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Posts Tagged ‘Gina Beck’

Chichester has become the go to place for revivals of classic musicals. In recent years we’ve had very successful productions of Me & My Girl, Oklahoma, Guys & Dolls, Mack & Mabel, Half a Sixpence & She Loves Me. This one was part of the aborted 2020 festival, so the anticipation was heightened, but it has been richly rewarded. As much of a reinvention as a revival, my fourth exposure to it made me look at it anew.

Set in the Pacific islands in the middle of the Second World War, the Americans are confronting the Japanese at the same time as the allies are confronting the Nazis in Europe. Some of these islands are colonies, with plantations growing food for hungry Europe, and the island on which this American base is situated is French. With this serious backdrop, two love stories unfold, a US lieutenant with a local girl and a US Navy nurse with a French plantation owner, both relationships blighted by the racist programming of the American lovers.

Both the male suitors get caught up in a dramatic military expedition, which results in a change in the fortunes of war, though they don’t both live to see the outcome. Meanwhile, military life goes on and the forces endeavour to entertain themselves in this paradise in the Pacific, encountering the local people they are temporarily sharing the islands with. The colonial, race and gender issues are hard to swallow 70 years on, but Daniel Evans solution is to confront them, rather than paper over them as other productions have, hence the reinvention. He’s also tackled the neglect of the local characters. Thus the serious themes can co-exist with traditional musical exuberance in numbers like There is Nothin’ Like a Dame and I’m Gonna Wash that Man Right Outa my Hair. There’s an authenticity too in the look of the show in Peter McKintosh’s design.

Few shows are packed with as many songs which have become standards outside of them, here Some Enchanted Evening, Younger than Springtime, I’m in Love With A Wonderful Guy and Happy Talk amongst others, and they are given superb renditions by a combined cast and band of almost 50. Julian Ovenden has clearly been put on this planet to play Emile – great presence, great chemistry with Nellie and his children, and as fine a voice as you’d wish to hear singing these iconic songs. Gina Beck is coming to the end of her stint as Nellie, sharing the role with Alex Young, and she combines the ‘cockeyed optimist’ with infatuated lover brilliantly, and when her prejudice comes through it is truly shocking. Rob Houchen is a fine romantic lead as Lt. Cable and there are excellent performances from Joanna Ampil as a feisty Bloody Mary and Keir Charles as base comedian Billis. Cat Beveridge’s band sounds luxurious by today’s musical theatre standards and does Rogers’ score full justice.

It comes up fresh, its themes relevant and it’s music joyful. CFT does it yet again.

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This show, by Joe DiPietro & Jimmy Roberts, ran Off Broadway for 12 years / 5000 shows between 1996 and 2008 but has only managed three short runs in London. Though there are some unsung scenes, its really a song cycle for four actors, and it’s rather good.

It follows relationships from casual dating through serious courting, marriage, parenthood and empty nesting to divorce, death and back to dating! Four actors, two male and two female, play all of the nameless individuals and couples in various combinations, that represent stages in archetypal relationships. The songs are good, but its strength really lies in its humour, finding the truth in life’s twists and turns.

The great attraction of this production is four of Britain’s finest young musical theatre performers – Julie Atherton, Gina Beck, Samuel Holmes and Simon Lipkin – at the top of their game. Not only are they good delivering the songs, but they also prove very adept at the comedy, squeezing every laugh possible from the witty lyrics and sharp lines. Scott Morgan accompanies on an upright piano with no amplification which I liked, though I missed some lyrics when the performers weren’t facing me.

Staged in the small space Above the Arts Theatre by Kirk Jameson with movement by Sam Spencer Lane and just a few props but a lot of costume changes, it’s a delightful 80 minutes, though lengthened to almost two hours by an unnecessary interval and some bad timekeeping, which stretched the patience on a sweltering evening.

I took against the Arts Theatre’s new upstairs venue, Above the Arts, like a room above a pub for an open mic night, with no raking, no stage and no air, but I’m really glad I caught up with this show at last, especially with such fine casting. It deserves a better venue (St James Studio, Union Theatre, Landor Theatre….)and a longer run, though.

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Jacques Brel first appeared on my radar when Scott Walker recorded his songs in the late 60’s and he’s been on and off it ever since, but in truth more off than on. I’ve never seen this ‘revue’ before and was struck by how many of the songs were familiar (covers perhaps), how diverse they are and indeed how good.

