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Posts Tagged ‘Cy Coleman’

Directors are often afraid of messing with classic musicals and they end up way too reverential, failing to show them through contemporary eyes. Well, you couldn’t accuse Josie Rourke’s revival of Sweet Charity of that. Her 60’s New York is sleazier and edgier, which seems to me a more honest way to portray the life of a dancehall hostess in search of love, something her degrading profession makes it harder to find.

From the minute you take your seat, you realise you’re in the New York of Andy Warhol. The metallic walls and furnishings of a warehouse littered with painted Brillo boxes, Lou Reed playing in the background, uber-cool people dressed all in black, chilling and posing. The Warhol references continue throughout in Robert Jones’ clever design.

We meet Charity Hope Valentine straight away, in the park, where her latest flame steals her handbag and pushes her into the lake, the police rescue her and she heads back to the Fandango Club where her colleagues greet her with sympathy but little surprise; they’ve got used to her endless disappointments with men.

After a brief encounter with Italian film star Vittorio, her next flame is mousy, nerdy accountant Oscar, and it looks like she may have found ‘the one’. Their whirlwind love-at-first-sight romance takes us via evening classes, the Rhythm of Life church and Coney Island, to her farewell party at the club, but this is one musical comedy without a happy ending.

This is Anne-Marie Duff’s first musical. In truth she doesn’t have a strong voice, but she makes up for it with a performance that perfectly combines gullibility, charm and vulnerability, interpreting the songs rather than just singing them, a sort of sung-speech style – think Judi Dench Send in the Clowns – which actually works, and with a real talent for comedy. Arthur Darvill superbly captures the nervous innocence and fear of Oscar.

In a fine supporting cast, Martin Marquez is excellent as Vittorio, as is Debbie Kurup, who could easily be in the lead role, as fellow hostess Helene. The guest ‘priest’ on the night I went was Adrian Lester (a wonderful Bobby in Sondheim’s Company on the same stage 23 years ago), which was a real bonus for me.

There’s no room for the ten-piece band, who have taken over the stalls bar and are heard through speakers in the auditorium. The pace is occasionally slow, but the strength of the production is to bring the lives of these exploited women to the fore with a truth I’ve never seen before, without losing the comedy, somewhat surprisingly perhaps. The pathos of the ending said it all.

Traditionalists might not like it, but I thought it was a fresh and inventive take on a 50-year-old show. Oh, and I want Adrian Lester’s glitter shirt. A bigger size, obviously.

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It’s eight years since the Menier transferred their superb revival of this show to the West End, so enough time has lapsed for me to want to see it again, though with a tinge of sadness in the week its book writer Neil Simon died. The Watermill’s revival is in its customary actor-musician style, with a touch of updating for good measure.

Based on a Fellini film, the adaptation by Simon, with music by Cy Coleman and lyrics by Dorothy Fields, tells the story of dance-hall hostess Charity and her search for love. It starts with her being dumped, and almost drowned, by then boyfriend Charlie, before a one-night stand with Italian film star Vittorio and a two-week infatuation with nerdy accountant Oscar. It’s one of the few musical comedies without a happy ending.

The wonderful Gemma Sutton plays Charity with a combination of dippy charm, naivety, gullibility and eternal optimism, more vulnerable than usual, and she’s sensational. Her fellow hostesses try to inject some realism to prevent her exploitation, but her rosy specs are irremovable. Even though they are ‘taxi dancers’ (present day lap dancers), there’s a strong suggestion that ‘clients’ can pay more for additional services, which must have been a bit shocking when it premiered fifty years ago, though its also suggested Charity is more innocent than the rest.

The story seems a bit thinner this time around, particularly in the first half, but the score is packed with great songs – Big Spender, If My Friends Could See Me Now, There’s Gotta Be Something Better Than This, The Rhythm of Life – and they are sung and played very well. As usual, they work wonders with the small space. Diego Pitarch’s design is all black, white and red, with heart-shaped arches that light up and a small video screen at the back to signpost locations like Central Park. The costumes are more contemporary than 60’s.

The rest of the cast is excellent, with an auspicious professional debut from Alex Cardall as Oscar, and another from Tomi Ogbaro as the bass playing head of the hippy dope-smoking Rhythm of Life Church. In Paul Hart’s production, they all play instruments, in brass-dominant arrangements, and the hostesses as showgirls moving whilst playing saxes and trumpets prove irresistible.

Another treat at the lovely Watermill.

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In my experience, you rarely see a show at it’s best on press night – too much pressure – and this one appears to have had a bad one. Well, based on a performance two days later, even though it has its faults, I’m much more positive than the critics.

When I first heard they were going to do it at the Menier, I thought it was an unsuitable venue. I first saw it 35 years ago in the Palladium, then 4 years ago in a big top outside Chichester Festival Theatre, so this is on an entirely different scale. As it turns out, in the round, with a big floor to play on, it combines spectacle and intimacy, and there’s a certain frisson having a man juggling with knives inches away from your face!

