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Posts Tagged ‘Drew McOnie’

I first saw this ground-breaking Harvey Fierstein trilogy, more a three-act play in my view, when it premiered in the West End in 1985 with Anthony Sher in the lead role (which the playwright himself had played on Broadway). It was very long – well over three hours. It wasn’t revived here until 2012 at the Menier Chocolate Factory with David Badella, by which time it had lost an hour or so, but I was a bit less positive about it (https://garethjames.wordpress.com/2012/07/23/torch-song-trilogy). Now it’s the inaugural production at the Turbine Theatre, a revised version without ‘trilogy’ in the title which was first staged in the US just two years ago, it’s lost another 30 minutes and it finds favour with me all over again!

Arnold is a drag queen, highly-strung, Jewish and insecure. We first meet him in his dressing room as he is about to begin a relationship with Ed, a bi-sexual teacher. This first act / play is a slice of NYC gay life in late 70’s / early 80’s New York. We then move forward five years or so to the visit of Arnold and his new young man Alan to now married Ed and his wife Laurel, where things start to get a bit sexually confusing and complicated for all three men. The third part sees the now ‘widowed’ Arnold with his precocious gay teenage foster son David getting visited by Ed, newly separated from Laurel, and his recently widowed mother, who struggles to come to terms with Arnold’s very modern life.

Strangely enough, it seemed less dated this time than it did seven years ago and if you forget the period clothes and settings, hardly dated at all. The first act promiscuity is certainly pre-AIDS, but Ed’s bi-sexuality and the fostering / adoption seem very contemporary and the sparring between mother and son timeless. Ryan Dawson-Laight’s design transforms well from dressing room to apartment with Part Two’s overlapping scenes in the same bed superbly staged by Drew McOnie. I would have preferred a more elevated stage, though – I had to move from the un-raked first four rows to see properly. Matthew Needham is excellent as Arnold, an emotionally charged performance that turns angry in the pivotal mother / son scene, as Dino Fetscher is as Ed, a less emotional, cooler character. There’s a superb third part cameo from Bernice Stegers as Ma and two impressive professional debuts from Rish Shah as Alan and Jay Lycurgo as David. Daisy Boulton completes this fine cast as Laurel.

The theatre is in a good location, easily accessible, with plenty of nearby eateries. It’s a bit noisier than other under-the arches theatres, like the Union (it is the mainline into Victoria, after all) but I suspect that’s something to get used to rather than rectify, but the air handling is good, unlike the Union! Anyway, it’s a welcome new venue, particularly for those of us us south of the river, and an impressive opening show.

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The weather hasn’t been kind to us this year at the Open Air Theatre. We managed to get through On the Town with delays and shivers, and this one with a thirty minutes unscheduled break in the first half. Though I’m a regular at OAT musicals, I didn’t book for this last year as I’m not that keen on Andrew Lloyd-Webber’s music (except Evita and his collaboration with Puccini, Phantom of the Opera!) and I’m an unbeliever (though if I was, I might take offence at some scenes). The reviews, awards and friends suggested I’d made a mistake, so we booked for this second run. Though there were things I admired, I think I was right first time.

It tells the story of the last year of Jesus’ life, sung through, more rock opera than musical, a year after The Who started the genre with Tommy. The music seems dated, much more so than other music of the period. The seriousness of the story doesn’t really allow Tim Rice to shine lyrically, with his trademark sharp wit. Timothy Sheader’s production seems more rock concert than musical theatre, returning the show to its first flash Broadway outing rather than following the more restrained London production.

Here we have Tom Scutt’s giant two-story metal structure with a huge fallen cross, something like 300 spotlights and smoke, flares and fire. I found myself admiring the spectacle, but not at all engaged with the story. The singing honours belong to Tyrone Huntly as Judas, who is as sensational, as had been suggested, and as he was in Dreamgirls, and there’s a terrific band under Tom Deering. Drew McConie’s choreography is bold and is the freshest aspect of the show.

Great spectacle, but I went to a musical not a rock concert, so not enough for me I’m afraid.

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It was touch and go at the Open Air Theatre on Tuesday, with the rain continuing until minutes before the start, but apart from a short break to mop the stage it went ahead, and the warmth from the stage just about made up for the chill in the air. OAT continues it’s pre-eminence in musicals revivals with this wonderful production of Bernstein’s rarely performed musical comedy, which I’ve only seen in ENO’s 2005 production, and we all know opera companies rarely do musicals well because they are, well, opera companies.

Three sailors arrive in New York on 24 hours leave, determined to make the most of it. Chip wants to see the sights, but Gabey and Ozzie prefer more hedonistic options. Gabey falls in love with a poster girl on the subway and they set about finding her, splitting up to visit the locations mentioned in the poster. Chip finds Hildy who’s just been fired from her job as a taxi driver and Ozzie finds anthropologist Claire in the Natural History Museum, and eventually Gabey finds his poster girl Ivy at Carnegie Hall. They all plan to meet for a date, but Gabey is stood up by Ivy. He eventually learns where she is from her music teacher and sets off for Coney Island to find her, whilst the others go on a bar crawl that gets seedier as they go.

