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Posts Tagged ‘Charles Rouse’

Ye Olde Rose & Crown Theatre had a great success with another rare and early Charles ‘Annie’ Rouse musical comedy, It’s a Bird, It’s a Plane, It’s Superman. This was his first show, back in 1960, which I’ve only seen once, at Guildhall School of Music & Drama ten years ago. My starting point was ‘they’ve got their work cut out with this one’.

It takes its inspiration from Elvis Presley signing up to join the army. Here, Conrad Birdie is the singer who’s about to become a GI. His record company boss Albert decides to spin his story and create a photo and TV opportunity for a last kiss with a fan. Fifteen-year-old Kim is selected and her family all appear on the Ed Sullivan Show, where it all goes wrong thanks to Kim’s jealous boyfriend Hugo. There’s a parallel story about Albert losing his secretary and love interest Rose after eight years of doing nothing, largely to avoid upsetting his possessive mother Mae. As Conrad heads off to enlist, Albert finally gets some balls and chooses Rose over his mother.

When I walked into theatre I was instantly impressed by Andrew Yon’s design. It’s a red, black and chequered diner with adverts and records (remember them?) on the walls and 50’s tunes being played as you enter. Ryan Walklett’s excellent costumes complete the spot-on period feel. It gets off to a shaky start, partly because the material of the first part is weak (it pulls almost all of its punches in the second half), and partly because the playing style was a bit all over the place, some OTT, some too restrained. It does pick up significantly and is really motoring in the second half, with great choreography from Anthony Whiteman in Baby Talk to Me and the Shriner Ballet. The design leaves ample space for the ensemble scenes and I liked the band in view and (sort of) in costume at the back. It’s not a great score, though a few songs are familiar, having a life outside the show – Put On A Happy Face in particular, but A Lot Of Livin’ To Do and Kids as well.

When they’d settled, there were good performances all round, and the loud, somewhat exaggerated acting style suited the broad comedy of the material. I particularly liked Liberty Buckland’s feisty, sexy Rose (Chita Rivera in the original production!) and Abigail Matthews as teenage fan Kim (if they ever make a bio drama of Imelda Staunton’s life, she’s a shoe-in for the role). There are lovely cameos from Harry Heart as Kim’s somewhat overwrought dad, Jayne Ashley as the acid-tongued Mae, Benedikt de la Bedoyere (what a name!) as Hugo and Stephen Loriot as Kim’s young brother Randolph. MD Aaron Clingham has opted for more oomph with a band including winds, bass and drums and that seemed to suit the material without drowning out the singers (were those mic’s I saw overhead?) and the musical standards were as good as ever here.

This theatre continues its essential role of putting on rarely seen musicals. This one won’t change your life, but you’ll have a lot of fun, and who knows when you’ll get the chance to see it again.

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This 1986 musical with a book by Joseph (Fiddler on the Roof) Stein, lyrics by Stephen (Godspell) Schwartz & music by Charles (Annie) Strouse is a lot better than its post-opening 4-day Broadway run suggests. It provides a drama school like GSMD with 30 roles, lots of different locations to set and a score suitable for a substantial orchestra. That’s a double-edged sword, of course, as that means ambition and challenge, but GSMD pull it off.

The show starts on board a ship full of Russian Jewish refugees bound for New York. Rebecca’s husband, now in New York for five years, has sent for her but fails to meet her at the port. Bella Cohen, who she as befriended on board, and her father Avram vouch for her, enabling her and her son David to enter the US. She lives with the Cohen’s, works in a sweat shop and gets involved with union man Saul. When she eventually finds Nathan some time later, he isn’t the man he was; he’s now one of the oppressors making life hell for sewing machinists like her.

There’s a sub-plot where orthodox Avram seeks to thwart the relationship between Bella and Ben, a romance which started on board ship, and lots of insight into the plight of these poor immigrants. Some funny scenes lighten the mood, notably a Jewish Hamlet, and its at its best in the big numbers which allow the terrific ensemble and orchestra under Stephen Eadis to shine. With a team as good as Martin Connor (director) & Bill Deamer (choreographer), the staging is of course excellent – flowing smoothly from ship to port to tenement to sweat shop to street with a simple but clever two-tier design.

Amongst the individual performances, those that have to play older or younger fare particularly well. Christopher Currie plays old Akram well (despite the dodgy beard!), as does Eva Feiler as Rachel, who befriends him with a view to marriage. Rhys Isaac-Jones does equally well in reverse as young David. Nathan is an unsympathetic character which Alex Large turns you against, as he should, in the same way that Maximilien Seweryn gets all of your empathy as Ben.

A rare chance to see a big Broadway show with the big numbers delivered to thrilling effect.

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