It’s a very American story, about a real life showman and proprietor of a circus and ‘museum’, which seem to be more like ‘freak shows’, featuring as they do the world’s oldest woman and tiny Tom Thumb. He goes on to promote (and bed) Swedish opera singer Jenny Lind, and later into politics, though not quite as far as President Barnum – this is the late 19th century, not the early 21st! He eventually returns to the circus in partnership with James Bailey to form the very successful Barnum & Bailey.

Cy Coleman’s score has some great tunes, with some particularly good ensemble set pieces such as One Brick at a Time, Come Follow the Band and Join the Circus. It is here we find the real strength of the show, and this production, with a terrific ensemble who can sing and dance and is full of circus skills, some of which take your breath away.

Laura Pitt-Pulford is excellent as Barnum’s wife Chairy and it’s great to see another Corrie exile, Tupele Dorgu, prove to be as good on stage as the small screen. In truth Marcus Brigstocke isn’t a good enough singer or a seasoned enough performer for the role of Barnum, but his likeability means he pulls it off, just, and he stayed on the tightrope the night we went!

I loved Paul Farnsworth’s design, and Gordon Greenberg’s staging and Rebecca Howell’s sensational choreography deliver the spectacle the show needs. There were some sightline issues; we missed a couple of key moments on what appeared to be an elevated platform in front of the band but for us behind a pillar, and a few more short ones high behind us, but overall it was a great use of the Menier space, which in this configuration seemed a lot bigger.

Better than the critics will have you believe and well worth a punt.

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Why on earth has it taken 20 years for this unlikely Broadway hit musical by Cy Coleman and Ira Gasman to reach London? Like Guys & Dolls decades before it, The Life places NYC street-life centre stage, but it’s not the lovable rogues of the 50’s, it’s the prostitutes and their parasitic pimps of the 90’s. I was bowled over by it. Time to open another superlatives box.

Memphis runs most of the girls on these particular blocks, except Queen, whose small-time ex-military druggie boyfriend Fleetwood purports to be her pimp. JoJo has higher aspirations, recruiting girls for a Californian porn mogul; though his latest NYC newcomer Mary isn’t as innocent as she seems. Long-time pro Sonja is the godmother of the girls. Memphis is determined to add Queen to his roster at all costs and the show turns very dark when he seeks to implement his plan.

Like The Wild Party recently at The Other Palace, it’s a raunchy jazzy score packed with showstoppers that showcase just about everyone of the 16-strong cast, and what a cast Ann Vosser has assembled. Long time favourite Sharon D Clarke is on sparkling form, totally inhabiting the role of Sonja, with stunning vocals that seem effortless. T’Shan Williams is less known to me and she’s simply terrific as Queen; a real find. Cornell S John has huge presence and to say he’s easy to loathe is a compliment to his characterisation of Memphis. David Albury, excellent in the Union Theatre’s Love Story, excels in a very different role here as Fleetwood. Joanna Woodward navigates her character Mary from seemingly naïve new arrival to wannabe porn start well, again with fine vocals. John Addison’s JoJo is a cool but oily chancer; another great characterisation. There a faultless supporting cast and a sensational 11-piece band under Tamara Saringer.

It’s a long evening, but for me it sustained its length. I left the theatre on a high and I was still on it the following day. Unmissable stuff.

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The oddest thing about this 1978 Broadway show is its sub-operetta score by Cy (Sweet Charity / Barnum / City of Angels) Coleman. Oh, and the fact it takes place almost entirely on a train. This is my fourth production and the second at GSMD. I rather like it.

The score somehow suits a story about theatre folk. Producer Oscar Jaffee has had a series of flops and he’s on the run from those involved in the last one in Chicago, which closed mid-performance when the last audience member walked out, on the train named the 20th Century bound for New York. He hears that former star of stage, now star of screen, Lily Garland, is going to board the train. An idea for a new show about Mary Magdalene comes to him and a rich religious businesswoman, Letitia Peabody Primrose, falls into his lap and becomes his backer. He then seeks to bag Lily as his leading lady. With a book and lyrics by musical comedy masters Betty Comden & Adolph Green, there’s a lot of fun to be had, particularly in the second half scenes getting the investment and contracting Lily, plus a delightfully politically incorrect song called She’s A Nut and a running joke about everyone writing a play.

Adam Wiltshire’s set and costumes wouldn’t look out of place on a West End stage – two big gilt proscenium arches and a superb period train carriage – and where else would you get a full orchestra of 35 and a cast of 30 these days! There’s excellent choreography by Bill Deamer, especially in the Act II Mayfair party scene. The musical standards under MD Dan Jackson are high, and whereas last time GSMD staged it many of the cast struggled to play older, that is absolutely not the case here. Bessie Carter was particularly good as Letitia and Michael Levi Harris & Carl Stone a terrific double-act as Oscar’s sidekicks. I very much liked Claudia Jolly ‘s Lily and Josh Dylan provided a great cameo as her new love Bruce Granit. The chorus numbers showed off the vocal and dancing talents of a fine ensemble.