Betty Comden & Adolf Green’s book and lyrics are much funnier than I remember and Bernstein’s score is better than I remember too, proving to be much more than its most famous songs New York, New York (not THAT one) and Some Other Time, and there’s a fantastic 15-piece band under MD Tom Deering to do it full justice. Drew McOnie’s hugely successful transition from Choreographer to Director / Choreographer continues and his staging of this is thrilling, with the balletic dancing so true to Jerome Robbins simply sensational. Peter McKintosh has designed a three-story set inspired by the opening and closing scenes at the dockyard which transforms into streets, subway trains, taxi, museum, apartment and nightclubs, with gorgeous bright and colourful costumes. When we get to Coney Island, the transformation takes your breath away.

Danny Mac, who plays Gabey, doesn’t have a strong voice, but it has a nice tone, he’s a good actor and his dancing is outstanding. Samuel Edwards is a great Ozzie and Lizzy Connelly a superb Hildy. Jacob Maynard has taken over the role of Chip after Fred Haig’s accident, and I thought he was terrific. Then there are two extraordinary professional debuts from Siena Kelly as Ivy and Miriam-Teak Lee as Claire – wow! The whole ensemble is wonderful and contributes much to an exciting, uplifting evening.

Not the best conditions for an evening at the OAT, but one of the best shows I’ve seen there. Go!

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This is a musical based on a poem! Somewhat bizarrely, another musical based on the same poem opened in the same 2010 season in New York. This one, by Michael John LaChiusa, was on Broadway; the other, by Andrew Lippa, ran Off-Broadway. It crosses the Atlantic seven years on to open the newly rebranded The Other Palace, formerly St. James’ Theatre. Given it lasted less than two months over there, I wasn’t expecting to be quite so blown away, though more so by the terrific staging and sensational performances than the material..

It’s a slice of roaring twenties decadence. Queenie and Burrs are Vaudeville entertainers who form a stormy, abusive relationship. They throw the wild party of the title, fuelled by alcohol and cocaine, resulting in all sorts of sexual activity and depravity. When the party’s over, there are hangovers, regrets and recriminations, before its tragic conclusion. It feels more like a song cycle than a musical (and there are almost forty of them!). Above all, it’s a showcase for the performers.

The story is subservient to the jazz-influenced score. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a show with so many showstoppers and so many show-stealing opportunities, distributed evenly so that almost everyone gets their moment. The longer first half doesn’t let up and by the interval I was exhausted; I think I’d have liked more light and shade. This is delivered in the shorter and darker second half with a series of sensational solo turns, many of which bring the house down. 

Soutra Gilmour’s design has a ‘stairway to heaven’ and terrific costumes. Drew McOnie continues his successful transition from choreographer to director / choreographer with a staging that took my breath away and choreography that was positively thrilling. Theo Jamieson’s eight-piece band sounded terrific.

I’m not sure where to start with the performances as they were all stars. John Owen-Jones was in fine acting and vocal form as Burrs, miles away from his usual territory, and Frances Ruffelle was clearly relishing every moment as Queenie. US star Donna McKechnie was a treat in her cameo as Delores. We’re used to scene-stealing turns from Tiffany Graves and Victoria Hamilton-Barritt and they deliver yet again. Sebastien Torkia & Steven Serlin make a superb double-act as the budding producers, particularly in their second half comic duet. Casting women as ambisexual brothers Oscar & Phil D’Armano was an inspired idea and Genesis Lynea & Gloria Obianyo are outstanding. Dex Lee and Ako Mitchell are superb as Jackie and Eddie respectively. It’s hard to imagine a better cast.

This exceeded my expectations; it’s rare to see such faultless casting and such a stunning production. Head to Victoria while you have the chance. 

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Baz Luhrmann’s stage to screen to stage show gets it’s UK premiere in Leeds in a new adaptation by Terry Johnson directed and choreographed by Drew McOnie. I caught the Australian production in Melbourne 21 months ago and couldn’t resist a trip north to see it on its last day. A very good decision!

Scott Hastings has been groomed as a ballroom dancer since childhood by his mum Shirley and her dancing school partner Les Kendall. They have their eyes on the Pan-Pacific Grand Prix Championship, but his partner Lisa deserts him over his insistence on freestyling. His mum, Les and Federation president Barry Fife are determined to reign him back in, but he’s secretly working with frumpy Fran. She introduces him to her Spanish family, who inject some true Latin spirit into his pasodoble. Barry lies to convince Scott to stick to rules. He relents for a while, until he learns the truth and dances with Fran after all. Crooked Barry gets found out and Scott & Fran triumph and fall in love – and ballroom dancing is liberated from its straight-jacket. It’s a tale of a free spirit seeking to break out of a framework of rules which stifle creativity.

