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Posts Tagged ‘David Rockwell’

I can’t imagine a more exhilarating return to the West End than this, a revival of the 2007 UK premiere by the same creative team (director Jack O’Brien, designers David Rockwell & William Ivey Long and choreographer Jerry Mitchell) with Michael Ball returning to his Olivier Award winning role. Oddly enough, it was amongst the last musicals I saw before lockdown, just as good though in a rather different venue (https://garethjames.wordpress.com/2020/03/10/hairspray-HM-prison-bronzefield).

I first fell in love with the show when I took a punt on a Broadway preview almost exactly 19 years ago. This was followed by three visits to the West End run between 2007 and 2009 and a couple of regional outings before last year’s rather unorthodox revival and Sunday’s barnstorming return. I simply adore the 60’s aesthetic, the catchy tunes and witty lyrics of Marc Shaiman & Scott Wittman, the anti-segregation, body positive and anti-racist messages (book by Mark O’Donnell & Thomas Meehan) and the sheer loud, brash, colourful, tongue-in-cheekiness of it all.

Nothing much is changed from the UK premiere (there was nothing to fix) but the joy of a bunch of people returning to what they do is infectious. It’s as if they are doing it for the very first time. Lizzie Bea is a match for all those other Tracy’s, and a great tribute to NYT and NYMT. Such is his range that the last time I saw Michael Ball he terrified me as Sweeney Todd (so unrecognisable, people were asking for their money back because they thought he wasn’t in it!), now he’s padded and in drag as Tracy’s mom Edna. Les Dennis clearly delights in playing the loving father / husband Wilbur, a role he too has played before, with his show-stopping duet with Ball, (You’re) Timeless To Me, packed with delicious moments. Rita Simons (East Enders’ Roxy) was a bit of a revelation as baddie Velma and Marisha Wallace wowed as Motormouth Maybelle, as she did in Dreamgirls and Waitress, with I Know Where I’ve Been bringing the house down.

Though attentive and receptive during scenes and numbers, the audience continually erupted between them and the atmosphere in the vast London Coliseum (too vast for this show really) was extraordinary, as if the pent up euphoria after 16 months of musical theatre famine exploded all at once. An absolute joy.

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The adaptation of British feel-good films as stage musical continues. This is the third in the last twelve months, following Made in Dagenham and Bend It Like Beckham, and in my book it’s another successful transition. This time, like The Full Monty before it, it came via Broadway, but thankfully without being relocated to an American town. It suffers from a dose of typically American sentimentality in the second half, but that can be forgiven for the pleasures elsewhere.

Northampton shoe factory Price & Son is struggling when Mr Price dies suddenly and son Charlie becomes the reluctant heir. The family loyalty to their employees means it has been on its uppers for some time and Charlie isn’t initially well disposed to flog a dead horse. A chance encounter with a drag queen gives him the idea of transforming it into a niche supplier of, well, kinky boots, and drag queen Lola becomes his unlikely business partner.

You can see why they had the idea of turning it into a musical and it works well. Though it’s ten years since I saw the film, Harvey Fierstein’s adaptation seems faithful to Geoff Deane & Tim Firth’s screenplay (apparently based on a true story). Cyndi Lauper might seem an odd choice for the music and lyrics but I thought her score suited the subject matter and period. It could do with toning down a bit (a bit too brash for Northampton!) but there are some very good solos and choruses. 

The clever design by David Rockwell facilitates speedy transition from a dull factory to the brash colourful world of drag, and ultimately a Milan catwalk, and Gregg Barnes costumes (presumably including footwear) are delightfully eye-popping. Jerry Mitchell is the perfect choice as director / choreographer; his irreverent sense of fun proven by Hairspray, Legally Blonde and Dirty Rotten Scoundrels. I thought the sound was too loud, losing some of the lyrics – this is unforgivable for a show four or five months into its run.

In his last two shows, The Commitments and Memphis, Killian Donnelly has shone vocally and here he adds acting honours, investing the role of Charlie with great passion yet every bit the boy next door. Matt Henry is terrific as Lola, again with exceptional vocals and very good acting, though I’m not sure how he can even move in those dresses and boots. There is a lovely performance from Amy Lennox as Lauren and excellent turns from Jamie Baugh as Lola’s nemesis Don and Michael Hobbs as factory foreman George.

An excellent, uplifting evening which I’m glad I caught up with at last and will no doubt re-visit.

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