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Posts Tagged ‘Dan Jackson’

I’ve been a big supporter of Pimlico Opera’s work in prisons. Before this, there was West Side Story, Guys & Dolls and Carmen in Wandsworth, Sugar in Send and Our House in Belmarsh. I’m drawn by the extraordinary contribution they make to rehabilitation, but the quality of the work is extraordinary too. This one, at HMP High Down, was particularly thrilling.

They use the shortened ‘schools edition’ (which I saw in a school a few years back!). There are fourteen professional actors, two officers and eighteen prisoners, with a full orchestra under MD Dan Jackson (something the current partly synthesised West End production can’t boast!). Lest you think the professionals are anything other than premiere league, Javert has performed the role in the West End production and Fantine won an Olivier Award earlier this year!

Having a cast of 34 and a full orchestra makes the choruses thrilling. Robin Bailey’s Javert, Jeff Nicholson’s Valjean and Rebecca Trehearn’s Fantine are as good as any I’ve seen in the West End (Bailey has played it there and Cameron Mackintosh’s people would do well to sign up the other two!). The prisoners are not confined to the chorus, with roles like Marius being taken by some. Amongst the amateurs, PE instructor / officer Mat Baxter made a fine Enjolras and Irish prisoner Pearce Murray a suitably cheeky Thenardier.

You would expect such a production to be a touch ragged at the edges, but this is more than made up for in Nikki Woollaston’s staging by the sheer spirit and energy of it all, giving people the opportunity to get something positive out of a negative period of their lives. Hopeful and uplifting.

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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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