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Posts Tagged ‘Claude-Michel Schonberg’

This is a new chamber version of the Michel Legrand – Herbert Kretzmer / Alain Boubil / Claude-Michel Schonberg (the Les Mis team) – Jonathan Kent 2008 West End flop. I loved it first time around; went twice and bought the music. It’s much scaled down and now feels more like a Howard Goodall show, which is a compliment not a criticism.

It’s occupied Paris in the second world war and Parisian chanteuse Marguerite is a ‘kept woman’, showered with attention and gifts by a Nazi general. She falls for Armand, a young jazz pianist, but after an intense initial three-day relationship, its doomed. There’s no way her Nazi is going to allow her to go off with a younger model. Tragedy ensues as her best friend is killed and she is forced to reject Armand. Armand’s sister and her friends join the resistance and urge him to follow, but he’s obsessed with Marguerite.

The new orchestrations for a small 7-piece band under Alex Parker (who also produces) suits the music and there’s some lovely singing (though a few too many off-key moments and too little subtlety on the night I went). Overly loud solo’s notwithstanding, Yvette Robinson was a believable Marguerite, well matched by Nadim Naaman as Armand looking much like Julian Ovenden,who played the original, but without the age gap we have here. There’s good support from Michael Onslow as Otto, Mark Turnbull at Georges and Jennifer Rhodes as Madeleine. Director Guy Unsworth (who also contributed to the new book) makes good use of the small Tabard space with help from Max Dorey’s evocative set and excellent costumes.

If it had been more consistently sung I would be more enthusiastic. As it is, I was glad I went but don’t feel I saw it at its best.

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What would we do without NBT? They produce at least one new ballet / dance drama almost every year (this year we saw Covent Garden’s first new full evening work for 15 years – 20 years since once with a new score). With an Arts Council grant of c.£2.5m, they take their work to the taxpayers of 16 British cities against Birmingham Royal Ballet’s 4 cities (£7.5m grant) and the Royal Ballet’s 1 city (they rarely get off their arses and leave London) for its share of Covent Garden’s £28m. Oh, and NBT’s tickets cost half those at Covent Garden, so they are also significantly more accessible. If taking a brand new ballet danced by a talented young company with excellent production values and a brand new score from a titan of musical theatre to 11 cities in England, Scotland and Wales isn’t value for taxpayers money, I’ll eat my tutu – well, if I had one…..End of rant!

The life of Cleopatra is perfect for dance, though covering her whole life in two hours is rather ambitious. It takes us from her joint rule of Egypt with her brother (following the death of her father) to her murder of her brother, her marriage to Caesar, birth of their child, moving to Rome, death of Caesar (Interval!) return to Egypt, the arrival of Anthony, fighting Octavia for him, invasion by Rome and the death of them both. Phew! You can’t expect a detailed story, but what you do get is a clear dramatic flow through time and events, good characterisation of people and countries and, in the second half, the emotional journey of this iconic relationship.

The second half works better than the first. The duet (I know that’s not the ballet term!) between Cleopatra and Anthony is very sexy, the battle scene is very muscular and the deaths poignant. The idea of Wadjet the snake-god as Cleopatra’s protector is excellent and provides an elegant framing for the story. Some of David Nixon’s choreography was a bit quirky for me, but when it mattered it was good. The simple set, designed by the director and Christopher Giles with great projections by Nina Dunn, looked beautiful and allowed the work to breathe unencumbered. There were one or two odd costume choices (my companion thought the Roman’s were a bit off -kilter, as it were!) but these were also mostly appropriate and elegant. Claude-Michel Schonberg’s score is lovely – even better than the one he wrote for Wuthering Heights – particularly in the second act love and death scenes.

I’m sure we didn’t get the first cast, but they were all excellent anyway. Julie Charlet made a lovely Cleopatra – assertive and sensuous in equal measure. Ashley Dixon was every bit the handsome soldier lover, at home dancing the love scenes and the fight scenes. Darren Goldsmith’s snake god glided and slithered with grace. This is a very young good-looking company who are always a pleasure to watch.

I think I’ve seen seven or eight of their dance dramas, and this is one of the best they’ve done…..and fantastic value for tax-payers!

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