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Posts Tagged ‘Craig Revel Horwood’

The premiere of this musical in 2000 was a high-profile affair for a relatively unknown American musicals team, Dana P Rowe & John Dempsey – the Theatre Royal Drury Lane no less (they had Cameron Mackintosh as godfather). It wasn’t a bad show, but the theatre was way too big for it. It moved to the Prince of Wales, but didn’t survive the tumultuous summer of 2001. This revival is at the opposite end of the scale, in a theatre about 10% of the size (in truth, a bit too small now) but its good to take a second look and it scrubs up well.

The first adaptation of John Updike’s novel was the stellar cast film with Jack Nicholson, Susan Sarandon, Michelle Pfeiffer & Cher. It works as well as a musical, though the first half is a touch too long. Bored housewives Alexandra, Jane & Sukie get more than they bargained for when devil-like Daryl Van Horne arrives in suburban New England to spice up their lives and wreak havoc on the conservative community. Local do-gooder Felicia and her sometime philandering husband Clyde become casualties, leaving daughter Jennifer (Alexandra’s son Michael’s estranged girlfriend) exposed to the advances of Daryl now that he’s bored with the trio he’s been bedding.

It’s done in the now customary Watermill actor-musician style and it’s exceptionally well cast. Poppy Tierney, Joanna Hickman and Tiffany Graves are a fine trio of ‘witches’ and Alex Bourne makes a great ‘devil’. Rosemary Ashe reprises her world premiere role as Felicia and though her singing is sometimes too ‘operatic’, her ability to regurgitate anything and everything is impressive! Tom Rogers’ design takes your breath away; he brings American suburbia to a converted 19th century Berkshire mill with a grey clapboard house and beds and bars that emerge from nowhere.

This is Craig Revel Horwood’s sixth Watermill show and his staging and choreography is as witty and playful as ever. I felt it was a bit crowded and loud (with inaudible lyrics) occasionally, and there’s so much going on it takes a while to settle, but by the second half its steaming (in more ways than one). There aren’t that many musical black comedies, and it’s well adapted for the form, even if it isn’t that memorable a score. Still, a good enough reason for the annual pilgrimage to Newbury and to be recommended.

 

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I revisited this 1986 show a couple of years ago when Craig Revel Horwood, who had by then taken over John Doyle’s mantle as the master of actor-musician musicals at the Watermill Newbury, directed a touring version. This is what I thought of it https://garethjames.wordpress.com/2011/03/13/chess  – more like a staged concert and a bit X-Factor. Still not sure whether it was the production or the show, I couldn’t resist seeing it at fave haunt The Union Theatre where it appears to be their hottest ticket ever as it sold out before opening (the show clearly has its fan base, as the 2008 Royal Albert hall concert showed). 

Almost everything that was wrong about the touring production is right about this production. The design is a simple, elegant and effective and the sound is great. The production values are as good as they’ve ever been at the Union with more lights than you’d need for the average rock concert. It is mostly performed in a square space in front of an audience on three sides and a raised platform on the fourth above and to the side of which we have floating chess squares. It does look a bit cramped when all 16 performers occupy the square, but the space is nevertheless used well.

The ladies fare better than the men. I loved both Sarah Galbraith’s Florence and Natasha J Barnes’ Svetlana (though she was prone to the occasional screech) and Gillian Kilpatrick’s sinister Molokova is excellent. Nadim Naaman is very good as Anatoly, but I’m afraid Tim Oxbrow’s Freddie was vocally harsh and Craig Rhys Barlow’s voice too weak for The Arbiter.

As to the show, well I’m afraid I feel the same as I did last time. The story didn’t engage me emotionally or intellectually, the music’s OK but only OK and at 2h40 mins it outstays its welcome by at least 20 minutes. So, an impressive production by a team new to the Union, but a show that hasn’t passed the test of time and now needs to be packed in the ‘old musicals’ box and returned to the attic.

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When his partnership with Andrew Lloyd-Webber ended, Tim Rice collaborated with the boys from ABBA to create this show about chess champions with a cold war political backdrop and plenty of love interest. I saw it, but somehow it has been erased from the memory – I can’t even remember whether I liked it or not! So off to Woking we go to find out……

I’ve loved most of Craig Revel Horwood’s actor-musician productions since he picked up the mantle at The Watermill Newbury from John Doyle. The best of them was 2009’s Spend Spend Spend and I even liked 2010’s Copacobana! They can breathe new life into weak shows like Sunset Boulevard. Here they scale up considerably with an onstage team of 29 and I’m afraid it doesn’t work. Here’s why:

1. The design is very clever, using light panels and projections. The costumes are good, but there are next to no props. With 21 scenes in 16 different locations, you’re given few references to help you follow the story. Apparently, at one point we were in the Temple of the Reclining Buddah in Bangkok; you’d never know it. It feels more like a staged concert than a show.

2. The sound design buries a lot of Tim Rice’s lyrics and given that it’s virtually sung through, that means burying some of the story too. The onstage musicians sound as if they are miming to a backstage band, so distant is the sound. The lead vocals are over-amplified above this, compounding the problem – it seems like they are on The X-Factor singing to a backing track.

3. With the actors doubling up as musicians, the stage is very crowded for most of the show. This is fine in a ‘big’ scene or chorus number, but completely distracting in a more intimate scene.

4. The show is clever, but maybe too clever for its own good. The slickness means you don’t really engage with the characters or their stories. Frankly, I didn’t give a shit about any of them and was completely unengaged and uninvolved – I found myself watching the stagecraft as if I was its producer taking a look at how my show was shaping up, preparing to give notes to the team.

5. For people who wrote some of the most iconic pop songs ever, the score has nothing remotely as good. It’s mostly sub-operatic mush, with I Know Him So Well the only showstopper. Tim Rice’s lyrical trademark is his wit, but there’s little of that too – though some may have got buried in the sound design.

6. The Theatre Royal, Woking isn’t The Watermill Theatre, Newbury!

The seven leads are fine – particularly Shona White as Florence, who sounds uncannily like Elaine Paige (the original Florence). Unfortunately, the production forces them to act and sing with little subtly. The chorus of clearly talented actor-musicians work very hard.

More is less I’m afraid – lots of talent and energy leading to little entertainment.

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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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