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Posts Tagged ‘Hannah Grover’

This musical by Frank Loesser came ten years after his classic Guys & Dolls and is the only other one of his seven shows that have stood the test of time. It seems to attract star names – Matthew Broderick in the 1995 Broadway revival and Daniel Radcliffe in the 2011 Broadway revival. This less starry but hugely entertaining revival is in the lovely Wiltons Music Hall, London’s last.

Window cleaner J Pierrepont Finch reads the book that gives the show its title and sets about using every trick in it to get a job and rise through the ranks. He gets the job by namedropping, then gets promotions through humility, sycophancy and clever mirroring the President’s background and interests, all the while outsmarting his nephew Bud Frump. He ends up leapfrogging the President himself to become Chairman and it ends with a hint of White House ambition, which is impeccable timing for a 56-year-old show! It’s a good score, with some well known numbers like I Believe In You and Brotherhood Of Man, played well by an nine-piece band under Ben Ferguson. Loesser’s lyrics are sharp and witty and there’s a very funny book by Guys & Dolls collaborator Abe Burrows plus Jack Weinstock and Willie Gilbert.

Director Benji Sperring brought a great sense of fun to the very different Toxic Avenger last year at Southwark Playhouse and he does the same here, bringing three of that show’s terrific cast too. Wilton’s multi-level stage is used to great effect in Mike Lees’ design, with a two-story ‘corporate wall’ backdrop with elevator doors on the bottom level and the band on top. His colourful costumes make you smile. Marc Pickering is terrific as Finch, with a cheeky grin and glint in his eye, illuminated after every coup. His Toxic Avenger colleagues Hannah Grover and Lizzii Hills are excellent as his love interest and the President’s bit on the side respectively. It’s another show, like Promises Promises, also at Southwark last year, with a Personnel Manager (!) and Matthew Whitby is outstanding in this role. Daniel Graham does a fine turn as the spoilt brat nephew with a propensity for tantrums and Richard Emerson gives three great cameos, despite the dodgy wig in the third. It’s great to see such a seasoned musical performer as Andrew C Wadsworth impressing as JB. Geri Allen, Maisy Bowden and Nuwan Hugh Perera make up this small but very talented cast.

It isn’t up there with Guys and Dolls, but it’s worthy of revival. I last saw it in Chichester twelve years ago, but I missed the Walthamstow Rose & Crown Theatre production three years ago. I can’t recall another London production in my theatre-going lifetime. This was only the fifth performance so it was a touch ragged (particularly the scene changes) and the broad style won’t be to everyone’s taste, particularly more conservative musical theatre lovers, but I thought it was great fun in a great venue.

 

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I have to confess I’ve never heard of Troma Entertainment, the American B-Movie studio that made the quirky film on which this musical comedy is based. I think I’m going to have to search out some DVD’s because if they’re half as much fun as this show, they’ll be a treat. I can’t remember the last time I laughed so much in a musical.

Geek Melvin Ferd the Third is worried about the pollution of his New Jersey town of Tomaville by New York City’s toxic dumping and, with the blind town librarian Sarah’s help, he tracks down the culprit, the city’s own Mayor, who is making a pile of money from it. She sends her henchmen after him and he gets thrown into a giant drum of the dreaded stuff, emerging as a mutant called Toxie, intent on cleaning up Tromaville and getting revenge on the Mayor and the love of Sarah. It’s style is cartoonish (think Little Shop of Horrors) which makes for fun musical theatre – as long as you can stomach the somewhat tasteless, though not viscous, jokes at the expense of blind Sarah.

Bon Jovi’s David Bryan, who wrote the rather good but very different Memphis before this, has written some great songs and his Memphis collaborator Joe DiPietro has provided a very funny book and lyrics. Mike Lees design and costumes are excellent, and the staging of Benji Sperring, with choreograhy by Lucie Pankhurst, serves the material really well. Alex Beetschen’s band sounds great and the vocals from the small cast of five are excellent.

What made the show for me, though, was five outstanding comic performances. They squeeze every ounce of humour out of the written material and much more. Mark Anderson is great as Melvin the Third, a nerd who transforms into gentle giant Toxie. Hannah Grover is delightful as Sarah the blind librarian, who is the butt of so many jokes. Lizzii Hills doubles up as the Mayor and Melvin’s Ma, at one point bringing the house down by duetting with herself. Above all, though, it was Marc Pickering and Ashley Samuels as White Dude and Black Dude, who play multiple roles (sometimes with extraordinarily fast costume changes) as henchmen, businessmen, policemen, female hairdressers, female backing singers, doctors and a brilliant folk singer, who both stole the show for me and made me laugh until my jaw was aching.

It was huge fun, all executed with sublime craftmanship – writing, staging, singing, playing and acting – and one of the best nights of musical comedy I’ve ever experienced. Not to be missed.

 

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