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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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