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Posts Tagged ‘Daniel Evans’

Chichester has become the go to place for revivals of classic musicals. In recent years we’ve had very successful productions of Me & My Girl, Oklahoma, Guys & Dolls, Mack & Mabel, Half a Sixpence & She Loves Me. This one was part of the aborted 2020 festival, so the anticipation was heightened, but it has been richly rewarded. As much of a reinvention as a revival, my fourth exposure to it made me look at it anew.

Set in the Pacific islands in the middle of the Second World War, the Americans are confronting the Japanese at the same time as the allies are confronting the Nazis in Europe. Some of these islands are colonies, with plantations growing food for hungry Europe, and the island on which this American base is situated is French. With this serious backdrop, two love stories unfold, a US lieutenant with a local girl and a US Navy nurse with a French plantation owner, both relationships blighted by the racist programming of the American lovers.

Both the male suitors get caught up in a dramatic military expedition, which results in a change in the fortunes of war, though they don’t both live to see the outcome. Meanwhile, military life goes on and the forces endeavour to entertain themselves in this paradise in the Pacific, encountering the local people they are temporarily sharing the islands with. The colonial, race and gender issues are hard to swallow 70 years on, but Daniel Evans solution is to confront them, rather than paper over them as other productions have, hence the reinvention. He’s also tackled the neglect of the local characters. Thus the serious themes can co-exist with traditional musical exuberance in numbers like There is Nothin’ Like a Dame and I’m Gonna Wash that Man Right Outa my Hair. There’s an authenticity too in the look of the show in Peter McKintosh’s design.

Few shows are packed with as many songs which have become standards outside of them, here Some Enchanted Evening, Younger than Springtime, I’m in Love With A Wonderful Guy and Happy Talk amongst others, and they are given superb renditions by a combined cast and band of almost 50. Julian Ovenden has clearly been put on this planet to play Emile – great presence, great chemistry with Nellie and his children, and as fine a voice as you’d wish to hear singing these iconic songs. Gina Beck is coming to the end of her stint as Nellie, sharing the role with Alex Young, and she combines the ‘cockeyed optimist’ with infatuated lover brilliantly, and when her prejudice comes through it is truly shocking. Rob Houchen is a fine romantic lead as Lt. Cable and there are excellent performances from Joanna Ampil as a feisty Bloody Mary and Keir Charles as base comedian Billis. Cat Beveridge’s band sounds luxurious by today’s musical theatre standards and does Rogers’ score full justice.

It comes up fresh, its themes relevant and it’s music joyful. CFT does it yet again.

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Composer Adam Guettel has had an erratic musical theatre career. He began with Floyd Collins and produced too more in quick succession, then five years later he came up with this Broadway success, but nothing for fourteen years (though he appears to have a few in the pipeline), the time its taken for the show to reach London, and in a new big scale short run rather than the more typical West End transfer.

It criss-crosses the musical theatre line between opera and musical, with a lush score that requires, and here gets, a mix of opera trained and theatre trained singers and a full 40-piece orchestra. The musical standards are sky high, with the amplification working for them rather than against. With the orchestra of Opera North behind and above the relatively small playing area, it’s surprisingly intimate (well, from the front of the stalls at least) given we’re in the Royal Festival Hall.

Based on Elizabeth Spencer’s 1960 novella, which was made into a film just a couple of years later, it concerns a visit to Florence by wealthy American Margaret Johnson and her daughter Clara. Margaret is reliving part of her past and Clara is being introduced to the joys of Italy. She falls in love with Fabrizio, which forces Margaret to confront the issue of her mental health; she’s not had full capacity since an accident in childhood. Fabrizio’s family are also phased by the age difference; Clara is some six years older than Fabrizio.

Craig Lucas’ book tells the story with clarity, leaving the score to deal with the emotional arc of the piece. They’ve chosen to leave the partial Italian dialogue and lyrics untranslated, with brings an authenticity without losing much understanding. Robert Jones’ very Italianate design adds to this. Daniel Evans delicate staging emphasises the period and plays up the romance. You rarely hear a full orchestra like this at a staged musical these days and the sound proves glorious.

