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Posts Tagged ‘Emma Williams’

This 1963 show was written as a vehicle for Tommy Steele, who also took it to Broadway and starred in the 1967 film. This is a substantial re-working, with a new book by Julian Fellows and new songs from Stiles and Drew. I thought it was a big old-fashioned populist treat!

It’s based on H G Wells semi-autobiographical rags-to-riches-to-rags-to riches-again novel Kipps. Getting a story from the Downton creator where the toffs are the baddies is a bit odd, but it’s a good book. Arthur Kipps is an apprentice draper until he inherits a fortune, falls in love with posh Helen Walsingham, is exploited and left penniless by her brother and mother, realises he doesn’t belong with the toffs and returns to his old world to marry his first love Ann. Working class meets upper class and wins. The characters are all rather stereotypical, but hey its musical theatre. Many of David Heneker’s original songs have been retained, with seven new ones added, including excellent ensemble pieces Look Alive, Back the Right Horse and Pick Out a Simple Tune.

The creation of the two contrasting worlds is brilliantly done by Paul Brown’s set, and even more importantly his superb costumes, and Andrew Wright’s choreography, which is amongst the best I’ve ever seen on any stage, light as air, athletic and witty. Director Rachel Kavanagh presides over this with staging of great flair. Whatever you think of the show, the production is masterly. With great vocals all round and a decent size twelve-piece band, it all sounds wonderful.

Charlie Stemp is a real find. His Arthur has bags full of charm coupled with innocence and naivety. He’s strong vocally and moves superbly. Devon-Elise Johnson and the great Emma Williams make a fine pair of romantic leads as humble Ann and silver-spooned Helen respectively. Arthur’s fellow apprentices Sid, Buggins and Flo are a delight as played by Alex Hope, Sam O’Rourke and Bethany Huckle, with John Conroy the suitably pompous boss Shalford. Vivien Parry, Jane How and Gerard Carey are all excellent as the ladies and gentlemen ‘upstairs’. Chitterlow is an odd character, a bit of an older H G Wells perhaps, but Ian Bartholomew gives another of his fine characterisations. It’s hard to imagine a finer cast.

I thought it was a delight and I predict it will be another big hit for the Chichester musicals machine.

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Terry Johnson’s idea to turn this into a musical is as good as the late Bob Hoskins idea to put it on screen. It’s one of the best screen-to-stage transitions and a must-see in its final two months.

The Windmill was an iconic institution. It brought revue to London. It brought nudity to the stage. It was the only theatre still open in the blitz. It was the heart of Soho. It’s a great story for the stage and for a musical and Terry Johnson’s adaptation, book and staging are outstanding. It tells the story from the meeting of unlikely business partners Laura Henderson and Vivian Van Damm through their unsuccessful first shows, their negotiations with the government’s censor, the Lord Chamberlain, the successful nude tableaux shows to performing for soldiers during the second world war. The personal story of Maureen, from tea lady to star, her love (or not) for Eddie and her unwanted pregnancy is woven through it.

George Fenton & Simon Chamberlain are more used to producing film and TV music and their score is somewhat old-fashioned, but it suits the period being presented and it’s got some great tunes. Don Black’s excellent lyrics benefit from his significant musical theatre experience. I very much liked Tim Shorthall’s design, moving us successfully from backstage to onstage (and on the roof) with a couple of quick visits to the Lord Chamberlain’s office, and Paul Wills’ costumes are delightful. I loved Andrew Wright’s choreography, particularly in comic numbers like the Lord Chamberlain’s song – and his fan dance is masterly!

It’s exceptionally well cast, led by Tracie Bennett, yet again inhabiting a musical theatre role, and in this case banishing the memory of Judi Dench. I don’t think of Ian Bartholomew as a musical theatre man but when I read his biog in the programme I realised I’d seen him in a handful of musical theatre roles and he’s excellent here (and in fine voice) as Van Damm. Emma Williams delivers yet again and is sensational in her big Act II number If Mountains Were Easy to Climb (one day she’ll be in a commercial hit again!). In a very strong supporting case, I was particularly impressed by Samuel Holmes as Bertie and Robert Hands as the Lord Chamberlain.

This lovely show doesn’t deserve its early bath and I strongly recommend you catch it in its final two months.

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August is wild west musicals month, though you have to go to the home counties to see them! First up is the Annie Get Your Gun tour in Woking; the principle reason for seeing it being Emma Williams’ Annie Oakley.

Irving Berlin’s most famous show is actually based on the true story of Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show (yes, it was real and it even toured Europe!) and in particular sharpshooter Annie Oakley. Oakley breathes new life into this touring entertainment, though not without ruffling a few feathers, notably erstwhile champion Frank Butler. It may have been the first (and only?) musical to feature an Indian chief (not a native American in 1946). The reason it has survived is a score with one of the best opening numbers ever – There’s No Business Like Show Business – that’s packed full of what are now standards, like The Girl That I Marry, They Say It’s Wonderful and Anything You Can Do.

