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Posts Tagged ‘Gary Wilmot’

If I was asked to create a musical writing partnership, I’m not sure I’d put together the writer of sophisticated, clever stuff like Sunday in the Park with George & Into the Woods, James Levine, and the man behind chirpy, quirky shows like The 24th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee and the three Falsetto musicals, William Finn, but here they are together, adapting the 2006 hit film of the same name.

Olive is runner-up in the regional Little Miss Sunshine pageant, but gets through to the national final when the winner is disqualified. This necessitates a road-trip for the entire family – mom Sheryl, dad Richard, Grandpa, Uncle Frank and teenage brother Dwayne – from Albuquerque, New Mexico, to Redondo Beach, California. They are beset with problems along the way – car breakdowns, dad’s book deal falling through, the discovery of a condition that will blight Dwayne’s chosen career, a chance meeting with an ex. and his new lover for Frank and something way more serious for grandpa – but they make it.

It’s hard to like a show about an institution you loathe, even if it is sending it up a bit, but its not helped by a fairly pedestrian book and a bland score. The first half in particular fails to engage enough, and the second half makes a customary descent into American musical theatre sentimentality. There’s nothing wrong with Mehmet Ergen’s production, with an excellent design by David Woodhead and some nifty choreography from Anthony Whiteman. I don’t know which of the three Olive’s we had on Tuesday, but she melted hearts on cue. The five leads are uniformly good – Laura Pitt-Pulver, Gabriel Vick, Gary Wilmot, Paul Keating & Sev Keoshgerian – and there are terrific comic turns from Imelda Warren-Green as Linda the bereavement liaison and Miss California.

I just don’t think it was really worth the transatlantic crossing, and why are they serving American cheese at the edgy Arcola anyway?

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This is a musical theatre adaptation of one of prolific American novelist Paul Gallico’s four Mrs Harris books. Quite how an American gets to write about a post-war British char lady I don’t know, but I’m pleased he did, and even more pleased Rachel Wagstaff and Richard Taylor have turned it into a charming, heart warming, quintessentially British show which gets a short run in Chichester following it’s premiere in Sheffield two years ago.

Set in the late forties, war widow Ada Harris lives in Battersea, working as a char lady, as does her best friend and neighbour Violet. She talks to the spirit of her husband, who is always with her. Her ‘clients’ include an accountant, a wannabe actress, a retired major and a foreign Countess trading in antiques. She is forever undertaking acts of kindness for them all.

Violet’s clients include Lady Dant and when Ada covers for her there, she is spellbound by a Christian Dior dress and becomes obsessed with owning something so beautiful. Somehow she manages to get enough money together and heads to Paris where she is initially greeted with disbelief and disdain, but eventually charms everyone in her path until she returns with a Dior dress made for her. She also spreads her kindness in Paris, the results of which follow her home in flowers, but not until after another act of kindness back home ends tragically.

Taylor builds on his experience with The Go-Between (https://garethjames.wordpress.com/2016/06/30/the-go-between) and produces an even better score. I would describe his very original musical voice as tuneful but song-less and (almost) sung-through! It suits the story so well, flowing beautifully, as does Daniel Evans impeccable staging, with much use of the revolve. Lez Brotherston’s designs are simple but gorgeous, with the private fashion show in the House of Dior taking your breathe away as eight models descent the stairs in stunning gowns.

Evans has got himself a faultless cast, led by Clare Burt, who follows her star turn as working class theatrical hero Joan Littlewood with another star turn as another working class hero. Clare Machin delights once again, this time as friend Violet, morphing deliciously into the French cleaner at Dior. Louis Maskall is terrific as Bob the accountant and Dior’s Head of Finance Andre; his leg acting alone deserves an award! Joanna Riding, Laura Pitt-Pulford, Mark Meadows, Nicola Sloane, Gary Wilmot, Rhona McGregor and Luke Latchman are all excellent, doubling up as London and Paris characters, with five of them adding one, two or three more. It was lovely to see Tom Brady’s ten-piece band leave the pit to get a well earned ovation.

The show’s message about kindness seems particularly welcome today. Another wonderful feel-good afternoon in Chichester. I do hope it gets a London transfer as it’s too good to see only once!

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Well, it looks like I’m going against the critical flow again on this one; I rather liked it, particularly the design, the songs and the infectious enthusiasm of the cast. Treating it as a family show might be the key.

It doesn’t have the storytelling quality of Alan Bennet’s iconic non-musical NT adaptation. It’s more character-driven, though there’s more of a story, well, caper, in the second half. Once we’ve established who’s who on the riverbank, the mysteries of the wild wood and Toad’s status, it’s basically about his imprisonment and escape and the takeover and reclaiming of Toad Hall. Julian Fellowes book isn’t up to much, but George Stiles catchy tunes and Anthony Drewe’s witty lyrics do enough plot driving to make up for it.

