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Posts Tagged ‘Cassidy Janson’

Classical Music

Another lunchtime gem at the Royal Academy of Music with their 100-strong Symphony Orchestra conducted by Marin Alsop. I’d never heard Hindemith’s Mathis der Mahler Symphony and liked it very much. It was followed by Richard Strauss’ Suite from Der Rosenkavalier which, despite the waltzes I’m not keen on, sounded gorgeous.

Contemporary Music

I wasn’t expecting musical theatre’s Cassidy Janson to do a concert without any musical theatre numbers, but her Crazy Coqs show was a combination of Carole King and her own songs from her forthcoming pop-rock album. More than a year in Beautiful has improved her voice and makes her interpretation of King songs simply superb. Her own songs are impressive too, so my reservations about the content were eventually dispelled.

Dance

It was thrilling to see Matthew Bourne’s Swan Lake again, matured over the years into a sparkling diamond of a show. It’s the most glorious combination of music, design and dance you could wish for and at the performance we attended at Sadler’s Wells was danced impeccably.

Film

A month of films based on a very diverse range of real people, with varying degrees of truth, I suspect.

The Favourite is a highly original and racy royal romp about Queen Anne, which I loved. Hatfield House looked terrific and the three leading actresses were wonderful.

Stan & Oli, about the comedy duo of course, exceeded my expectations and caught me by surprise at how much it moved me. Again, two well matched leads giving star turns and a great 50’s Britain look.

Mary Queen of Scots, was another film about British royalty, less of a romp, but still racy. Fantastic story-telling and an auspicious film debut for theatre director Josie Rourke.

Colette is another racy true story set in late 19th century France, featuring a wonderful British cast and filmed beautifully. Puzzling that it’s a British film.

Beautiful Boy was a rather harrowing story of addiction, but superbly filmed and performed. It’s rated 15 – I think it should be compulsory viewing for all teenagers above 15 in case they’re tempted to experiment with hard drugs.

Vice, about Dick Cheney, the power behind Bush Jnr’s throne it seems, doesn’t even try to be objective; it’s a partisan hatchet job, and given the lack of law suits probably mostly true. An excellent film, and Christian Bale is sensational.

Art

Night & Day was my first visit to the Fashion & Textile Museum in its new location. An exploration of the 1930’s through fashion and photographs, with a soundtrack of the likes of Cole Porter, it captured the essence of this beautiful decade, though I could have done with more photographs to go with the comprehensive display of fashion.

The Enchanted Garden at the William Morris Gallery was a one-room wonder, virtually every picture a gem. Monet, Pissarro, Burne-Jones, Stanley Spencer, Bell-Grant-Fry and of course William & May Morris. Gorgeous.

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You have to hand it to Lynn Ahrens & Stephen Flaherty; each of their musicals takes you somewhere completely different. This one sees us in the Deep South in the mid-19th century, before the abolition of slavery. Based on Sherley Anne Williams novel, the central characters of Dessa Rose, a young slave, and Ruth, a Southern belle, tell their story in flashback from a prologue and epilogue in the 1920’s, by which time things have of course changed. It’s a dramatically rich story with an excellent score and, in this production, a stunning ensemble.

Dessa Rose is a young slave on the Steele plantation and Ruth, the same age, is the daughter of the wealthy Carson’s who has been brought up by their slave Mammy. Dessa Is feisty and rebellious and in defending herself against unacceptable treatment finds herself in prison at 16, pregnant and the subject of writer Adam Nehemiah’s research. Ruth marries farmer Bertie who all but abandon’s her, leaving her lonely on the farm. Dessa escapes from prison and becomes the de facto leader of a group of slaves determined to head to the more enlightened west to escape slavery. They find an unlikely refuge with Ruth, who befriends them and aids them in their venture.

It’s a very dense story, in truth a bit too dense – there’s a hell of a lot going on – but it does make for a dramatically rich narrative. The score is up there with their best show, Ragtime, with evocative melodic music and lyrics which drive the story. From the rousing opening chorus of We Are Descended (which also closes the show) it packs in a whole load of good songs and choruses and here they are played and sung beautifully. In a surprising move, Dean Austin’s excellent band is dispersed, with keyboards and cello on stage and winds and violin in the corners of the auditorium. It works aurally, even if you are directly in front of a saxophone!, though it does restrict the already small playing space.

Director Andrew Keates has his work cut out staging it on such a small stage (well, floor) but with much ingenuity he pulls it off. When all 12 are on stage, with the two musicians, the space between audience and actors disappears completely. I think it is crying out for a bigger theatre, though not one so big as to lose the intimacy we get here. They didn’t appear to be using the visible head mic’s so the vocals have a lovely purity to them, though I did lose a few words.