This is high quality touring fare, directed with great panache by Ian Talbot. Paul Farnsworth’s big top set, with the band onstage, limits the playing space for the 18-strong cast but makes it both more intimate and faster moving, and Lizzi Gee’s inventive choreography turns it into an advantage. I saw the first outing of this version, revised by Peter Shore for Broadway in 1999, with Bernadette Peters (who didn’t really suit the role) and this is a whole lot better.

Emma Williams is simply superb as Annie, making the transition from unknown tomboy to famous entertainer, singing these lovely songs beautifully. She must be the finest West End leading lady without the hit show she so richly deserves – she’s had artistic successes, notably the wonderful Howard Goodall musical Love Story, but she’s never had an artistic AND commercial hit. Someone correct that soon, please. Jason Donovan was either seriously under the weather, which I suspect, or he’s seriously undercast. He seemed to be going through the motions, totally lacking the sparkle of his co-star and singing poorly. To be frank, l was disappointed they didn’t send on his understudy in the second half.

This is West End ready, but somehow I don’t think, in the present climate, it will get the transfer it deserves.

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Well, the highlight of the month was undoubtedly my trip to the rehearsal of the Olympic Games Opening Ceremony. We didn’t get the whole lot (sadly not the winged bicyclists, but thankfully not the never-ending entrance of the teams!) but we got most of it and it was truly spectacular. My front row seat may not have been the best, but I was privileged to be there and it was an experience I will never forget. You know the rest, but here are some photos!

Another unexpected treat was getting tickets to one of Eddie Izzard‘s work-in-progess shows in the cabaret space at Soho Theatre. A late Monday night (after dinner and drinks) was a challenge, but it was fun. He really is a one-off.

Opera-wise, it was Cape Town Opera‘s visit with Porgy & Bess, which proved itself to be more of an opera than a musical in this excellent production. Moving it to a South African township worked, though the highlights were all vocal – the soloists and chorus were thrilling.

I’m not sure I know how to categorise Desdemona, a collaboration between poet Toni Morrison, director Peter Sellers and favourite Malian singer Rokia Traore, but given it was Rokia that largely drew me to it and was the best thing about it, I’ve decided it’s music. Her songs were lovely, but the narrative that accompanied it was never-ending and somewhat pretentious. It would have made a great concert!

I never made it to Bryn Terfel’s festival in his back yard in North Wales (though we had tickets for the last one, which was cancelled!) so well done Southbank Centre for bringing Bryn Fest to me! The evening of songs from the Golden Age of Broadway featured a quartet of favourites – Julian Ovenden, Clive Rowe, Hannah Waddingham and Emma Williams – as well as the man himself, and it was full of highlights. You rarely hear these songs with a full orchestra and that was a huge bonus. It was lovely to see Bryn & Clive’s take on Brush Up Your Shakespeare. I expected Clive to be word-perfect given he’s currently playing it in Chichester, but Bryn was too – no mean feat with all those Shakespeare references.

Though I had a ticket, I missed the opera evening because I had a better offer (a freebie return to the wonderful Sweeney Todd!) and I caught only half of pianist Huw Warren‘s free foyer concert, which featured a trumpeter and a jazz version of a Welsh hymn, but was glad I caught what I caught. The Wales Choir of the World event was another treat, featuring choirs from 11 countries on 5 continents. The highlights were the South African choir, the Cory Band and the massed choir & brass band rendition of the world premiere of a Karl Jenkins The Hero’s Journey. As I left the RFH, a large audience on the riverside were being taught to sing in Welsh for Bryn’s Big Sing which was a fitting end to this mini-festival.

Four Proms this month, starting with the much criticised populist opening night. Well, I enjoyed it; what’s wrong with a bit of populist patriotism?! More Bryn (the 5th time in 17 days!) in Delius’ lovely Sea Drift, a quartet of premiere league soloists for Elgar’s full Coronation Ode and orchestral pieces from Tippett and Elgar again – oh and a Mark Anthony Turnage world premiere, just in case you were feeling a bit too nostalgic! Six days later, Handel’s oratorio Judas Maccabaeus was given a rare but enjoyable outing by the Orchestra and Chorus of the Age of Enlightenment with another quartet of fine soloists. This was followed three days later by a concert version of Berlioz The Trojans – long but lovely! Again, some great solo turns from Bryan Hymel, Eva-Maria Westbroek and Anna Caterina Antonacci, this time with the superb orchestra and chorus of the ROH under Antonio Pappano. So to the night of the opening of the Olympics where an early start for Beethoven’s 9th meant we (and conductor Daniel Barenboim, who later carried in the Olympic flag!) wouldn’t miss Danny Boyle’s spectacular on TV. Barenboim’s West-East Divan Orchestra, made up of young Palestinian and Israeli musicians, was right for the occasion but also played brilliantly and the National Youth Choir of Great Britain, also right for the occasion, were stunning. What a prologue for the evening that followed!

It was time to catch up with some art this month and I started at the De Morgan Centre where the work of ceramicist William and his painter wife Evelyn is showcased in a small but superb collection; eye-poppingly beautiful (if you’re into Arts & Crafts and / or the pre-Raphaelites) .  Picasso & Modern British Art at Tate Britain was a brilliantly curated show putting Picasso alongside those he influenced, including Wyndham Lewis, Ben Nicholson, Henry Moore, Francis Bacon, Graham Sutherland & David Hockney. I was less enamoured by Migrations – Journeys into British Art at the same place, more because of the quality of the work than the idea of the exhibition, which was a good one.