They are miniature stories that lend themselves to staging, which is what director Andrew Keates has done; a series of little playlets set to music, or rather songs that become playlets. This works well by and large, though occasionally at the expense of the vocals or a touch too busy. The moments where they just sat at the front of the stage were lovely. We’re in a night club, which spills over to the front of the auditorium, with an onstage band on multi-level platforms with lots of different spaces for the singers. There are back projections, a handful of props and lots of costume changes so this is more of a show than a vanilla revue with people on barstools.

All four are singing actors, so they interpret the songs rather than just sing them. Brel songs often come alive more when they’re sung by people who look and sound like they’ve lived life and for this reason I thought Eve Polycarpou’s contributions shone most, but David Burt brought passion and Daniel Boys and Gina Beck enthusiasm and freshness. MD Dean Austin leads an excellent 5-piece band and even gets a turn or two on the vocals (and an opportunity to show off his French).

The evening was marred for me by the man next to us in H3 who started to eat a takeaway meal as the curtain went up (with his fingers – he forgot to pick up a fork) and continued his feast through most of the first half. When he opened a bag of crisps three songs into the second half, as Eve Polycarpou was about to begin Ne Me Quitte Pas, I just had to move. The most extraordinary thing about it was that he appeared to be enjoying the show yet completely oblivious to the way he was spoiling others enjoyment!

The show originated in the US in 1968 and was first seen in London in the early 70’s (my companion saw it then) and has had few revivals since, so this is a rare and welcome opportunity to catch it.

 

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I’ve always been puzzled by the critical indifference to Howard Goodall’s musicals. For me, in the (short) list of great British composers of musicals he comes top and his first show, the Hired Man, sits with Les Miserables and West Side Story as one of my favourite musical scores.

Even though he has a very distinctive sound, which is distinctively British, it changes subtly to suit the subject matter. Only three of his nine musicals have been produced in the West End. 25 years ago, The Hired Man lost the Olivier Award to the highly unoriginal 42nd Street (leading lady ill, chorus girl’s big break, yawn…yawn…), soon after Girlfriends closed very quickly (though in fairness, the production didn’t live up to the Bolton premiere) and then we had to wait 24 years for Love Story, one of the best chamber musicals ever, which also got an undeserved early bath.

The Hired Man gets revived on a small scale fairly frequently, Days Of Hope (a lovely show set in the Spanish Civil War) occasionally but the 2nd World War Girlfriends, as far as I know, has never been revived. Two Cities (based on Dickens) was only seen outside London and the other four, like this one, were written for youth groups. Only The Hired Man and Days of Hope have ever been recorded, so you can’t even listen to the music to find out what you’re missing!

I fondly remember seeing the NYMT production of this 12 years ago (with recent Olivier Award winning Sheridan Smith in the cast) at the Lyric Hammersmith and its astonishing that it has taken so long to be revived and to get its professional debut. We’re awash with fringe productions of musicals, but none of them are British. I yearn to see Lionel Bart’s Blitz! or Maggie May or Goodall’s Girlfriends. OK, end of rant and on with the review!

There can’t be many musicals based on restoration comedies like this one based on Goldsmith’s She Stoops to Conquer. Moving it to the Edwardian period works; otherwise its faithful to the play and thanks to Charles Hart’s witty book and lyrics, even funnier. Goodall’s score is rich in lovely tunes and even more varied in style than most of his scores. It takes a little while to take off, but it proves to be a delight. It would have been even better to see it in a bigger space with better sight lines than the cramped and stuffy Jermyn Street Theatre.

Director Lotte Wakeham, who first impressed me with Austentatious at the Landor, has done a superb job on a simple set by Samal Blak (who worked wonders transforming the Cock Tavern for Pins & Needles) with elegant period costumes by Karen Frances. It’s partially in actor-musician mode, but Harriet Oughton at the piano has the primary musical responsibility and manages a bit of acting as well as playing the whole score!

Beverley Klein gives us another delicious musical comedy masterclass as Mrs Hardcastle. Ian Virgo (also in the original production, but as Lumpkin), Gina Beck, Dylan Turner and Gemma Sutton as the two couples at the heart of the story all act well and do full justice to Goodall’s music. It took me a while to warm to Jack Shalloo as Lumpkin (probably because I couldn’t get his terrific turn in Departure Lounge out of my head!) but he won me over.

A standing ovation for producers Peter Huntley and Charlotte Staynings for giving us this long-awaited opportunity to re-visit the show and for doing such a cracking job with it. Girlfriends? Blitz? Please!

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