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Posts Tagged ‘Greenwich Theatre’

Not to be confused with the film of the same name, this 2004 Broadway musical has a heart-warming pedigree; it was written by Barri McPherson after she reconnected and took in Mark Schoenfeld, an old friend she found sleeping rough. Unsurprisingly, its love story is framed and told by a group of homeless street musicians.

American musician Taylor falls in love with Faith when in Paris, but returns to the US, leaving behind half a tune and a pregnant lover. When Faith dies her daughter, named Brooklyn after her dad’s home, goes to an orphanage where she learns to sing. Years later, a hugely successful star, she uses a visit to NYC to try and find her father, armed with the half tune.

The street setting and pop-rock score contrasts with a somewhat schmaltzy fairytale story; in this way it reminded me of Rent. Justin Williams’ urban wasteland design serves it well. I like the songs, played superbly by Richard Baker’s band, but more vocal restraint and less volume would have served the lyrics better. They were sung well, but more as pop songs than musical theatre numbers there to tell the story. That said, the five performers are all excellent.

It was a bit overblown for me. I think the material would have benefitted from more subtlety, though there was enough to enjoy and admire to reward the trip to Greenwich.

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It’s 46 years since The Who released Tommy, one of the most ground-breaking albums of the 60’s (or any other decade come to that), the first ‘rock opera’. Like all great music, it still sounds fresh. I loved Pete Townsend & Des McAnuff’s stage musical when it was first staged in London in 1996 and its surprising that we haven’t seen it since. So a bucket-load of brownie points to Guy James (no relation!), Katie Lipson and Ilai Szpiezak for putting on this revival at Greenwich Theatre.

I’m sure everyone knows the story. Tommy is traumatised when he sees his father, unexpectedly returned from the war, kill his mother’s new man and becomes deaf, dumb and blind. He’s persecuted by his Cousin Kevin and interfered with by his Uncle Ernie. Searches for a cure seem hopeless, but one day he does indeed recover all three faculties and at first becomes a bit of a freak show and ultimately a sort of Messiah. It’s an extraordinary score and here its sung brilliantly by a top notch young cast of just ten. It has one of the best closing numbers of a musical – Listening To You – and they do it proud.

Director Michael Strassen, a Union Theatre regular where I’ve seen nine of his productions, uses a two-tier stage with triangular motifs, with most of the cast dressed in white, a handful of props and some striking lighting. I wasn’t convinced by the choreography, which didn’t seem in keeping with the material – too arty farty & balletic and not muscular enough! I also felt the band was too quiet much of the time – it is a rock musical, after all – though somewhat ironically were terrific in the play-out. It was a touch restrained in the first half, though it ended on a high with Pinball Wizzard, but came into its own after the interval.

I very much liked Ashley Birchall’s Tommy, particularly in the later scenes. I loved the characterisations of seedy Uncle Ernie by the excellent John Barr and the odious bully Kevin of Giovanni Spani. There wasn’t really a fault in the casting; the audience gave them a standing ovation on Thursday.

Definitely worth catching one of the last four performances of this rarely revived show with an iconic score.

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