The trump card though is the casting, with Renee Fleming incandescent as Margaret, singing beautifully. Alex Jennings is a quintessentially English gentleman, yet here he transforms himself into un perfetto gentiluomo Italiano, aided by natty suits, cool specs and silver hair! Rob Houchen is a real find as romantic lead Fabrizio, with a simply gorgeous voice. Dove Cameron, a Disney regular with zillions of Instagram followers (who I suspect is cast for bums on seats) was indisposed, which created an opportunity for understudy Molly Lynch to steal the show with a performance of great charm and vulnerability and a heavenly voice. The supporting cast is uniformly excellent.

They seem to be struggling to fill seats – the balcony was closed – largely because of the ridiculous pricing, I suspect, but I hope the reviews help fill them as it deserves to succeed, though the producers need to learn that lowering the prices can actually increase their income! Despite the cost, I was very pleased I went.

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If you want a musical with showstoppers, dance routines and jazz hands, you’ll be disappointed. Tim Firth’s show is more musical play than musical – quirky, charming and ultimately moving, as warm & cosy as a duvet on a cold winters day. I loved it.

Thirteen-year-old Nicky enters a competition to write about her family – older brother Matt, a seventeen year old goth full of teenage angst, parents Steve and Yvonne, who both seem to be having their own mid-life crisis, grandma May, showing signs of dementia, and aunt Sian, single, carefree, loving life, serial girlfriend. The prize is a family holiday to anywhere in the world, but when she wins she chooses a camping trip!

The holiday proves to be a bit of a disaster, largely because of the weather, though Steve’s handiwork as a bodger is partly to blame. By now, Sian has another boyfriend, Matt’s intense relationship with his girlfriend becomes more on-off, May’s ability to look after herself comes into question and the parents mid-life crises continue. Nicky seems to be the only sane, balanced one, but when the significance of the location to both Steve & Yvonne and May becomes clearer, it brings out the best in the whole family.

There are lovely tunes interwoven with the dialogue, but I wouldn’t call them songs. They do add a lot, though, because feelings and emotions are better conveyed by music. Both book and lyrics (Firth does the lot) are very funny. You really do get to know and love this family of six in a very short time. Richard Kent’s design is a great use of the Minerva space, with a two-story house as a backdrop, but an intimate playing area in front, and in the interval the stage management team work wonders turning it into a muddy wood.

Nicky is the beating heart of the piece and Kirsty Maclaren’s performance is delightful, a totally believable thirteen-year-old. Scott Folan is superb as teenage Matt, often having to change style and behaviour, as teens do. Rachel Lumburg is lovely as the singleton determined to live life to the full, and Sheila Hancock gives us another of her late career character acting gems as May. For the third time in less than a year Clare Burt has captured my heart, with Yvonne hot on the heels of Mrs Harris and Miss Littlewood. This is a rare stage appearance for James Nesbitt who proves what we’re missing in a role which suits his natural charm and likability.

Like last year’s wonderful Flowers for Mrs Harris, this started out in Sheffield. Daniel Evans is at the helm again, creating a feel-good, heart-warming show which deserves a life beyond this second eight-week run, but you’d best get to Chichester just in case.

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This is a musical theatre adaptation of one of prolific American novelist Paul Gallico’s four Mrs Harris books. Quite how an American gets to write about a post-war British char lady I don’t know, but I’m pleased he did, and even more pleased Rachel Wagstaff and Richard Taylor have turned it into a charming, heart warming, quintessentially British show which gets a short run in Chichester following it’s premiere in Sheffield two years ago.

Set in the late forties, war widow Ada Harris lives in Battersea, working as a char lady, as does her best friend and neighbour Violet. She talks to the spirit of her husband, who is always with her. Her ‘clients’ include an accountant, a wannabe actress, a retired major and a foreign Countess trading in antiques. She is forever undertaking acts of kindness for them all.

Violet’s clients include Lady Dant and when Ada covers for her there, she is spellbound by a Christian Dior dress and becomes obsessed with owning something so beautiful. Somehow she manages to get enough money together and heads to Paris where she is initially greeted with disbelief and disdain, but eventually charms everyone in her path until she returns with a Dior dress made for her. She also spreads her kindness in Paris, the results of which follow her home in flowers, but not until after another act of kindness back home ends tragically.