My annual trip to the Serpentine Gallery to see their Pavilion (an excellent, largely below ground, collaboration between Ai Wei Wei and Herzog & De Meuron, the team that did the Beijing birds nest Olympic stadium) was extended to see Yoko Ono‘s show which was more interesting, and a lot less pretentiously avant-garde, than I was expecting.

Finally, during a weekend in Bath, I popped into their newly renovated Holburne Art Museum for a lovely small portrait sculpture exhibition and stayed for What Are You Like (based on the Victorian parlour game, where people draw their favourite things) and their permanent collection. This is now one of the best regional art galleries; well worth a visit.

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I first saw this Sondheimesque show four years ago at the even smaller New End Theatre in Hampstead where the young couple was Stephen Ashfield (who went on to be a Jersey Boy) and Emma Williams (soon to open in the transfer of Love Story from Chichester – more of her in the footnote!).

The show intertwines the stories of a young couple about to get married with another about to get divorced 10 tears and one son later. Both couples are on stage virtually throughout and there is little dialogue, so it feels more like a songspiel. I found it hard to get into it or even care about the characters in the first half, but things looked up in the second. It’s a clever show – maybe too clever for it own good; this might actually inhibit emotional engagement with the characters – but four years on still seems unfinished.

The Landor have attracted Jon Lee and Julie Atherton, who together with Grant Neal and Yvette Robinson, make a decent job of it. In truth, though, it wasn’t ready at this last preview. The cast do not yet seem comfortable, they and the band didn’t seem to have  quite mastered the complex score and there were issues with lighting and sound. Chris de Wilde’s design, though, is superb – an ‘Ikea’  wall of 45 large boxes onto which there are projections and into which props go in and out. 

It was often far too loud for the style and subject matter, though in contrast Julie Atherton was occasionally inaudible. I’d question the wisdom of amplification in this small space – with the inclusion of percussion, this is probably necessary, but it’s a chamber piece, so maybe a quieter orchestration without amplification would be better.

With hindsight, I wish I’d gone later in the run by which time I’m sure it will be very much the finished article.

* Emma Williams must be one of the most unlucky leading ladies in Britain. After being one of the youngest ever as Truly Scrumptious in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang early in career, she was part of the Bat Boy failure (which I actually liked!) then got unsigned as the alternate Maria when Connie Fisher went public on doing all 8 shows a week, then flopped again in Desperately Seeking Susan (where I lost a money!). In between though we got successful fringe outings of this show and Model Girl plus Sweeny Todd (the show, not the role!) with Bryn Terfel & Maria Friedman during the RFH re-opening season.

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A day trip to sunny Chichester. Laughter and tears – the perfect combination. Bliss!

Yes, Prime Minister has been updated – VERY updated, with references to coalitions and hung parliaments – by writers Anthony Jay and Jonathan Lynn (who also directs), but retains much of what made the TV series one of the very best comedies ever to grace our screens. The references may now be climate change, economic crises and the euro, but the intrigue and manipulations are just the same and Sir Humphrey’s soliloquies are masterpieces of verbose obfuscation!

Britain holds the presidency of the EU during a climate change summit and is close to brokering a deal when the Kumranistan foreign secretary makes personal demands that are morally difficult for the British to concede. On stage it’s rather broader and closer to farce than the knowingness and subtlety on TV, probably because the medium (and particularly a big theatre) requires this. However, it survives and provides lots of politically incorrect laughs.

David Haig, Henry Goodman and Jonathan Slinger make the characters of PM Jim Hacker, Sir Humphrey and Bernard their own. The ‘Special Advisor’ is more prominent (as she should be in 2010) and the appearance of the BBC DG facilitates a whole bucketful of cheeky satirical swipes at the organisation which gave us the TV series in the first place. 

I’ll be surprised if this isn’t in the West End before the summer’s out. Great fun!

I must be one of the few people who never saw the film (or read the book) of Love Story but it seems to me it could have originated as a musical, so comfortable is the story framed in this new show from Howard Goodall and Stephen Clark . Goodall’s music is simply gorgeous, his best score since The Hired Man, and Clark’s book and lyrics convey the all too short love with an intensity and humour that moved me from laughter to tears but ultimately left me uplifted. Goodall’s own orchestrations for piano, acoustic guitar and string quintet are beautiful and singing is crystal clear.

Rachel Kavanaugh directs with a deftness and elegance on a simple white set. With the audience on three sides, there are occasions when your sight lines and audibility are challenged, but not enough to damage your enjoyment.

Emma Williams and Michel Xavier are excellent as the young couple. Williams, in particular, delivers her self-deprecating New York humour wittily and believably. The rest of the small cast of ten give very good support in a variety of roles and as a chorus.

This was a glorious 100 minutes. I can’t wait to hear the music again. If there’s any justice, it won’t end its life in Chichester and wherever it goes, I’ll be following.

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