The cast is uniformly excellent (casting by Benjamin Newsome again), all equally good as actors and singers. Both Cynthia Erivo and Cassidy Janson shine in the lead roles. Erivo conveys Dessa’s defiance with great passion and soaring vocals. Janson has more of a journey to make and I loved the way her character aged and her personality changed. She invested a lot of emotion in her performance, also vocally strong, and with an authentic accent. There isn’t a fault in the rest of this stunning cast.

This is my 7th Ahrens & Flaherty show and it’s amongst their best. I’d love to see it in a bigger space, but this European premiere is a huge success – and it’s in the West End at fringe prices! Time to book to go again…..

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I’d only ever seen Candide on a big scale – Scottish Opera at the Old Vic in 1988, the NT in the Olivier in 1999 and the biggest of all, ENO at the ginormous London Coliseum in 2008. So forgive me for a ‘WTF?’ when this operetta was announced as the Menier’s Christmas show.

The theatre’s configuration for this has the audience on four sides with a mezzanine behind them and stage entrances on three sides and this works well (from where we were, but I suspect not for all). There are doors and windows in the mezzanine, with stairs down on two sides. The rest of Paul Farnsworth ‘s clever design is period costumes and the odd prop.

The story of Candide’s adventurous journey from fictitious Westphalia through Holland, Lisbon, Paris, Cadiz, Buenos Aires, Montevideo, mythical Eldorado and Surinam to Venice is completely preposterous, but there’s some lovely music and enough funny business to keep you amused. The four romantic leads are excellent – Fra Fee as Candide, David Thaxton as Maximilian, the lovely Cassidy Janson as Paquette and (under Rule 7 of musical theatre casting, stating that you must have a Strallen) the wonderful Scarlett Strallen.

Unfortunately, they’ve also cast James Dreyfuss as Pangloss and Jackie Clune as Old Lady, neither of whom are up to the roles (particularly when compared with Simon Russell Beale at the NT and Patricia Routledge at the Old Vic!); it undermines rather than ruins it, but its a shame. There’s some good choreography from Adam Cooper no less and good musical standards from the small (for Candide) band of nine under Seann Alderking. Matthew White has staged it with brio and it doesn’t feel its length.

If you go expecting high art, you’ll come out disappointed. If you go expecting musically up-market panto, you’ll have fun. I did.

 

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When I heard they were going to stage a rock musical at the Finborough (a space just twice the size of my living room) I feared hearing damage. So the first of many congratulations goes to Tom Hishman, whose brilliant sound ensures you hear every word and every note and don’t go home deaf!

This is the European premiere of a semi-autobiographical show by Scottish-American husband & wife team Paul Scott Goodman and Miriam Gordon about a songwriting / performing partnership in the late 70’s / early 80’s punk / new wave period (the last period of popular musical greatness!).

Ian and Monica meet when Ian’s brother, Monica’s university friend, suggests they co-write her Bat Mitzvah song commission. Monica’s a feisty red-head and Ian’s a recluse, Jewish and Catholic respectively, yet they hit it off and the professional partnership evolves into a personal one too. They win a pub talent show and head to London where they become part of the punk boom and get a Number One. Next stop New York City, where they discover they don’t both want fame and Ian returns to his Glasgow bedroom leaving behind more than just Marion.

It packs a lot of story into 80 unbroken minutes and you really do get to know these characters well. What I liked about the music was how it served the story, not just lyrically but also in its changes of style to reflect the events it portrays. With the audience on two sides and the four-piece band and both performers on four platforms and a floor covered in wooden planks, it’s as intimate as the Finborough has ever been. Designer Philip Lindley has cleverly surrounded the space with walls of similar wooden planks with windows, lights and signs within them illuminating changing locations. There’s fine lighting too from Neill Brinkworth.

Cassidy Janson and Alexis Gerred perform with great commitment and passion, as if their lives depended on it. Their energy and enthusiasm are infectious and they make you believe in the story and the relationship. I’ve seen and enjoyed Cassidy before but this may be the best she’s done so far – a star if ever I saw one. Alexis is new to me and impressed greatly. There’s a terrific four-piece band led by Barney Ashworth who are tight enough to hold their own at a rock gig any day of the week. Director Andrew Keates has delivered a production as close to perfect as you’d probably ever get.

Yet another triumph for the Finborough. Only 14 performances left. Be at one of them.