Taylor builds on his experience with The Go-Between (https://garethjames.wordpress.com/2016/06/30/the-go-between) and produces an even better score. I would describe his very original musical voice as tuneful but song-less and (almost) sung-through! It suits the story so well, flowing beautifully, as does Daniel Evans impeccable staging, with much use of the revolve. Lez Brotherston’s designs are simple but gorgeous, with the private fashion show in the House of Dior taking your breathe away as eight models descent the stairs in stunning gowns.

Evans has got himself a faultless cast, led by Clare Burt, who follows her star turn as working class theatrical hero Joan Littlewood with another star turn as another working class hero. Clare Machin delights once again, this time as friend Violet, morphing deliciously into the French cleaner at Dior. Louis Maskall is terrific as Bob the accountant and Dior’s Head of Finance Andre; his leg acting alone deserves an award! Joanna Riding, Laura Pitt-Pulford, Mark Meadows, Nicola Sloane, Gary Wilmot, Rhona McGregor and Luke Latchman are all excellent, doubling up as London and Paris characters, with five of them adding one, two or three more. It was lovely to see Tom Brady’s ten-piece band leave the pit to get a well earned ovation.

The show’s message about kindness seems particularly welcome today. Another wonderful feel-good afternoon in Chichester. I do hope it gets a London transfer as it’s too good to see only once!

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I criticised the new London production of The King & I for being conservative and overly reverential; like visiting the Museum of Musical Theatre. Well, this show is 14 years older, but that’s the last thing you’d say about this brilliant revival; it feels freshly minted, with an extraordinary sense of fun and its full of joy.

It’s a quintessentially British story. The trustees of the aristocratic Hareford family have been looking for a male heir born to a working class girl and solicitor Parchester thinks she’s found him, cockney lad Bill Snibson. He’s about as interested in joining the nobility as they are in having him, but the Duchess of Dene is determined to gentrify him and get rid of his girlfriend Sally Smith. Fellow trustee Sir John has a different view. Cue lots of lovely class culture clash involving a lot of toffs and pearly kings and queens.

Sally feels she should leave Bill so that he can inherit the title and all that goes with it, but Bill is having none of it. Sir John decides to gentrify Sally instead. Cue references to Pygmalion (if they were in the original) or perhaps My Fair Lady (if they were added by Stephen Fry for the hugely successful 1985 revival). It works, and Bill and Sally are reunited and wed, as are the Duchess and Sir John. Along the way, we get a brilliant scene where they conjure up the ancestors – tap dancing knights in armour! – a great drunken scene which bonds Bill and Sir John, and sensational ensemble set pieces to end Act I and start Act II.

My recollection of the 1985 London revival, with Robert Lindsay and Emma Thompson, which ran twice as long as the original – eight years! – was ‘too twee for me’, but this time it swept me away and my spirits soared. It’s a terrific music hall inspired score by Noel Gay, including the title song, The Sun Has Got His Hat On, Leaning On A Lamppost and of course The Lambeth Walk. The combination of Les Brotherston’s superb design (in particular, his costumes), Alistair David’s light-as-air choreography and Daniel Evans astute direction ensures it sparkles like a diamond, literally some of the time. Gareth Valentine’s arrangements are thrilling and his band sound sensational; he even gets to do a turn at the curtain call.

Matt Lucas is a revelation as Bill. He talent for comedy is well known, but he adds good vocals and sprightly dance to create a classic cheeky cockney. Alex Young is lovely as his intended Sally, whether she’s leading a knees-up or breaking her heart and yours with Once You Lose Your Heart. Caroline Quentin and favourite of mine Clive Rowe are delightful as the Duchess and the Knight. What I love most about this cast is that it’s all shapes, sizes and races whose talent, energy and enthusiasm sweep you away.

I’ve often left Chichester musicals on a high, but this and Half a Sixpence are special because they bring great British shows alive for today. Daniel Evans apparently said he wanted a new lick of paint, well in my book its a thrilling makeover. Don’t even think about not transferring it; London needs it !

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This is the third new play by the prolific James Graham in four months, the other two (Ink & Labour of Love) still running in the West End, perhaps soon to become a trio with this. He’s cornered the market with recent history plays and what I love most about his work is that he recalls history you’ve lived through, illuminates and educates, but never forgets to entertain.

