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Posts Tagged ‘Chicago’

I’ve had a soft spot for this late show by the writers of Cabaret & Chicago since I saw the UK professional premiere at the much missed Landor Theatre in 2012, five years after it first hit Broadway. I’d seen a drama school production at GSMD two years before, when I was somewhat underwhelmed, but at the Landor, in Robert McWhir’s production, it shone, as it does here in Paul Fosters’ touring production on a way bigger scale which has just finished its short unscheduled Christmas visit to the West End and is back on tour in Wimbledon.

The show within the show is a Boston try-out for a musical adaptation of Robin Hood set in Kansas. At the curtain call, the leading lady dies and when Lieutenant Frank Cioffi arrives at the theatre, they learn that it was murder. As he’s concluded the killer must be one of them, everyone involved in the show is confined to the theatre whilst the investigation takes place. They continue to change and rehearse the show ready for Broadway, with the stage struck Lieutenant as involved in this as he is in the murder investigation. Add in a love story, the reunion of an estranged couple, the relationship between a starlet and her mother, a lot about the business of putting on a show and more deaths and you have a musical whodunnit.

I loved the way it moved seamlessly from show to investigation, with John Kandor’s score even better than I remembered, and very sharp and funny lines in Rupert Holmes book and Fred Ebb’s lyrics. It sits well on the huge Wimbledon stage given its a touring production that has to fit theatres of all shapes and sizes – Wimbledon is twice the size of it’s West End home. Alistair David’s choreography and Sarah Travis’ musical arrangements for Alex Beetschen’s excellent nine-piece band play a big part in the success of this production.

It’s superbly cast, led by Jason Manford who really suits the role of the Lieutenant, with the charm to pull off the stagestruck and lovestruck elements, good vocals, and he moves well. Not bad for someone relatively new to musical theatre. I loved Rebecca Lock as theatre producer Carmen Bernstein, clearly relishing her sharp-tongued character, being cruel to be kind to her daughter on the stage, and Samuel Holmes as the British director Christopher Belling whose sarcasm is a match for Carmen’s vitriol; between them they get all the best lines.

Rupert Holmes also wrote the book for The Mystery of Edwin Drood, the only other whodunnit musical I know. This one is much more successful and it’s great to see it 5 miles away from where I last saw it, in a theatre ten times the size. It’s now left London, but continues its tour for three more months. Catch it if you can.

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The West End premiere of this show in 1988 must be one of the shortest runs ever – just over a month – though it did well in Manchester en route to London. The Broadway premiere four years earlier ran longer, but wasn’t a great success, despite the casting of Chita Riviera and Liza Minnelli as mother and daughter Anna and Angel. It fared better in the UK ten years later, in productions in Leicester (Paul Kerryson reviving his 1988 production) and at the Orange Tree in Richmond. Watching this wondrous revival a whole twenty years later, I just can’t fathom why it wasn’t a huge hit. Now it seems as good as any other Kander & Ebb show, and that includes Cabaret and Chicago.

Anna has sold her boardwalk roller-skating rink and the demolition men arrive as she is sorting through her stuff and packing up. Her estranged daughter Angel arrives unexpectedly, horrified at what her mother has done, particularly as she is the co-owner. In a series of expertly crafted and expertly executed flashbacks, we see their relationship unfold from Angel’s birth to that moment. There’s a superb male chorus of six (delightfully named Dino, Lino, Lucky, Benny, Lenny and Tony!) from which other characters step out, including an excellent Stewart Clarke as Angel’s dad Dino, Ross Dawes as her grandfather Lino and Ben Redfern as Anna’s childhood sweetheart Lenny. It’s extraordinary how much story they pack into 120 minutes, interspersed with songs. Terrence McNally’s book is very funny and Kander & Ebb’s music and lyrics are way better than the production history would have you believe, with song after song getting roars of approval from the full house.

It’s great to have Caroline O’Connor back on these shores, beloved of musical theatre fans on three continents. I’d almost forgotten how good she is, in all departments – song, dance, comedy and acting – and here she’s paired with one of the best of the next generation, the hugely talented Gemma Sutton – two star performances indeed. I love the fact that O’Conner has gone from being Dianne Langton’s understudy for Angel in the UK premiere to co-lead as Anna here. Bec Chippendale’s design is an evocative and atmospheric fading structure, poignantly littered with some of her recently deceased dad’s stuff, and there’s a brilliant light feature which somehow brings even more intimacy. Adam Lenson’s staging and Fabian Aloise’s choreography are superb, making great use of the small space; it seemed to go from showstopper to showstopper without pausing for breath, the audience erupting at the end.

A revival this good can’t be seen only once, so as soon as I got home I booked to go back. A hugely underrated show which last night felt like a masterpiece uncovered.

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Well, I never thought I’d confess to going to a Barry Manilow show – such is the draw of the Watermill’s musicals, with acting musicians on their pocket-handkerchief stage. This is the fourth I’ve seen here (plus another four on transfer to London) and though its is far from the best, largely because it isn’t a particularly good show, its well worth a visit to Newbury.

It’s a simple tale centring on one of those ‘cabaret’ clubs in post-war New York, though it jumps to Havana – in a Guys & Dolls sort of way – much like the clubs themselves did. Lola gets her break then falls into the clutches of a baddie but gets rescued, obviously. Along the way, we get a multitude of styles from Chicagoesque sexy to farcical comedy taking in a fair dose of camp (well, it is directed by Craig Revel Horwood), lots of feathers and even a dance routine where showgirls meet S&M boys! It doesn’t take itself seriously though, so you’re laughing along rather than laughing at it.

This ensemble may be the most talented they’ve ever put together here. Just 12 of them play every part and every instrument, including drums, piano, trumpet, clarinet, sax, guitar and bass! There isn’t a weak link in the casting. It should be preposterous watching a couple of scantily clad and feathered showgirls dance and play saxophone, but it isn’t.

Designer Diego Pitarch works wonders to create a two-tier set including a proscenium, grand piano, entrance stairs and four palm trees in a space not much bigger than my bedroom, his costumes are terrific  and there are even plastic flashing palm trees in the garden! Sarah Travis orchestrations are masterly – sounding just like a club big band when it needs to sound like a club big band.

Craig Revel Horwood has successfully picked up John Doyle’s ‘house style’ and you’d have thought that after eight such shows you’d tire of it, but you don’t. This proves that whatever the show, you are in awe of the talent and ingenuity of it all.

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This was Kander & Ebb’s (Cabaret, Chicago…..) last show; in fact, Ebb ebbed away and died during (but not because of) it! It was nominated for eight Tony’s when it was produced on Broadway in 2007, and won David Hyde Pierce his Tony – rather spookily he was across town making his UK debut in La Bete on the same evening! I think this Guildhall School of Music & Drama production might be its UK premiere.

It’s a comedy whodunnit which takes place on stage and backstage at an out-of-town opening of a Broadway-bound musical in Boston. The inspector who calls turns out to be a musicals fan and there are three murders to solve and a show to put on.

It’s not a great show, but it’s fun. The book and music are just OK but the lyrics are good and it gets a spirited production by Martin Connor. It’s not the best GSMD cast I’ve seen, but there are excellent performances from Fred Lancaster as the cop, Paloma Oakenfold as the producer and Patrick Osborne as the British director.

Well worth catching if you’re interested in musical theatre and guaranteed to put a smile on your face.

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