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Posts Tagged ‘Caroline Sheen’

My third open air theatrical treat in eight days took me to a favourite haunt, the lovely Watermill Theatre near Newbury. I’d seen a show in their garden before, when they did Alan Ayckbourn’s House & Garden in 2017, Garden performed there with House playing simultaneously in the theatre and the cast moving between the two in real time. Nothing in the theatre this time, but ten actor-musicians on a tiny stage, also moving around the garden, gave us an edited semi-staged version of this rarely performed 60-year-old Lerner & Lowe musical which I have only seen once, somewhat ironically at the Open Air Theatre in 2004.

We’ve lost seven named characters, but only two songs, and we’ve gained a narrator. The tale of both the King’s promotion of honour and justice by the creation of the Knights of the Round Table and the love triangle with his wife Guenevere and the French Knight Lancelot are intact, but some characters and some sub-plots have ended up on the cutting room floor, as it were, but this is a concert version, so it’s the music that matters and that’s where it excels. There were some, but not too many, delicious COVID references, one explaining that Arthur & Guenevere are a real life couple.

The three leads are all excellent. Michael Jibson follows his royal role in Hamilton with a very different king, idealistic and earnest, more charismatic. Caroline Sheen is lovely as Guenevere, torn between two men, in fine voice. Marc Antolin’s Lancelot is every bit as narcissistic as you’d expect, yet charming with it, and he makes a spectacular first entrance. Seven others, including MD Tom Self, play all the remaining roles, and all instruments in the now well established Watermill style. Paul Hart’s staging spills out from the stage with jousts and journeys.

The Watermill’s Covid measures were as professional as my other two open air outings, with even more social distance in this lovely space. My cup runneth over.

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This re-working of the Gershwin’s’ 1930 show Girl Crazy came over sixty years later and was a huge hit on both Broadway and in the West End. It was a hit all over again five years ago when the Open Air Theatre mounted it, then transferred it ‘up West’ (https://garethjames.wordpress.com/2011/08/07/crazy-for-you). Now this third outing in Newbury’s lovely Watermill Theatre makes it a triple hit.

Ken Ludwig (best known for stage comedies) made significant changes to the original story, a culture clash between the wealth and sophistication of New York City and the somewhat wilder west. In his adaptation, stage-struck Bobby Child, who’s tried and failed to get into the Zangler Follies, is sent by his businesswoman mom to foreclose on a theatre in a Nevada desert town. Theatre owner Everett Baker is a former entertainer who’s deceased wife used to grace the stage with him. Billy falls in love with Everett’s daughter Polly and ships the Follies girls west in an attempt to rescue the theatre and get his girl. His strategy includes impersonating Zangler, which becomes problematic when the real Zangler turns up. In a bizarre but delicious addition, the Fodor’s of travel guide fame (British here, though they weren’t really) turn up to add a third culture to the mix.

The Gershwin’s score has been supplemented by numbers from a handful of their other shows, so the standards count is sky high – Someone To Watch Over Me, Embraceable You, I Got Rhythm, They Can’t Take That Away From Me, Nice Work If You Can Get It……and the musical standards are high too under Catherine Jayes supervision.  As usual here, the actors double-up as musicians, but the musical quality is so good you’d never know it if your eyes were closed.

The Watermill really does seem like a small-town American theatre, a small shed-like building with the addition of a gold proscenium arch and red curtains by regular designer Diego Pitarch, whose costumes are excellent. This is the first show I’ve seen by their new AD Paul Hart, and his staging is at least a match for all those other lovely summer musicals we’ve seen here. Choreographer Nathan M Wright works wonders in the small space. Watching burly, clumsy cowboys burst into dance alongside showgirls is a delight. There’s a particularly good comic scene where the Zanglers meet, and Tom Chambers climbing of, and dangling from, the balcony had us gasping on more than one occasion.

I wasn’t keen on the West End production of Top Hat, or Chambers performance in it, but here he is outstanding in every respect. Caroline Sheen is lovely as Polly, feisty and tomboyish, melting in the end. With another dozen performers, it’s a big ensemble for a small stage, and a very talented one too.

I do love these summer outings to the Watermill…..

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There was a time when I wasn’t interested in hearing songs from musicals performed out of context; now I can’t seem to get enough – this is the second of three evenings this month. There are five Sondheim compilation shows and this is one of the two most famous, but after it’s premiere run in Oxford 22 years ago (starring Diana Rigg, no less) it never got to the West End – well, until now. It’s been worth the wait.

It’s an unpredictable selection, with four from the film Dick Tracy, two from rarity The Frogs (which co-incidentally I will be seeing for the first time on Saturday) and numbers from the less well-known Do I Hear A Waltz? and Anyone Can Whistle and that’s actually part of its appeal. They are not just sung, they are performed by the characters for whom they were written by a quintet of seasoned musicals professionals – David Badella, Daniel Crossley, Janine Dee, Damien Humbley & Caroline Sheen. I loved the arrangements for piano, double bass, trumpet and three woodwind and they were played beautifully by an extraordinarily young band under Theo Jamieson.

As solos or in various combinations, these songs are interpreted with meaning and you savour every word of Sondheim’s incomparable lyrics. You know they’ve worked when you’re on the edge of your seat willing Janine Dee to make it through the manic Not Getting Married Today (which she does, to perfection), you’re laughing uproariously at Daniel Crossley’s hysterical take on Buddy’s Blues and Being Alive brings a tear to your eye just by being uplifting. There’s some sprightly choreography, a conceit that they’re all at a cocktail party and the only props are a chaise longue and a drinks table, but it’s the songs that make the show.

Producer & musical supervisor Alex Parker, director Alastair Knights & choreographer Matthew Rowland, like MD Theo Jamieson, have all graduated in the last 18 months and there’s a youthfulness, energy and freshness about the whole thing; a towering achievement indeed.

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