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Posts Tagged ‘Emil Wolk’

For a lover of musicals, ‘owing to the indisposition of Hannah Waddingham…….’. are amongst the most depressing words in the English language. I was very close to going home, but didn’t. All credit then to her understudy, Carolyn Maitland, for blowing away a lot of my disappointment with an outstanding stand in.

I last saw this show when the RSC brought it to the Old Vic in 1987 during my 15 minutes of fame (well, 12 months, actually) as a member of the Laurence Olivier Awards Panel. When it came to the voting, I was determined that BOTH John Barton and Emil Wolk would share the Best Supporting Actor in a Musical award for the gangsters as it would be invidious to choose one. This required a lot of persuasion as it meant another statuette had to be made, but when you only have 15 minutes (12 months) of fame, you can be very persistent and insistent. It wasn’t until 2012 that they did it again, this time for Benedict Cumberbatch and Jonny Lee Miller’s role sharing in Frankenstein.

Even though it didn’t seem that dated then, 40 years after it was written, it does now, another 25 years on, but perhaps that’s because Trevor Nunn’s production is a bit conservative and Robert Jones design a bit dated. The choreography of Stephen Mear is about the only thing that seemed fresh. It does fit the Old Vic better than it would probably fit any other theatre though.

Of course, it’s one of the few musicals adapted from Shakespeare . Taming of the Shrew – The Musical; though in all fairness, it weaves in the backstage story of a warring pair of ex’s and the world of American touring theatre in the 40’s.  It may be the only show with a showstopper to open each act – Another Opn’in, Another Show the first and Too Dam Hot the second. Then there’s a third showstopper in Brush Up Your Shakespeare, this time with David Burt and Clive Rowe as the gangsters (they don’t have a Best Supporting Actor in a Musical award any more, so that’ll save SOLT a few quid in these tough times).

It’s a fine cast, with Wendy Mae Brown and Jason Pennycooke giving excellent performances in their respective act openers and an excellent Fred / Petruchio from Alex Bourne; someone new to me. The dancing and Gareth Valentine’s great band are what make this production shine most; otherwise it seemed a bit slow (well, Trevor Nunn….) and occasionally flat.

Despite its scale, it’s surprising none of our fringe musical venues have revived it (well, they’ve done some pretty big shows). I think there has only been one (an import from Broadway) in the 25 years since it was last here at the Old Vic, so it is good to see it again (and I may have to return to see Ms Waddingham) but oh how I’d love to have seen it at the Open Air Theatre.

 

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I’d almost forgotten what a great show this is. It’s packed full of standards (Wunderbar, So In Love, Always True To You In My Fashion, From This Moment On…..), has cracking openers to both acts (Another Op’nin, Another Show and Too Darn Hot), a superb comedy number in Brush Up Your Shakespeare and some of the best lyrics Cole Porter ever wrote.

We’re in Baltimore where a theatre company is about to open Taming of the Shrew, improved by a team of six new writers! The on-off relationship of producer / director / actor Fred and Hollywood star and leading lady Lilli mirrors Petruchio & Katherine in Shakespeare’s play. Add to this the fact that someone has posed as Fred, resulting in him being chased by a pair of gangsters, and Lilli is being courted by a General close to the president and you have a terrific set up for musical comedy.

I first saw the show when the RSC did it at the Old Vic 24 years ago and I think the only other time was a Broadway transfer to London ten years ago. I won’t easily forget the RSC production as I was on the Laurence Olivier Awards panel that year and had to bully the Society of West End Theatre (as it was then called) to get an extra statuette made so that we could give the Best Supporting Actor in a Musical award to both John Barton and Emil Wolk as we weren’t prepared to choose one over the other! Another memory is of taking a bunch of Commonwealth colleagues to see it and hearing one of them say it brought back fond memories of seeing Shakespeare in Rawalpindi! To say that this stands up well against both these productions is indeed a compliment.

Martin Connor has done some excellent work at GSMD and this is amongst his best. He has assembled one of the finest casts I’ve ever seen here. Leading man Alex Knox is outstanding, with particularly good vocals; he makes a great job of Where Is The Life That Late I Led. He is well matched by Alex Clatworthy as Lilli / Katherine. Kae Alexander is a superb Lois / Bianca, handling Always True To You In My Fashion brilliantly. The comic honours are shared between Lewis Goody & Stephen Wilson as the gangsters (who give us a fine music hall-style turn in Brush Up Your Shakespeare) and Kingsley Ben-Adir as the General. It was great to hear an orchestra of 27 play this lovely score (MD Steven Edis). Joseph Pitcher’s excellent choreography shines in Too Darn Hot.

Another big Broadway show, South Pacific, will be opening next door at the Barbican Theatre in a few weeks. It will cost you over five times to see it, but I bet it won’t be anywhere near five times better. This is an excellent production of a great show with added youthful enthusiasm and another big hit for GSMD.

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