The score is a mash-up of original songs and existing numbers and I’m not sure this is entirely satisfactory. It feels like a bit of a rag-bag and I can’t help wondering if a fully original score might feel more cohesive and serve the show better. I thought this production brought out more comedy which, given it has its tongue firmly in its cheek, is a good thing. Soutra Gilmour’s excellent design gives the Quarry Theatre a stage with a revolving metal frame incorporating a proscenium, which actors can climb and occupy. It moves easily from the dance studio to the roof, Fran’s family home and competition venues. Catherine Martin was also responsible for the costumes for the film and the Australian production and they are sensational – a riot of colour and glitter beyond your wildest imagination.

It’s hard to know where to start with the performances; the casting is faultless. Fernando Mira reprises his wonderful Australian performance as Fran’s dad, but the rest are fresh to the UK production. American Sam Lips and our own Gemma Sutton are terrific romantic leads, the former taking dancing honours and the latter vocal honours. Richard Dempsey is a delightfully camp MC, J J Silvers. Tamsin Carroll and Richard Grieve are excellent as Shirley and Les, with Stephen Matthews great as the virtually mute, deadpan dad (until he turns). Julius D’Silva is as oily as they get with his terrific turn as bent dancing federation ‘policeman’ Barry. Eve Polycarpou gives us another of her delightful cameos as Fran’s gran.

It’s a superb feel-good show and this betters the Australian production. It’s West End ready, though it appears to be heading for Toronto. I was very glad I made the trip north.

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The origin of this show is fascinating. It was of course originally a film, made by a man who did adverts. Quite why he decided to make a gangster film with music, performed by children, is beyond me, but it worked and it’s maker, Alan Parker, went on to great things. He found time to write the book of a stage version who’s premiere in 1983, directed by The Monkees’ Micky Dolenz, was at Her Majesty’s Theatre (before Phantom moved in!). It wasn’t a huge hit then, but it is now, getting an unprecedented five-month run at the re-opened Lyric Hammersmith and based on the reviews and Tuesday’s full house & standing ovation, it’s a popular, critical and commercial success.

Bugsy is a fringe player in the gang war between Fat Sam and Dandy Dan. He falls for wannabe showgirl Blousey, but Fat Sam’s girl Tallulah has designs on him too. The money he can get from Fat Sam will help him get Blousey to Hollywood, if he can keep Tallulah at bay, Fat Sam ignorant of her affections and stay alive. Fat Sam runs a speakeasy, so there’s lots of opportunities for songs and routines, including auditions by Blousey and Fat Sam’s cleaner Fizzy. Paul Williams music is tuneful and accessible (and familiar – there was some singing along!). The gangsters use splurge guns and water of course, one of the show’s trademarks.

Unlike the film or the original stage production, director Sean Holmes uses young professionals in all roles but the seven leads, but he also has live singing rather than miming to offstage / off-screen adults as in the film and original production. Though I preferred the live music, it does lose something without a complete kids cast (though I understand the 2015 imperatives that drive this). The particular cast of youngsters we had (there are three for each role) were exceptional and the ensemble was terrific too. Drew McOnie’s choreography is fresh and exciting and Jon Bausor’s costumes a treat.

Though I wasn’t as euphoric as others, I still enjoyed it very much and it’s lovely to see such a show such a success for the Lyric, which does such wonderful work with young people on a regular basis.

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When this show opened with a rap number, my first thought was ‘this may not be for me’. It didn’t take long though before it won me over with it’s high energy Latin / hip hop hybrid music and thrilling dance sequences. By the end I joined, possibly led, the standing ovation.

Set in a NYC Dominican American community in Washington Heights, the show revolves around three businesses – a cab firm, a bodega (corner shop!) and a hairdressers – and two families – the Rosario’s who own the cab firm and Usnavi (named after the first sign his parents saw when they sailed into New York!), his cousin Sonny and Claudia, the woman who took him in when his parents died. Hairdresser and chief gossip Daniela (a terrific Victoria Hamilton-Barritt, almost stealing the show) and her two assistants (one Usnavi’s love interest), Rosario’s employee Benny (Nina Rosario’s love interest), a street seller and a graffiti artist complete the picture. It’s all about their hopes and dreams, growing up and living in this close-knit inner city community.

The score is an odd cocktail of Latin, rap and pop, but I warmed to it, perhaps because of the quality of delivery of the songs and the brilliant brassy big band sound. I struggled to catch all of the rap lyrics at first, but I attuned to (most of) it eventually. Above all, though, it is Drew McOnie’s choreography that sweeps you away, using every inch of the space. Also a hybrid, of street-dance and Latin, it often takes your breath away and, from the front row, gets perilously but thrillingly close! It’s a great cast; the lack of name-checks has more to do with the unavailability of a programme!

Some have called it a modern West Side Story, but I think it’s its own thing and more original than that comparison would have you believe. After a hard day’s work, it was a re-energising, uplifting experience. The performance I saw was the third of three previews and it was in great shape; by press night, it might well be on fire.

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