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Minutes into the frenetic first scene of this musical farce, memories of seeing the Ken Ludwig play on which it is based 25 years ago in the same theatre came flooding back and the thought ‘what am I doing here?’ went round and round in my head. I hated the play; what made me think it might make a good musical?! Gaudy sets and costumes (a mauve and gold colour scheme! – designer Paul Farnsworth) with flats that wobble and shimmer unintentionally (?), OTT performances, Italian stereotypes with shaddap you face accents, dodgy wigs, mistaken identities and more slamming doors than you’ve seen since the last farce you went to. Yet, somehow I succumbed to its old-fashioned innocent charms and found myself smiling, then giggling, then belly laughing. It turned into a guilty pleasure.

We’re in Cleveland in 1934 awaiting the arrival of Italian superstar tenor Tito Merelli, whose one-night-only performance will rescue the opera house…..provided nothing goes wrong. Of course, it does – he’s late, he’s sick, he likes a drink and forever rows with his wife. The Opera House owner’s daughter is besotted with him, as are his three ex-wives who run the opera guild, the soprano singing Desdemona to his Otello and most of the chorus. Oh, and the shrimps for the post-performance reception are on the turn!

Of course, he can’t perform and prompter Max (the opera house manager’s daughter’s suitor!) pretends to be him. As broad musical comedy morphs into farce in the second act, we get three Otello’s in costume entering and exiting the six doors as is both customary and mandatory in farce. Impersonating the tenor as Otello, manager Henry ends up with the soprano and Max with his daughter. Tito’s wife returns and the denouement unfolds…..

The real reason for seeing this is a full set of fine musical comedy performances and the slickness of the comedy timing. Sophie-Louise Dann makes a terrific American broad / diva and her opera greatest hits ‘mash-up’ is a highlight of the evening. Damian Humbley and Michael Matus are excellent as Max and Tito respectively, with voices good enough to get away with the pseudo operatic demands. It’s great to see fringe favourite Cassidy Janson get a shot at a big role and she doesn’t disappoint as Maggie. Matthew Kelly presides over this as an old pro totally in command of his material. Joanna Riding’s undoubted talents are a bit wasted in the smallish part of the tenor’s wife (for the second time this year in this very theatre, having been wasted in The Umbrellas of Cherbourg immediately before this). Amongst the supporting cast, it’s great to see Gay Soper again.

The only other  musical farce I can recall is Sondheim’s A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum. It doesn’t have a score that good, but Brad Carroll’s music is decent enough, Peter Sham’s book & lyrics are good and the 24 strong cast and 15 piece band get the best out of them. Ian Talbot’s experience as a director and actor with both musicals and comedy means it runs like a well oiled machine and the cast’s enthusiasm is infectious.

It won’t change your life, it’s unlikely to be your highlight of the year, but there are a whole lot of less enjoyable evenings in the West End and for me this one was a pleasant surprise.

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It was a bit of a risk going to see this Sondheim show just three months (to the day) after the Donmar’s extraordinary concert staging and less than two years after the Union Theatre’s excellent production, but it’s a risk which paid off.

This is a fresh look at the show in a contemporary setting which works very well indeed. The life and experiences of central character, singleton Bobby, are if anything more believable today, 40 years after its first outing. His friends, five couples, are relentless in their pressure on him to settle down, though this hides their jealousy; to some extent, they are living their lives through him. Each couple has their own story which weaves in and out of Bobby’s with three very different girlfriends.

This production reveals the play inside the musical without losing the impact of the extraordinary songs. It’s edgier and sexier and really does seem like it was written yesterday. The bare staging is very much like the Union production – you don’t have to do much to conjour up a Manhattan loft apartment in a space beneath the railway arches! The band is hidden in a space behind one of three banks of seats (good to see them come out and take a well deserved bow at the end).

Yet again, the casting director (on this occasion, Menier co-founder Danielle Tarento) has done a cracking job. The couples each have real chemistry. As a chorus they dance well and sound great – the title song and Act II opener are both terrific. Michelle Bishop sang ‘Another Hundred People’ better than I’ve ever heard it before. Cassidy Janson climbed the mountain that is ‘Getting Married Today’ with a real manic intensity. Siobhan McCartney was an excellent Joanna, though I felt ‘Ladies Who Lunch’ was a little harsh, adding passion at the expense of musicality. Rupert Young has yet to fully inhabit the very challenging role of Bobby, but it was only his 5th performance.

Director Joe Fredericks and his team are to be warmly congratulated for this fresh look at a modern musical classic, taking risks which paid off and providing some definitive and thrilling moments.

 

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