Peter McKintosh’s design is cute for the riverbank and grand and imposing for Toad Hall, with some excellent train, car and boat journeys in-between. The costumes help define the characters and I thought they were lovely. Aletta Collins choreography also adds much to the characterisations. Rachel Kavanaugh’s production has, above all, a lot of charm, helped by delightful performances like Simon Lipkin as Ratty, Craig Mather as Mole and Gary Wilmot as Badger. I liked Rufus Hound’s very brash, loud, athletic (and green) Toad and Denise Welch’s Geordie mother Otter. Neil McDermott is a good baddie, a suitably oily weasel.

The 6 and 10-year-old seemed to enjoy it as much as the older members of my party and the producers get a gold star for the accessibility that the children-go-free policy provides. Much better than those cynical paid critics would have you believe.

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You’d be forgiven for thinking the proscenium arch which helps create the Criterion Theatre in the blitz was a permanent feature of this theatre. This Noel (Me & My Girl) Gay show, set onstage and backstage at a wartime radio show, is so ‘at home’ here in Tom Rogers design.

I was never that keen on Me & My Girl (too twee for my taste) and the most recent outing of this show in the West End was mediocre fare. The Watermill has become such a trusted musicals friend of late, that this didn’t put me off (as it didn’t Copacabana last year) and how right I was. Director Caroline Leslie’s first musical for the Watermill is as good as any that have gone before in their illustrious recent history.

The radio show has a new producer, keen to enforce the rules about what can and can’t be broadcast. The MC / comic / scriptwriter regularly flouts them with his sauciness and double entendres. The ventriloquist doesn’t turn up, which means the producer has to become performer. The guest star is a Hollywood hearthrob, old flame of the MC’s girlfriend, whose arrival threatens that relationship. Oh so simple but with a very funny book by Abi Grant and some fine tunes.

As always here, the actors double-up as musicians, so we get lady saxophonists and an eleven piece ukulele band; the musical standards under MD Paul Herbert are outstanding. The Grosvenor Girls give us those classic forties harmonies and look gorgeous in liberty print frocks and period hairdos and we have Amy the forces sweetheart. There’s a comic number, Ali Baba’s Camel, with everyone dressed in arab robes and fez’s and the song Run Rabbit Run! The smile never left my face.

Many of the lines are corny beyond belief and the double entendres are often familiar, but when they are delivered by Gary Wilmot they are absolutely delicious. He’s the archetypal music hall entertainer who has exceptional comic timing and bucketloads of charm. His hapless sidekick Wilfred is played to perfection by Julian Littman. Andrew C. Wadsworth morphs brilliantly from ‘Can’t Do ‘grump to a stage-struck and unlikely star. Anna-Jane Casey (for it is she!) is of course as fine a romantic lead as you could wish for and her chemistry with Wilmot is key to the show’s success.

This is my ninth Watermill musical and the fifth consecutive one at their lovely home base. It has now become as much of a summer fixture as the Proms, the Globe and the Open Air Theatre. As the show’s best tune says – they’re publishing the sun.

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Maybe the ify reviews lowered my expectations. Maybe it’s got better since those early performances. Maybe I’m more disposed to a bit of fun than those hard-nosed critics. Whatever it is, I rather enjoyed this!

It must be my week for revisiting shows from c.20 years ago. The night before it was Stiles & Drew’s Just So from 1990 and now this tongue-in-cheek Ken Hill adaptation of H G Wells which I first saw at the Theatre Royal Stratford in 1991. If you need a reason to go and see it , here’s two – Paul Kieve’s terrific illusions and Maria Friedman’s ample bosom seemingly moving of its own free will when caressed by the invisible man!

Ian Talbot has staged it as a show within a music hall show (I don’t think the original was?) with a Good Old Days-style MC. Paul Farnsworth’s design’s are cartoonish and somehow it seems wholly in keeping with the show that they look as if they could collapse any minute! It’s a cross between slapstick, farce, vaudeville, cartoon and panto and I was smiling at the theatrical mix even when I wasn’t laughing out loud at the silliness of it all.

It’s an excellent cast who are clearly sending everything up and having a whole lot of fun at the same time. It’s infectious. It’s great to see Maria Friedman show off her exceptional comic talents (as well as her ample bosom!). Jo Stone-Ewings comic timing and physical acting is outstanding. Gary Wilmot does well as part narrator / part character Thomas Marvel. Christopher Godwin’s been-there-done-that Wicksteed is a treat.

It won’t change your life, but If you’re disposed to have a fun night out, you probably won’t leave disappointed – we didn’t.

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