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Posts Tagged ‘Cedric Neal’

This musical has been created to raise awareness and pay tribute to the victims of a little publicised 1973 hate crime when a New Orleans gay bar was subjected to an arson attack killing 32, the biggest toll of such a crime before Orlando in 2016.

We meet fashion designer Wes in the present time. He’s relocating from New York to his home town of New Orleans, buying premises to showcase his work, without realising it’s the scene of the 1973 attack. As soon as he’s signed the deal, the magic of theatre brings the club alive again and we’re back in 1973 on the evening of the tragedy. Thus begins a conversation between two generations of gay people across more than forty years, with the seventies set as shocked at Wes’ openness as he is at their secrecy. The eight characters tell their stories, which together show the contrasting lives in the two periods.

Max Vernon‘s score goes from one ballsy number to another for the whole 120 minutes, with the vocal honours going to Tyrone Huntley as Wes, Carley Mercedes Dyer as bar tender Henri and Cedric Neal as Willie, with excellent backing from Bob Broad’s invisible band. Declan Bennett and Andy Mientus bring the homeless hustler Dale and Patrick, the boy abandoned by his parents at fourteen who ends up doing the same, to life with fine acting. It’s great to see Victoria Hamilton-Barritt again and she’s superb as Inez, the Latin mum of drag queen Freddy, a breathless high energy performance from Garry Lee. Lee Newby has created a realistic period bar and director Jonathan O’Boyle and choreographer Fabian Aloise use the small Soho space well.

You have to go with the fantasy of the time warp, but if you do you will be rewarded with a fascinating contrast between gay life then and now illustrated by some great songs.

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Whenever I see this Gershwin ‘show’ I’m always amazed that it made it to Broadway in the 30’s – an all-black cast, sex, drugs, murder and racism on stage 80 years ago! Every time it’s produced, we get the same debate about whether it’s an opera or a musical – it was probably the first ever ‘crossover’ piece – classical, jazz, blues, spiritual….In both ways, such a ground-breaking show. This is my fourth P&G, after Trevor Nunn’s ‘opera’ at Covent Garden in 1992, his ‘musical’ at the Savoy in 2006, Cape Town Opera’s ‘opera’ here in London in 2012 and now a ‘musical’ again, this time adapted by Suzan-Lori Parks & Diedre L. Murray, at the Open Air Theatre on a gorgeous warm evening that could have been in the American south where its set.

The fishing community of Catfish Row are unsettled by the arrival of Bess, a woman of dubious morals with a drug habit fueled by city boy Sporting Life and her bullying boyfriend Crown, who kills Robbins over the result of a crap game. Disabled Porgy falls for Bess who responds to his overtures, naively thinking Crown is going to let her go. When Jake doesn’t return from fishing in a storm, his wife Clara recklessly goes to find him only to be lost too, leaving their new child an orphan. Bess agrees to turn over a new leaf and bring up their baby, but Crown and Sporting Life have other plans. Porgy deals with Crown, but Sporting Life is still around to scupper Bess’ plans.

The first half is a touch slow and ponderous, despite the presence of gorgeous songs like Summertime and I Got Plenty Of Nothing, but it really takes off in the second half, with more great songs like It Ain’t Necessarily So and much more drama. In this production, the staging of the storm scene is outstanding and Bess’ struggle with drink and drugs realistically played with great sensitivity by Nicola Hughes. It also creates a real sense of a community struggling but surviving by sticking together and supporting one another. The staging of Porgy’s final exit is masterly. Timothy Sheader’s very physical production, with Liam Steel’s stylised movement, are highly effective.

I don’t know why they have imported all three male leads from the US (a co-production?) but they are all good – a positively scary Crown from Phillip Boykin, a slick and slimy Sporting Life from Cedric Neal, and a deeply empathetic Porgy from Rufus Bonds Jr. Sharon D Clark gives us another acting masterclass as Mariah and there are excellent performances from Leon Lopez and Jade Ewen as Jake and Clara and Golda Rosheuvel as Serena. I’m still not sure what to make of designer Katrina Lindsay’s giant metallic cliff backdrop, but as it got dark and Rick Fisher’s lighting made it change colour, which changed the mood, it did look pretty. There’s a decent size 14-piece orchestra, though the sound was sometimes a touch harsh, particularly the first half voocals.

Great to see this landmark show again, feeling very a home in the Open Air Theatre. Not to be missed, I’d say.

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