see next time***.5

Two more days to go……..

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