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Posts Tagged ‘Hadley Fraser’

There are times in every theatre-goers life when they just want fun, which is exactly what this show delivers. Mel Brooks will never win any awards for subtlety, sophistication or political correctness, but when it comes to big laughs and huge fun, he sweeps the board.

Like The Producers musical adaptation before it, the show is based on his own 1974 film, adapted by Brooks himself (with Thomas Meehan contributing to the book) 33 years later, and it’s taken another 10 to cross the Atlantic, apparently improved and rewritten. As musicals go, it’s small scale, and achieves an intimacy at the Garrick Theatre that makes you feel like you’re sharing a joke with your friends.

There’s little need to outline the story, though it’s never been so loud, brash, cheeky or rude before. The songs will be remembered more for how they emerge from the tale than their quality as songs. It’s packed with sight gags, not always new, but always funny. The designs makes a virtue of the fact they’re old school (all painted screens and flats). The performances are broad, but impeccably executed. Above all, the smile rarely leaves your face and you often ache from laughter.

Hadley Fraser is simply superb as Frankenstein, with that manic twinkle in his eye, athletic movement, fine vocals and impeccable comic timing. Ross Noble is a revelation as hunchback Igor; stand-up’s loss is a real gain for musical theatre. Lesley Joseph is popular casting as the housekeeper Frau Blucher, whose voice alone scares the horses, themselves brilliantly cast! There’s a Strallen of course, and Summer delivers the comic goods as well as the fine vocals we’ve become used to. I haven’t seen much of Dianne Pilkington’s work, but she’s terrific here as Frankenstein’s fiancee. Schuler Hensley is a great monster and Patrick Clancy doubles up brilliantly as the Inspector and the Hermit (I didn’t know it was the same man until his curtain call!). It’s superbly cast and their combined sense of fun sweeps you away – they’re clearly having as much fun as the audience.

Some will find it crude, some corny, some tacky, but if you go just to have some very welcome fun you won’t be disappointed.

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The cleverness of this show is matched by the stylishness of its production. Add in the intimacy of the venue, the faultless casting and a superb design and you have a real treat. Rather a triumph for director Josie Rourke’s first musical.

Stine is a Hollywood scriptwriter creating a Chandleresque piece for control freak producer Buddy Fiddler. His central character is private eye Stone, who gets the case of the missing Kingsley daughter. The show moves from the scriptwriting and production (in colour) to the story within (in B&W) with five of the actors doubling up, with a part in each. The late night jazz score suits this film noir story perfectly and there’s a ‘chorus’, in the Greek as well as the vocal sense, of four singers. It’s staged in front of Robert Jones’ two-tier wall of scripts linked by a spiral staircase with gorgeous period costumes for both sexes. It’s amongst the most stylish things I’ve ever seen.

The excellent book is by Larry Gelbart, creater of MASH and the very funny book for Sondheim’s A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum. It was the Broadway debut for lyricist David Zippel’s, who never produced anything to match these sharp witty lyrics. Cy Coleman’s score is unique in his catalogue that includes Barnum, Sweet Charity and the very underrated On the 20th Century. Though she doesn’t have any musical theatre experience, Josie Rourke is surrounded by seasoned professionals like choreographer Stephen Mear and MD Gareth Valentine.

Hadley Fraser and Tam Mutu are both excellent, and well matched, as Stine and Stone. Rebecca Trehearn and Rosalie Craig provide not one but two scene-stealing turns as PA’s Donna & Oolie and Gabby & Bobbi respectively. Katherine Kelly (Corrie’s Becky) continues to prove there’s life after soaps with lovely sexy characterisations as Carla and Alaura, like Marc Elliott (East Enders Syed) with two fine performances as Munoz & Pancho. Sometime Nancy Samantha Barks is great in her two roles as Avril and Mallory; then there’s Peter Polycarpou, giving yet another brilliant performance in a musical (his fifth in as many years) as producer Buddy. This is exceptional casting.

The only previous West End production of this show, its UK première 21 years ago with Roger Allam as Stone and Henry Goodman as Buddy, was a bit lost on the vast Prince of Wales stage. In the intimacy of the Donmar, with superb staging, production values and performances coming together like this, it proves to be a musical theatre gem.

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2013 will go down as the year when some of our finest young actors took to the boards and made Shakespeare exciting, seriously cool and the hottest ticket in town. Tom Hiddleston’s Coriolanus joins James McAvoy’s Macbeth as a raw, visceral, physical & thrilling role interpretation. The dream team of Adrian Lester and Rory Kinnear provided psychological depth in a very contemporary Othello. Jude Law and David Tennant as King’s Henry V & Richard II led more elegant, traditional but lucid interpretations. They enhanced the theatrical year and I feel privileged to have seen them all.