It’s another one of those shows where the second half is sharper than the first, and you can see why the original production never made it across the pond like Coleman’s other shows, but Martin Connor’s revival is a great introduction for anyone who hasn’t seen it, or a fresh look for musical theatre buffs like me who can’t get enough of it. 

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The cleverness of this show is matched by the stylishness of its production. Add in the intimacy of the venue, the faultless casting and a superb design and you have a real treat. Rather a triumph for director Josie Rourke’s first musical.

Stine is a Hollywood scriptwriter creating a Chandleresque piece for control freak producer Buddy Fiddler. His central character is private eye Stone, who gets the case of the missing Kingsley daughter. The show moves from the scriptwriting and production (in colour) to the story within (in B&W) with five of the actors doubling up, with a part in each. The late night jazz score suits this film noir story perfectly and there’s a ‘chorus’, in the Greek as well as the vocal sense, of four singers. It’s staged in front of Robert Jones’ two-tier wall of scripts linked by a spiral staircase with gorgeous period costumes for both sexes. It’s amongst the most stylish things I’ve ever seen.

The excellent book is by Larry Gelbart, creater of MASH and the very funny book for Sondheim’s A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum. It was the Broadway debut for lyricist David Zippel’s, who never produced anything to match these sharp witty lyrics. Cy Coleman’s score is unique in his catalogue that includes Barnum, Sweet Charity and the very underrated On the 20th Century. Though she doesn’t have any musical theatre experience, Josie Rourke is surrounded by seasoned professionals like choreographer Stephen Mear and MD Gareth Valentine.

Hadley Fraser and Tam Mutu are both excellent, and well matched, as Stine and Stone. Rebecca Trehearn and Rosalie Craig provide not one but two scene-stealing turns as PA’s Donna & Oolie and Gabby & Bobbi respectively. Katherine Kelly (Corrie’s Becky) continues to prove there’s life after soaps with lovely sexy characterisations as Carla and Alaura, like Marc Elliott (East Enders Syed) with two fine performances as Munoz & Pancho. Sometime Nancy Samantha Barks is great in her two roles as Avril and Mallory; then there’s Peter Polycarpou, giving yet another brilliant performance in a musical (his fifth in as many years) as producer Buddy. This is exceptional casting.

The only previous West End production of this show, its UK première 21 years ago with Roger Allam as Stone and Henry Goodman as Buddy, was a bit lost on the vast Prince of Wales stage. In the intimacy of the Donmar, with superb staging, production values and performances coming together like this, it proves to be a musical theatre gem.

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This is the perfect show to fill Chichester’s temporary ‘Theatre in the Park’. It’s an up-market, comfortable big-top with a great atmosphere and the show’s about 19th century American circus legend Phineas T Barnum. I don’t think it has been seen in the UK since it’s UK premiere 30 years ago and its a lot better than I remembered.

In truth, the story of Barnum’s life has little depth. We follow his relationship with his wife, his fling with Swedish soprano Jenny Lind and his business dealings with Brit Julius Goldschmidt and eventual partner James A Bailey, but this is family entertainment and on those terms it succeeds. There’s singing, dancing, acrobatics, clowns and marching bands. Cy Coleman’s music has a lot of numbers you didn’t think you knew and is often rather rousing.

Scott Pask’s design and Paul Willis’ costumes are superb. There’s a two-tier backdrop with the band hidden on the second tier and twin spiral staircases that revolve! Performers enter from the back, the auditorium and down ropes from above. Liam Steel & Andrew Wright’s choreography has people becoming props and doubled-up to play one person. The arrival of a giant elephant is simple but breathtaking and the acrobatics even happen in the auditorium. Director Timothy Sheader, moonlighting from the Open Air Theatre where he has had much musical theatre success, does a cracking job pulling this together into a cohesive entertainment that lifts you up and keeps you on a high.

Given this country is awash with musical theatre talent, I’m not sure why they’ve had to import their Barnum from the US (or his wife from Australia, come to that), but Christopher Fitzgerald is hugely impressive and very hard-working. Walking a tightrope whilst singing a song can be no mean feat. The extraordinarily good-looking, athletic and energetic ensemble is outstanding.

I can’t imagine a better revival or a more appropriate space. With Cameron Mackintosh on board as co-producer, I think we should expect a London outing (bringing the theatre with it when it finishes its time here at the end of September or, with a few changes, Mr Sheader could take it to his Open Air Theatre next summer?). This continues Chichester’s important role in musical theatre. They’ve transferred Singing in the Rain, Sweeney Todd, Love Story & Kiss Me Kate in the last few years, so why not Barnum?

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