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Posts Tagged ‘Hairspray’

Another catch-up courtesy of a January offer, and not really what I was expecting at all. The pastiche score, by Bon Jovi’s David Bryan, the singing, the brilliant band and the dancing actually blew me away. I don’t think it’s as successful as a narrative musical, but as a purely musical experience it’s terrific.

They probably won’t like me for saying that it treads similar ground to Hairspray. That show was about the evils of segregation too, but in the world of the TV pop shows of 60’s Baltimore. This one’s in 50’s Memphis, but the underlying theme is the same, even though the treatment and style are very different. Memphis does benefit from taking place during the birth of rock and roll, though, and I have fond memories of visiting the city and visiting clubs on Beale Street ten years ago, so it resonates with me more.

Huey is a bit of a loser until he finds his vocation as a rebel DJ, his radio show quickly becoming No.1 in Memphis and graduating to his own TV show. He visits a black only club, which is as unacceptable as a black man visiting a white club, where he meets singer Felicia, who becomes friend, muse and ultimately lover. Their relationship is fraught with problems caused by segregation – she can’t appear on his show and they can’t be seen together in public (mixed marriage was illegal in some states, such as Tennessee, less than 50 years ago!). They both get opportunities to go to the bright lights of the north, but the price is too high for principled Huey and Felicia heads for the big time alone, despite the prejudice, while Huey heads back to his now ailing radio show.

I first saw Beverley Knight a  year ago in The Bodyguard and she impressed me greatly, as she does here. The West End needs to hang on to her. He’d done a lot before, though I didn’t know that, but Killian Donnelly really arrived with a bang in The Commitments in 2012 and he tops this with an even more sensational performance. In an excellent supporting cast, Jason Pennycooke gives yet another of his superb cameos. The ensemble is outstanding, with the dancing particularly thrilling.

The music and narrative aren’t joined up enough to make thoroughly satisfying musical theatre, but musically it’s simply wonderful.

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Best New Play(s) – The James Plays

First up its plays, new ones, and when I counted I was surprised to find I’d seen 75 of them, including a pleasing half-dozen at the NT. My long list only brought that down to 31 so I had to be real hard to get to the Top Ten short-list of Versailles at the Donmar, Good People & Wonderland at Hampstead, Wet House at Soho, The Visitors at the Arcola (now at the Bush), 1927’s Golem at the Young Vic and 3 Winters & The James Plays from the National Theatre of Scotland at the NT – a three-play feast which pipped the others at the post.

Best Revival (Play) – shared by Accolade and My Night With Reg

I saw fewer revivals – a mere 44! – but 18 were there at the final cut. The Young Vic had a stonking year with Happy Days, A Streetcar Named Desire & A View From a Bridge, the latter two getting into my top ten with the Old Vic’s The Crucible, the Open Air’s All My Sons (that’s no less than 3 Millers) the NT’s Medea, Fathers & Sons at the Donmar, True West at the Tricycle and the Trafalgar Transformed Richard III. In the end I copped out, unable to choose between My Night with Reg at the Donmar and Accolade at the St James.

Best New Musical – Made in Dagenham

I was a bit taken aback at the total of 25 new musicals, 10 of which got through the first round, including the ill-fated I Can’t Sing, Superman in Walthamstow (coming soon to Leicester Square Theatre) , In the Heights at Southwark and London Theatre Workshop’s Apartment 40C. I struggled to get to one from the six remaining, which included the NT’s Here Lies Love and five I saw twice – Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, Dogfight at Southwark, Hampstead’s Kinkfest Sunny Afternoon and Dessa Rose at Trafalgar Studio Two – but eventually I settled on a great new British musical Made in Dagenham.

Best Revival (Musical) – Sweeney Todd in Harrington’s Pie Shop, Tooting

An extraordinary year for musical revivals with 38 to choose from and 22 serious contenders including 7 outside London (two of which I short-listed – Hairspray in Leicester and Gypsy in Chichester) and not one but two Sweeney Tood’s! Difficult not to choose Damn Yankees at the Landor, a lovely Love Story at the Union, more Goodall with the NYMT’s The Hired Man at St James Theatre, Blues in the Night at Hackney, Sweeney Todd at the ill-fated Twickenham Theatre and Assassins at the Menier, plus the Arcola’s Carousel which was so good I went twice in its short run. In the end though, expecting and accepting accusations of bias, I have to go for the other Sweeney Todd in Harrington”s Pie Shop here in Tooting – funnier & scarier, beautifully sung & played and in the perfect location, bringing Sondheim to Tooting – in person too!

Best Out of Town – National Theatre Wales’ Mametz

I have to recognise my out-of-town theatregoing, where great theatre happens too, and some things start out (or end up!). The best this year included a superb revival of a recent Broadway / West End show, Hairspray at Leicester Curve, and one on the way in from Chichester, Gypsy, which I will have to see again when it arrives……. but my winner was National Theatre of Wales’ extraordinary Mametz, taking us back to a World War I battle, in the woods near Usk, in this centenary year.

Best Site Specific Theatre – Symphony of a Missing Room (LIFT 2014)

Finally, a site specific theatre award – just because I love them and because it’s my list, so I can invent any categories I like! Two of the foregoing winners – Sweeney Todd and Mametz – fall into this category but are  now ineligible. The two other finalists were I Do, a wedding in the Hilton Docklands, and Symphony of a Missing Room, a blindfolded walk through the Royal Academy buildings as part of LIFT, which piped the other at the post.

With some multiple visits, 2014 saw around 200 visits to the theatre, which no other city in the world could offer. As my theatrical man of the year Stephen Sondheim put it in the musical revival of the year – There’s No Place Like London.

 

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