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Posts Tagged ‘David Roberts’

Even though it’s based on the 1919 novel by P G Wodehouse which became a silent movie the following year, a stage play by Wodehouse with Ian Hay eight years later that was turned into a film musical written by Wodehouse and others, with music by the Gershwin’s, nine years after that in 1937, this is actually a world première! What’s actually new is Jeremy Sams & Robert Hudson’s book and the Gershwin’s back catalogue has been mined for additional songs.

George Bevan is in the process of transferring his Broadway show to the West End and has brought his female star Billie Dore with him. Whilst he’s trying to make changes that the British director and some of the cast are reluctant to make, he meets and falls in love with Maud, Lord Marshmoreton’s daughter, who is betrothed to hapless, star-struck Reggie. George and Billie visit the Marshmoreton castle as tourists where Maud, prone to wander, is imprisoned by her father’s formidable sister Lady Caroline. So begins the rescue of the damsel in distress and the resulting marriage or four. It’s silly stuff but it provides some good comedy and Gershwin tunes (though it has to be said second division Gershwin) and who can resist a song called I’m A Poached Egg!

Christopher Oram’s revolving castle is terrific and his costumes excellent. The staging is traditional, perhaps a little too so, and I wondered if Director / Choreographer Rob Ashford should have delegated the latter to someone else (Stephen Mear, perhaps) to bring some freshness and more sparkle. It’s a great cast, led by Sally Ann Triplett (welcome back!) and Richard Fleeshman, building on his work in Ghost and Urinetown and fast becoming an excellent musicals leading man. Nicholas Farrell is a fine actor but not someone I associate with musicals and I was very pleasantly surprised by his excellent turn as the Lord. I loved Richard Dempsey as Reggie and Desmond Barrit as the butler; both great comic creations. There’s a Strallen of course (Summer, playing Maud) and some lovely turns in smaller roles from Isla Blair as Lady Caroline and David Roberts & Chloe Hart as the cooks, who brought the house down.

Chichester FT has been on such a roll with great musical productions in recent years (Singing in the Rain, Love Story, Sweeney Todd, Pajama Game and last year’s pair of  Gypsy and Guys & Dolls, which between them will spend a year at the Savoy Theatre in London) that good productions like this struggle to live up to their own extraordinarily high standard. Still, it’s summer fun and there’s much to enjoy – and the inspiration for the location of the Lord’s home in the show is apparently close to Chichester and the other location is indeed the Savoy Theatre, so maybe they’ll also move this to the real one and occupy it even longer.

 

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This was always the most audacious of musicals. A show about nine men and women who tried to assasinate eight US presidents, four successfully, five not. Now it gets an audacious production by Jamie Lloyd at the Menier Chocolate Factory and it feels like it’s just been written. A lot of madness has passed under the bridge since the UK premier 22 years ago and it resonates much more today.

The show can sometimes feel more like a song cycle, with each assassin stepping forward to do a turn, but here it feels more like a show. The Proprieter, in gothic clown make-up referencing the American flag, presides over his fairground come shooting range, handing out guns and standing in for presidents. The thoroughly wholesome Balladeer, as American as apple pie, narrates through his song. Here he seems like a 60’s folkie, somewhat appropriate given the closing scene. Assassins tell their stories and commit their crimes whilst we struggle to comprehend their motivation, and this is where Jamie Lloyd’s production stands out, in the psychological depth that emerges. It’s a fascinating piece which subverts the musical form to great effect, not least in the final chorus of Everybody’s Got the Right.

You enter the theatre through the mouth of a clown into what seems to be a disused gothic fairground, with a dodgem and bits of rides, in a traverse setting (design by Lloyd’s regular collaborator, Soutra Gilmour). The success (or otherwise) of each assassination is cleverly marked. It’s louder, brasher and more in-yer-face than any other production I’ve seen. It’s not entirly comfortable and not at all safe, as I think it should be. It can jar with lovers of tradition in musicals. It seems as radical today as it did in 1992.

Jamie Parker, hot on the heels of his Sky Masterson in Guys & Dolls at Chichester, is outstanding as the Balladeer (and his other role!), as is Simon Lipkin (one of the best things about the ill-fated I Can’t Sing) as the Proprietor; they anchor the piece whilst the stories of the assassins unfold and interweave. Andy Nyman is terrific as a manic, unhinged Guiteau, who kills James Garfield because he won’t make him Ambassador to France. Aaron Tveit is a fine John Wilks Booth, assassin of Lincoln and father of them all, with great presence and in fine voice. I worried about the casting of Catherine Tate, but she suited the character of dotty Sarah Jane Moore. Stewart Clarke as Zangara and David Roberts as Czolgosz also impress, with excellent characterisations.

This has been a good year on the fringe and off-West End for Sondheim lovers – brilliant Sweeneys in Twickenham and Tooting, Pacific Overtures at the Union, Into the Woods in Walthamstow, the compilation shows Putting it Together & Marry Me a Little at St. James Theatre and now this to end the year – an Assassins for our times, a fresh look at an underated show.

 

 

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Back to Hackney Empire for the second year running to end the year at their now legendary panto. This Victorian theatre is made for panto and you can’t but get caught up in the excited anticipation of the full house. Before the curtain has risen on Susie McKenna’s production, you feel part of a community even if you don’t know another soul in the building.

This year’s concoction has Jaygann Ayeh an unfeasibly lovable Jack, his naive cute friend Silly Billy (David Roberts) and Chloe Taylor’s Off Her Trolly Molly infatuated with Jack and loved by Billy. Vegetable references abound with the good fairy Sweet Pea (Abigail Rosser) and baddies Runner Bean, panto veteran Tony Whittle  and Broad Bean, Jenny Dale. Then there’s Dame Daisy, the larger than life Clive Rowe who is now so at home as a dame he may be in his own groundhog day, struggling to get back to legit plays and musicals!

Add in an excellent beanstalk, a Shrek-like giant, a hip-hop snowman (Kat B), the customary cow and a singing gold harp! Yes, a singing gold harp! We even get a small troop of dancing flowers and dancing vegetables. I thought we got a few too many references to TV and too many familiar pop songs this year, but this is a bit of a niggle when what we have after all is the real deal – proper panto rather than celeb-laden mediocrity.

It’s only the second year I’ve been to Hackney on New Years Eve afternoon singing Auld Lang Syne arm-in-arm with the good folk of East London, but I have a suspicion it’s already a tradition. Bliss.

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