This has stylistic similarities with his underrated Monster Raving Loony, where he used British comedy shows to tell the story of that indispensable political party led by Screaming Lord Sutch. Here, the focus is on the Who Wants To Be A Millionaire cheating scandal through the history of quiz shows, with examinations of the psychology of, and motivation for, participation and that very British obsession with fairness and equality along the way. It’s got the same playfulness (an audience quiz, with prizes, voting and even participation) and sense of fun, enhancing the storytelling and guaranteeing the entertainment.

We move from the creation of ITV, it’s earlier game shows and the pitch for this one to the entry and preparation by a network of very determined and thorough individuals to the show itself and the court case which followed, which itself became a bit of an entertainment in a life-imitates-art sort of way. It was fascinating on so many levels and always entertaining. Robert Jones’ terrific set takes you right into the TV studio, but also becomes the court and other locations. Lights, music, live projection and recorded video all add to the authenticity.

Gavin Spokes and Stephanie Street are excellent as the Ingram’s, the couple at the centre of the storm that became an (untelevised) courtroom drama and international media circus. Nine other actors play over forty roles between them, from three to seven each. Keir Charles gets to be Chris Tarrant, Des O’Connor, Jim Bowen, Leslie Crowther and Bruce Forsyth in quick succession; five terrific turns! We even get a Corrie cameo to illustrate a question, with Sarah Woodward and Nadia Albina bringing the house down as Hilda Ogden & Elsie Tanner respectively. The audience voted on their guilt twice and the verdict changed from one to the other, as it had in the vast majority of previous shows (but not me!)

Daniel Evans’ production zips along, captivates and entertains, but you also get an intriguing story within a frame of recent social history, this time popular culture. The return trip to Chichester was twice as long as the play, but it was well worth it.

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Daniel Evans’ reign at Chichester begins with a rare revival of an early Alan Bennett play, almost fifty years old now, not seen in London since the 1968 premiere production. It might be flawed, and somewhat dated, but its given a fine production that’s well worth catching. 

It’s set in a boys public school where the headmaster is about to retire and pass the reigns to senior master Franklin, a more reforming figure, who has put together a play, to be performed by both staff and boys, and we, the audience, are the parents. The play-within-the-play weaves in and out and appears to be historical scenes from two world wars, plus satirical sketches involving contemporaries like T E Lawrence and the Bloomsbury set, and that’s the crux of the problem – it’s a bit of a muddle; well at least until the interval, when I did some belated research to understand what Bennett was getting at, which appears to be a review of changes in society since the end of the First World War, well, forty years on.

CFT has been turned into an authentic public school, dominated by a huge pipe organ and two big war memorial plaques in Les Brotherston’s superb design. There’s even organ accompaniment to rousing hymns and the school song which sounds like it’s coming from the onstage organ pipes, though it clearly can’t be. The apron stage is invaded by some fifty ‘extras’ in uniform, on one occasion straight from the rugby pitch, in addition to the ten actors playing named pupil roles, with just a handful of staff. It’s highly animated and oozes authenticity. The Headmaster has a lot of speeches and Richard Wilson is clearly reading some, but it doesn’t really matter; he has great presence and is every bit the old school head. In the supporting cast, I very much liked Danny Lee Wynter’s younger master, Tempest, a part originally played by Bennett himself.

The critical reception this has received is, in my view, a bit unfair and I was glad I caught it – but mug up first to get the most out of it.

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I’m late to the party with this one, which didn’t turn out to be as much of a party as I was hoping and expecting. Though I accept it is hugely important in the history of musical theatre, it’s very dated and I’m afraid I didn’t think Daniel Evans production did much to breathe new life into it.

It was the first musical as we know them today, the tale of the Hawks family, and in particular daughter Magnolia Hawks, staging shows aboard a boat which moved up and down the Mississippi river to find its audience. Magnolia becomes a leading lady by covering for someone else, falls in love with her leading man and heads for Chicago where they have a daughter, but he lets them down badly and disappears. She returns to her career and then to her home aboard the show boat where they are eventually reconciled many years later.

