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Posts Tagged ‘Christina Modestou’

Summer wouldn’t be complete without a trip to Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre, though I missed it last year and contemplated missing it this year, as this is another show I wasn’t sure I wanted to see again (yet) after the Arcola Theatre’s stunning revival seven years ago. I hadn’t really enjoyed my last three trips to OAT (Jesus Christ Superstar, Little Shop of Horrors & Evita), but news of a radical but good production and a lovely evening resulted in an impulsive outing at a few hours notice. Some of the best things happen that way.

It’s relocated to a British mill town close to the sea. From the moment a small brass band walks through the audience and onto the stage and strikes up the Carousel Waltz I felt I was in safe hands. The key to the resetting is Tom Deering’s brilliant new orchestrations, and in particular the iconic brass band sound which hijacked You’ll Never Walk Alone as others in Britain already have. Everyone uses their natural accents, so it’s a northern Nettie and a Welsh Carrie. I thought it all worked brilliantly.

The show has fewer ‘standards’ than other Rogers & Hammerstein shows, but for some reason this time I appreciated the overall quality of the score more. The story, with its antiquated sexual politics, domestic violence and suicide seemed edgier too, and they even managed to make the incongruous afterlife scene work. You can’t possibly excuse Billy, but this production helps you understand him.

When I first saw the show, at the NT almost 30 years ago, Joanna Riding was Julie and here she is a lovely Nettie, with the responsibility of being in charge of ‘that song’. Carly Bawden is in fine voice and her Julie captures your heart. Christina Modestou makes much more of the role of Carrie than I’ve seen before, warm, loving, optimistic. Sam Mackay’s Jigger is the very bad influence he should be, John Pfumojena’s Enoch is beautifully matched with Carrie and Declan Bennett navigates the emotional carousel that Billy is on very well.

I wasn’t sure about Tom Scutt’s set at first – a steep wooden hill cut by a small revolving stage – until I realised it brought intimacy to scenes that needed it, but allowed the fairground, the clam bake and the afterlife to burst out. Drew McOnie’s choreography is terrific, with group scenes like the opener and the clam bake plus individual dances like Louise’s in the afterlife scene flowing organically. The band sounded great and you could hear every word in this big open air space. Director Timothy Sheader continues the reinvention he showed with Jesus Christ Superstar, but for me this remained a show, not turned into a rock concert.

This is my 5th Carousel and it holds its own, a very welcome reinvention. With the Shakespeare’s Globe and The Proms both visited, this is summer traditions completed, with OAT thankfully back on musical theatre form.

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I’ve had a soft spot for this Howard Ashman / Alan Menken musical since I saw the original London production 35 years ago. It was successfully revived at the Menier Chocolate Factory 12 years ago, heading off on tour afterwards. Now it’s the latest in the Open Air Theatre’s summer musicals, the 31st I think, reinvented by director Maria Aberg and designer Tom Scutt.

Based on Roger Corman’s iconic 1960 b-movie, the musical was an instant hit off-Broadway, on Broadway and in the West End, where it ran for two years. When it was itself made into a film, the budget was 1000 times that of the original (which gave Jack Nicholson his screen debut). You wouldn’t think it was a natural for the leafy green Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre, but it works. Scutt has built a B&W cartoon New York City, with a riot of colour provided by the characters and the plants of Mushnik’s shop where geeky Seymour breeds Audrey II and is in love with Audrey (I), his fellow shop assistant, who has a sadistic dentist as a boyfriend.

Audrey II becomes a sensation, leading to radio & TV interviews for Seymour and lots of new customers for the shop, but Seymour has been feeding the plant with his own blood and can hardly keep up. He ends up feeding it whole people, starting with Audrey’s boyfriend Orin, as the fame leads to magazine features, TV’s first gardening programme and a plant cutting franchise which sees plants take over America. Audrey II is normally voiced by an offstage actor / singer, but Aberg’s big idea is to bring her alive and onstage in the form of American drag queen Vicky Vox and a handful of assistants, and though a good idea, I didn’t think it really worked. Towards the end, they turned up the excess dial and it became pure fantasy with a stage full of colourful SciFi plants raising the non-existent roof in the finale of Don’t Feed the Plants. With what seemed like an additional song turning it into a bit of a rock concert, the cast invading the auditorium and green pods flying around, the audience went wild and you just had to give in.

It’s very well cast, with Marc Antolin shining as Seymour. I don’t associate Jemima Rooper and Forbes Mason with musical theatre, but they both did a great job as Audrey and Mr Mushnik. Busted’s Matt Willis was excellent as Orin the sadistic dentist, plus four great cameos as TV exec, (female) magazine editor, agent and business guru. Ms Vox was outrageous and cheeky; I’m not sure what the parents of the kids in the audience made of it. The show is famous for it’s chorus of three black girl singers (Crystal, Chiffon and Ronnette – get it), an idea Tony Kushner and Jane Tesori stole for Caroline, or Change twenty years later, and Seyi Omoomba, Renee Lamb and Christina Modestou were all great.

I’ve got mixed views really. Part of me missed the nostalgic, b-movie aesthetic and part of me admired the reinvention, but I’m glad I went nonetheless.

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