Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘Giles Terera’

I’m sure that by now no-one is interested in my view, but it’s too much of a theatrical milestone to let it pass by…….

Don’t expect anything else at the refurbished Victoria Palace Theatre for a decade or two. This inspired and audacious musical isn’t going anywhere. For once something lives up to all the hype. It’s as ground-breaking as West Side Story was sixty years ago. It excels in every department – writing, design, staging and performance. There isn’t a moment wasted, and the amount of detail is almost too much to take in on one visit.

Alexander Hamilton, illegitimate, an orphan, Caribbean immigrant, is (was!) the least known founding father of America. Lin-Manuel Miranda’s show, based on Ron Chernow’s book, takes us from his college days in New York City, through his military service as Washington’s right-hand man in the War of Independence, lawyer, Congressman, banker, and Secretary of the Treasury to his assassination by colleague and rival Aaron Burr. It’s virtually sung through, though the score isn’t entirely hip hop as the press has implied; there is rap, but its really an eclectic cocktail of popular music and modern musical theatre styles – and it’s excellent.

Director Thomas Kail and choreographer Andy Blankenbuehler have created a thrilling, extraordinarily detailed and fast-paced staging; you just can’t take your eyes off the stage. David Korins all-purpose set lets it breathe, facilitating both the epic and intimate, and Paul Tazewell period costumes with a twist are gorgeous to look at. I just can’t fault it – the production brings the story and the music to life and the combination of a 200-year-old true story with contemporary music doesn’t seem in the slightest bit incongruous.

We had the alternate Alexander Hamilton on the night we went, but you’d never know; Ash Hunter was superb. Rachelle Ann Go as his wife Eliza and Rachel John as Angelica Schuyler were excellent, in fine voice both. Jason Pennycooke as Lafayette / Jefferson and Giles Terera as Burr are outstanding, the former bringing a delicious humour to Lafayette. King George turns up just three times, on stage alone, but Michael Jibson’s characterisation is simply brilliant, seemingly looking each audience member, his subjects, in the eye, almost stealing the show. They are supported by a fine ensemble that’s a real tribute to British musical theatre talent.

To take the show to the capital city of the former colonial power seems to me to be as audacious as the show itself. The attentive audience was clearly as enthralled and thrilled as I was. I felt I was at a rare milestone in the history of theatre, an evening I will inevitably have to experience again, probably periodically for years to come.

Read Full Post »

This August Wilson play, based on a real-life character – the so-called mother of blues – was his first big success in 1984, getting its first London production five years later in the Cottesloe Theatre. It became the first of his 10-play cycle covering the black American experience (each in a different decade of the 20th century) to be staged, though two are set before it. This very welcome revival is in the much bigger Lyttelton next door.

The whole play takes place in a Chicago recording studio in the 1920’s. Ma Rainey’s a bit of a diva who turns up an hour late for the recording session insisting that her stuttering nephew sings the intro to the title song using a different arrangement, that songs are changed, that her car (damaged en route) is repaired and returned to the studio and that coca cola is fetched from the deli before she starts. The band attempt to rehearse while they are waiting, but horn player Levee’s heart isn’t in it; he’s more concerned with his ambition and his new shoes.

The rest of the play moves between the band room and the studio, with Ma’s manager and the record producer regularly leaving the elevated control room, usually to argue with or placate Ma. Her daughter, the delightfully named Dussie Mae, flirts with Levee – well, more than flirts! The band banter and fight, and occasionally relate a real experience of horrific racist abuse and violence which is particularly chilling contained within the lighter tone. You’d expect the play to revolve around its title character, but in fact it’s heart is in the band room scenes, with their stories and relationships, which take a dramatic turn at the end.

It’s more of a ‘slice of life’ than a linear plotted play, but it achieves its purpose of taking us to a 20’s black American world. It’s a touch slow and low-energy in the slightly longer first half, but its still in preview so it may tighten. The Lyttelton is a much less intimate space than the Cottesloe, but Dominic Cooke’s production and Ultz design work well, with the long narrow band room rising stage front and the control room like an elevated container, both linked by a metal spiral staircase. 

At first I thought the band’s actors – an unrecognisable Clint Dyer on trombone, Giles Terera on bass, horn player O-T Fagbenle and Lucian Msamati on piano – were playing live, but I came to the conclusion the music was recorded, which is a great compliment to both their miming and Paul Arditti’s sound design. It’s a great cast, led by the incomparable Sharon D Clarke, who commands the stage and everyone on it when she is. Fagbenle is a very edgy and passionate Levee and Msamati is superb as Toledo, a role unlike any I’ve seen him play before.

I have to confess my memories of the 1989 production are feint, but its great to see it again and the audience reception was very positive indeed.

Read Full Post »

I saw this show on Broadway 15 months ago (sorry about the location-dropping!) and was a bit underwhelmed. I enjoyed it, but didn’t think it lived up to the ‘best musical of this century’ hype. It had been running a year at that point. This London clone has been running three months and the first thing that struck me last night was how fresher it seemed – performed with more gusto, energy & enthusiasm.

I’ve never seen South Park or anything else by the show’s creators / writers, so I’m not pre-programmed to their humour. It’s a bit like those Seth Rogan / Judd Apatow films – trying a bit too hard to shock, pushing things a little too far on occasion, hilarious in parts but so relentless that it inevitably lags in others.

I probably don’t need to tell you that it’s about a bunch of newly graduated Mormon missionaries, two of which are sent to Uganda and fail miserably to meet their baptism targets. Most of the humour comes from the clash of cultures and it draws a fine line laughing with /at the Africans. It’s also taking big risks using AIDS (and possible cures) as the butt of a lot of its jokes, one of the things that for me went too far.

It sets up a pace that it’s difficult to sustain, so there are genuinely more laughs than almost any other musical comedy, but that has the effect of making the bits between the laughs seem a lot longer. The music seemed a lot better on second hearing, albeit most of it parodying the genre. It’s particularly good lyrically though. The design is (presumably) a bit of a parody too, but it also makes you smile.

It’s the performances that made this second showing for me. I’d seen and admired Jared Gertner as Elder Cunningham on Broadway, but here he was better matched by Gavin Creel’s excellent Elder Price and surrounded by a better ensemble whose sense of fun was infectious. Stephen Ashfield seemed completely at home as Elder McKinley, Alexia Kadime was an excellent Nabulungi (is the running gag about her name new? I don’t remember it) and there were great turns from Giles Terera as Mafala Hatimbi and Chris Jarman as a positively terrifying General.

It is well worth seeing and it does add a lot to the musical comedy cannon (but not ‘most shocking’; a crown still held by Jerry Springer – The Opera). You’ll have a lot of fun as long as you don’t expect ‘the best musical of this century’.

Read Full Post »