What was radical at the time was the race and segregation themes, plus alcoholism, gambling and prostitution. This was no song and dancing girls piece. I’ve seen it twice before – the RSC / Opera North at the Palladium around 25 years ago, and a spectacular in-the-round production in the Royal Albert Hall ten years ago – and my recollection is more positive than my impression last night. I can’t help comparing it with the European premiere of Rogers & Hammerstein’s Allegro which I saw just five days ago and which is superior in just about every way – staging, choreography, band and sound in particular. I liked Lez Brotherston’s design, though.

I don’t think it was jaded after four months, in its final fortnight before its early bath, or because there were three understudies in leading roles, as they were all excellent. The reviews had been very positive and the audience reception on the night I went was enthusiastic, so maybe it’s just me……

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This 1975 early David Mamet play, his 4th (of 24!), certainly attracts star actors. I saw Al Pacino at the Duke of Yorks in 1984 and William H Macy (a pupil of Mamet) at the Donmar in 2000, both playing Teach, and now it’s Damian Lewis as Teach with both John Goodman and Tom Sturridge in the other roles! I suspect it’s more fun to play than to watch.

Set in a Chicago junk shop (brilliantly claustrophobic design from Paul Wills) it occupies a very man’s world of gambling and bravado, on the fringes of crime. Proprietor Don thinks he may have undersold a coin (which gives the play its title) and plots to rob it back (with others) with the help of friends Teach and Fletcher (who we don’t meet). It later transpires that his young gofer Bob may already have done so. The relationship between Don and Bob came over much more in this production, Don very fatherly with hints of perhaps more than that, and Teach is more larger than life, more comic. I’m not sure the play is wearing well, though. We see a lot more of this type of work today, so it seems less fresh and original. To be honest, I found it a bit dull this time around.

I thought both John Goodman and Tom Sturridge, in a very physical performance, were outstanding, but I felt Damian Lewis overacted a bit, stealing the centre of attention but not deserving of it. Director Daniel Evans staging is good, emphasising the subtlety and complexity of the relationships.

Good to see work like this, with such good actors, selling out on the West End; without them I couldn’t honestly say it would be a worthwhile revival.

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Will someone move Sheffield nearer to London, please? Sheffield Theatres reputation continues to rise and now they outdo the West End by touring probably the best production of Anything Goes I’ve ever seen. This is unmissable.

Cole Porter’s classic musical comedy is 80 years old now, but here it’s fresh and sparkles like new. The score is littered with classics like I Get a Kick Out of You, You’re the Top, It’s De-Lovely, Blow Gabriel Blow and of course the title song, with witty lyrics by Porter and a very funny book, originally by P G Wodehouse & Guy Bolton but revised twice so I’m not sure whose is in use now. Still, who cares, its fun aboard a liner crossing the Atlantic with gangsters disguised as evangelists, evangelists who’ve become nightclub singers, Wall Street businessmen, an American heiress and a British Lord. Singer Reno loves stockbroker Billy, who loves heiress Hope, who’s engaged to nobleman Evelyn but they all get their man / woman in the end, but not until we’ve had a lot of fun aboard ship.

Daniel Evans production has a lovely art deco set by Richard Kent, with the ship’s deck rising up to form the backdrop as well as the stage, and great period costumes. Choreographer Alistair David doesn’t have a lot of space, but works wonders with what he has. There’s a zippiness about the whole thing that lifts you up and sweeps you along. The 9-piece band sounds terrific, and a lot more than nine. Debbie Kurup is sensational as Reno Sweeney, the complete package of great dancer, beautiful singer and comic actress and Stephen Matthews is wonderful as Lord Evelyn Oakleigh, a clumsy but lovable toff. In addition to these star performances, there’s great work from Matt Rawle as Billy, Zoe Rainey as Hope, Hugh Sachs as Moonface Martin, Alex Young as Erma, Simon Rouse as Whitney and the lovely Jane Wymark as Hope’s mum. A fine ensemble of 18 ensure the set pieces sparkle.

The New Wimbledon Theatre isn’t the most suitable (vast) or welcoming (shameful latecomers policy and noisy audience), but with work this good, you’ve got to go where you can, though with hindsight I wish I’d gone to Sheffield, where it appears they outdo the West End regularly. Unmissable indeed.

 

 

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