The Donmar has provided some great Shakespeare evenings in recent years – Othello, Richard II, King Lear & Julius Caesar – and this is a match for them all. It’s a deeply intelligent, imaginative and thrilling interpretation that was riveting from beginning to end. When we got to the interval after 90 minutes, I wanted a pee, but not an interval! It’s the most objective reading of the play I’ve seen, with a less sympathetic Coriolanus. It balances his scorn at the public reaction to his heroic defence of the state with Rome’s concern over his propensity for tyrannical autocracy. This most political of plays gets a most political production, yet a very personal mother-son relationship shines through.

There are so many highlights, I don’t quite know where to start. The opening food riot uses live and projected graffiti to great effect. The fight scenes are so well staged (by Richard Ryan) you almost feel the blows. The battle to take a city is brilliantly staged by climbing ladders, one real and the rest projections. The disrespect shown at his banishment is truly shocking. The scene where Volumnia pleads with her son not to take Rome is deeply moving. Coriolanus’ death makes you gasp. Josie Rourke’s staging and Lucy Osbourne’s designs are masterly.

Tom Hiddleston exceeds expectations as Coriolanus, with huge presence and great passion, but he has extraordinary support from a faultless cast. Deborah Findlay conveys the mother’s pride and love superbly; a strong woman of great conviction. I loved Birgitte Hjort Sorensen somewhat neurotic Virgilia (without a hint of her native Danish accent), Mark Gatiss fatherly Menenius adds much-needed humour and Hadley Fraser leads the bearded Volscians with tribal passion yet respect and love for a fellow soldier, even if he is the enemy. You admire Peter de Jersey for his loyalty and you’re deeply suspicious of the motives of Tribunes Brutus & Sicinia played by Elliot Levey & Helen Schlesinger – effective sex-blind casting there, as there is with Rochenda Sandall as a one-woman crowd who almost bursts a blood vessel before your very eyes.

This ended my theatrical year on a real high. A triumph for all involved and great to report that those Hiddleston fans were enthralled, quiet and respectful. Wonderful.

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For a man who gave us one of the greatest musical productions ever (Guys & Dolls at the NT in 1982 and 1996), Richard Eyre hasn’t directed many musicals. I can only remember two more before this (Mary Poppins & Betty Blue Eyes) and both were great. The question you have to ask after a fourth gem is Why?

There haven’t been many ‘blue collar’ musicals either, so this one, about a labour dispute in the Sleep Tite pyjama factory, is unusual. It hasn’t had many productions (another Why?), the last in London at the indispensable Union Theatre five years ago. With a track record of four musical transfers in the last 2.5 years, I’ll be surprised if this terrific Chichester production doesn’t follow.

The factory is run by tyrant Hasler (an excellent Colin Stinton, who doubles up as the leading lady’s dad) who has employed new superintendent Sid, a go-getter from Chicago, the third in next to no time. His Time & Motion man Vernon (a superb Peter Polycarpou, back for his third Chichester musical in as many years) stalks the shop floor. Union president Prez and union rep Babe are pushing for a 7.5c rise and it looks like they’ll have to strike to get it. Then Babe falls for Sid and it all gets a lot more complicated.

From the opening number, Racing with the Clock, it goes from one showstopper to another. There are a couple of standards – Hey There (You With the Stars in Your Eyes) & Hernando’s Hideaway – but the whole score’s good. We move swiftly and slickly from factory to office to picnic to nightclub to Babe’s home with little time to catch your breath in-between. Designer Tim Hatley puts a two-story building at the back of the space, from which sewing and pressing work stations emerge for the shop floor, desks for the offices and a kitchen for the home. Stephen Mear’s choreography is bright and fresh and with Gareth Valentine in charge of the music it all sounds great.

For a musicals obsessive like me, it’s a bit of a shock to come across a leading man I’m not sure I’ve seen before and Hadley Fraser is simply terrific as Sid, with a particularly fine voice. Joanna Riding is a delight as icy, feisty Babe who melts in the hands of Sid. Alexis Owen-Hobbs is great as secretary Gladys, and Vernon’s unlikely love interest, who follows Hasler everywhere except when she struts her stuff in the Act II opener Steam Heat (with actual steam!) and there’s a delightful cameo from Claire Machin as Sid’s secretary Mabel.

An uplifting delight from start to finish, which benefits from the smaller space if the Minerva Theatre, and well worth the trip south.

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