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Posts Tagged ‘Frank Wildhorn’

I’m not sure why we haven’t seen many Frank Wildhorn musicals in London, less than a quarter of his output I’d say. Those I’ve seen here – Jeckyl & Hyde and Victor / Victoria – I’ve liked, though I was less enamoured with The Scarlet Pimpernel on a US tour in Seattle. Despite the fact this is the first professional staging of this one, it appears to have a cult following, such was the popularity of the recent concert performances and the fandom on show at the Arts Theatre.

It follows the infamous couple from when they first meet (with some flashbacks to their childhood selves) to their demise. What seems to start as fun develops a more cruel and heartless character, then they begin to enjoy the infamy, appearing in newspapers as folk heroes and signing autographs, as much if not more that the buzz of the crimes themselves. Clyde’s brother Buck gets drawn in, much to the consternation of his wife Blanche. There’s a childlike naivety to them, rather than a blind ruthlessness, though they are of course murderers. It ends as it started, with a very pleasing roundedness.

It’s a hugely impressive eclectic Americana score packed full of superb tunes, and Don Black’s lyrics propel the story forward. Ivan Menchell’s book is a series of very short scenes, but not at the price of storytelling or character development, and with a surprising amount of humour given the subject matter. The pace is facilitated by a design from Philip Whitcomb which relies on minimal props but excellent projections to create locations, featuring iconic period images like petrol pumps and cars. Nick Winston’s direction is slick and highly effective; even though there’s not much ‘movement’ you can see his choreographic background in the staging.

All four leads – Frances Mayli McCann as Bonnie, Jordan Luke Gage as Clyde, Natalie McQueen as Blanche and George Maguire as Buck – are sensational, and very well matched, and the rest of the ensemble are first class. Cleve September plays the sheriff and Bonnie’s old flame very movingly, Ako Mitchell has great presence and a voice to match as the Preacher and the child actors (from a pool of eight) playing Bonnie and Clyde as children are hugely confident with outstanding voices.

For some reason, maybe the hype, I was taken aback by how much I admired and enjoyed this show. The audience reception was even more euphoric than me, and both the atmosphere and the reception seemed to wow the cast as much as they’d wowed us.

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This Frank Wildhorn & Leslie Bricusse show has never had a West End run, though it has toured the UK (I saw it a few years back in Wimbledon with Paul Nicholas in the title role). On Broadway it ran for c.4 years (but never made a profit). It has now been scaled down for the Union Theatre as the first production by Morphic Graffiti with an interesting configuration which limits the performing space but facilitates some clever set changes and dramatic intensity.

There’s little point in telling the story (who doesn’t know it?) which in this production starts by Jekyll seeking approval for his research from an NHS Trust board and ends with what seems like a production line of murders. The score is a little too pompous in a Lloyd-Webberesque way, though there are some nice solo numbers and good choruses. The first half is a bit slow but in the second half, when we get to some serious carnage, it zips along in an excellent staging by Luke Fredericks. It seems like a better show here, which given the resources relative to the touring production, is a big compliment.

I’m sure Stewart Charlesworth’s design budget was miniscule, but what he achieves is highly inventive and suitably atmospheric. With 16 actors playing 18 + characters, it can get a bit cramped, but it moves from hospital to house to street to church to brothel etc. with slick ease (apart from one moment when a mini-revolve stuck). Ben Walden’s projections and Catherine Webb’s lighting made a significant contribution.

After a slightly shaky start, Tim Rogers came into his own as Jekyll / Hyde, bringing a brilliant manic intensity to Hyde in the second act. Joanna Strand as his fiancée and Madalena Alberto as the prostitute both act and sing very well and there is as fine a supporting cast as you’d wish for, with an auspicious professional debut from Anthony Lawrence as Stride. The musical standards are high and I loved the orchestration of keyboards, cello, acoustic guitar and woodwind, which Dean Austin’s band played beautifully.

It’s not a great show, but I’d doubt if it could get a better small-scale production than this one – and an impressive debut for this new company.

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