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Posts Tagged ‘David Korins’

I’m sure that by now no-one is interested in my view, but it’s too much of a theatrical milestone to let it pass by…….

Don’t expect anything else at the refurbished Victoria Palace Theatre for a decade or two. This inspired and audacious musical isn’t going anywhere. For once something lives up to all the hype. It’s as ground-breaking as West Side Story was sixty years ago. It excels in every department – writing, design, staging and performance. There isn’t a moment wasted, and the amount of detail is almost too much to take in on one visit.

Alexander Hamilton, illegitimate, an orphan, Caribbean immigrant, is (was!) the least known founding father of America. Lin-Manuel Miranda’s show, based on Ron Chernow’s book, takes us from his college days in New York City, through his military service as Washington’s right-hand man in the War of Independence, lawyer, Congressman, banker, and Secretary of the Treasury to his assassination by colleague and rival Aaron Burr. It’s virtually sung through, though the score isn’t entirely hip hop as the press has implied; there is rap, but its really an eclectic cocktail of popular music and modern musical theatre styles – and it’s excellent.

Director Thomas Kail and choreographer Andy Blankenbuehler have created a thrilling, extraordinarily detailed and fast-paced staging; you just can’t take your eyes off the stage. David Korins all-purpose set lets it breathe, facilitating both the epic and intimate, and Paul Tazewell period costumes with a twist are gorgeous to look at. I just can’t fault it – the production brings the story and the music to life and the combination of a 200-year-old true story with contemporary music doesn’t seem in the slightest bit incongruous.

We had the alternate Alexander Hamilton on the night we went, but you’d never know; Ash Hunter was superb. Rachelle Ann Go as his wife Eliza and Rachel John as Angelica Schuyler were excellent, in fine voice both. Jason Pennycooke as Lafayette / Jefferson and Giles Terera as Burr are outstanding, the former bringing a delicious humour to Lafayette. King George turns up just three times, on stage alone, but Michael Jibson’s characterisation is simply brilliant, seemingly looking each audience member, his subjects, in the eye, almost stealing the show. They are supported by a fine ensemble that’s a real tribute to British musical theatre talent.

To take the show to the capital city of the former colonial power seems to me to be as audacious as the show itself. The attentive audience was clearly as enthralled and thrilled as I was. I felt I was at a rare milestone in the history of theatre, an evening I will inevitably have to experience again, probably periodically for years to come.

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If you’d accompanied me to the Talking Heads concert in Bristol in 1977 and whispered in my ear ‘in 37 years’ time, you’ll be leaving the National Theatre humming the title song of David Byrne’s first musical’, I’d have reacted with disbelief and roared with laughter, but last night I did. Like others of the period (Elvis Costello, Joe Jackson…) Byrne continually re-invents himself, always interestingly and usually successfully, as he has here, with the help of Fatboy Slim. It’s the most original musical I’ve seen since Jerry Springer – The Opera 11 years ago, also at the National Theatre.

I’ve had a soft spot for the Philippines since a business trip there in 1993, 7 years after the People Power Revolution that forms the conclusion of this show. Filipino’s are amongst the world’s most hospitable people and while I was there the wife of our local GM took me on a private tour of the (presidential) Malacanan Palace, where she worked, which by then was more of a museum of excess. I saw the vast collection of shoes (though I didn’t count them) which has become the symbol of the Marcos’ corrupt and oppressive regime.

Byrne tells us Imelda’s story from her troubled youth to exile in 1986 with next to no dialogue and it works very well. He takes his lead from her love of disco and sets it in a modern one, with everything you’d expect in terms of lighting, projections and sound (including a giant mirror ball, obviously). The audience on the dance floor are surrounded by moving platforms and the action takes place absolutely everywhere, including amongst them, some becoming extras in the tale. There’s an eclectic mix of musical styles and most of the songs are short and to the point. Though it’s fast paced, the storytelling doesn’t feel rushed. Perhaps focusing on four main characters – Imelda & Ferdinand, opposition leader and Imelda’s ex Ninoy Aquino (I didn’t know that) and her childhood friend Estrella – helps give it more depth. It struck me how much of her story resembles that of Eva Peron, though this and Evita are poles apart as shows.

Alex Timbers’ staging is completely original, fresh, inventive and exciting; even though I knew beforehand how it was to be staged, I was still unprepared for this. The design team of David Korins, Clint Ramos, Peter Nigrini and Justin Townsend have done a superb job. You’re continually moving your head as the action moves around the space, but it’s so slickly done it just becomes part of the experience. The performances are as fresh and exciting as the staging. Natalie Mendoza is terrific as Imelda, managing to sing very well ‘on the move’ with some extraordinarily quick costume changes (I think she’s got at least two costumes on at any one time!). Both Mark Bautista and Dean John-Wilson are playing older much of the time (I don’t think actors of the appropriate age would have the energy) but their characterisations are very good and they too sing very well. Gia Macuja Atchison has a ‘quieter’ role as Estrella which she plays beautifully, providing welcome contrast and breathing space.

I’m sure someone’s out there scouting for suitable venues to transfer this to after it finishes its run as the opener of the new Dorfman Theatre – opening with a bang and a treat.

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