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Posts Tagged ‘Howard Hudson’

My third and final out-of-town day-trip, this time to the Crucible Theatre in Sheffield for another of my top five musicals, Guys & Dolls, my 9th production / 13th performance. Another treat.

The show is based on a 1930’s story and characters created by writer / journalist Damon Runyon. Nathan Detroit organises a crap (dice) game which moves from place to place whilst dancer Adelaide, his fiancee of 14 years, does everything she can to pin him down to marriage, having told her mother she already is, and invented five children with another on the way as part of the story. Ace gambler Sky Masterson and Chicago gangster Big Jule head into town, and the world of the gamblers and the ailing Salvation Army mission threatened with closure collide, but happiness is just a couple of bets away. Runyon was so fond of the world of these lovable rogues and gamblers that he arranged for his ashes to be scattered on Broadway from a plane!

So what’s this production got going for it? Well, for starters I heard much detail in the orchestrations than I’ve heard before, partly because of new arrangements by Will Stuart, whose superb 14-piece band isn’t buried in a pit, but faces you above the action in a series of decorated ‘rooms’. Matt Flint’s choreography fills the stage with vitality and freshness, with the two Hot Box routines particularly good, and the street-life, Havana club, Luck be a Lady in the sewers and Sit Down you’re Rocking the Boat in the mission all uplifting. At first, I missed the usual Broadway billboards and neon lights in Janet Bird’s set, but her excellent costumes, and Howard Hudson’s terrific lighting, made up for them. Crucible AD Robert Hastie isn’t known for musicals, as his predecessor Daniel Evans was, which makes his staging all the more impressive, achieving the best balance between the comedy and the love stories that I can remember.

Natalie Casey was very impressive as Adelaide, bringing out every bit of her character’s comedy, but with real pathos to her love story, which moved me. Martin Marquez had all the charm and cheek Nathan needs, also melting by the end. I’ve followed Alex Young’s musical theatre career since student productions at RAM and for me her performance as Sarah is one of her career highs. Kadiff Kirwan invests Sky with a suave confidence and again the love story had more feeling than I’m used to seeing. TJ Lloyd was a great Nicely Nicely and Dafydd Emyr was larger than life and positively intimidating as Big Jule.

I’d been to the Crucible before, but not for a musical, and I thought the space was perfect for a big Broadway show like this. We are so lucky to have quality musical theatre productions like this around the country, and my day-trip, including travel, cost about the same as a top price ticket in the West End. Thank you, Sheffield.

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This new jukebox musical comes twenty years after Mamma Mia, which of course featured the catalogue of Swedish group ABBA and is still running in London. This
latest one features the compositions and collaborations of another Swede, songwriter Max Martin, with a book by David West Read. I’m not the target demographic and I didn’t know many of the songs, but I thought it was huge fun, quite possibly the most successful non-biographical example of the genre since Mamma Mia.

The company are in rehearsal with William Shakespeare at the Curtain Theatre for the premiere of Romeo & Juliet when his wife Ann, visiting London, intervenes wanting to change the ending. From here we embark on Juliet’s ongoing story, written and rewritten live on stage by Will and Ann. The sixteenth century meets the twenty-first, in costume, language and behaviour, as the songs are fitted in with great skill to the narrative of this new tale with a contemporary spin by both Shakespeares.

One of the joys of seeing Mamma Mia for the first time was those delicious moments as you hear a song audaciously slotted in, and it felt the same here. It’s tongue is firmly in its cheek and you find yourself laughing and smiling with it. The play within the show takes us from Verona to Paris and has great pace and energy, propelling us to the happy ending that the first version doesn’t, with no less than four unions to celebrate.

Though it’s look is loud, gaudy and colourful, there are a lot of clever touches in the meeting of periods 400 years apart in Soutra Gilmour’s set and Paloma Young’s costumes. Howard Hudson lighting and Andrezej Goulding’s projections add to the pop concert aesthetic and Jennifer Weber’s pop video choreography completes the picture. This must be director Luke Sheppard’s biggest gig and he rises to the occasion with a slick, sassy, funny show, with has more depth and layers than you might expect in this genre.

Miriam-Teak Lee, in only her third West End show, is sensational as Juliet, with the complete ‘triple threat’ of acting, singing and dancing. Oliver Tompsett and Cassidy Janson are a great pairing as Will and Ann, sparring affectionately with each other, and there’s another great pairing in David Badella and Melanie La Barrie, both of whom its great to see on stage again. The rest of the cast of twenty-five are brimming with talent and infectious enthusiasm. It was good to see the fine but hidden nine-piece band get an onstage curtain call.

The Shaftesbury Theatre hasn’t had that many long runners, but I suspect that is about to change. Great fun.

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In years to come, I will no doubt be able to look back at my blog to remind myself what I thought about something I’ve seen before, but for now I will have to make do with my memory, which in this case is that the original production was nowhere near as good as this revival. I think this is partly due to staging it in a club and partly due to a superb cast, which includes three hugely impressive professional debuts.

There haven’t been many biographical musicals; Jersey Boys is the only one that comes to mind. This one centres around Culture Club’s Boy George and the music (new romantics), fashion, club culture (only just got the significance of the reversal of the band name as I typed it!) and sexual ambiguity that went with it all. The other real life characters are ‘singer’ Marilyn, club ‘hosts’ Philip Sallon & Steve Strange (who here has become Welsh in the same way One Man, Two Guvnor’s Francis has by re-casting), artist Lucien Freud and his subject benefits clerk Sue Tilley and of course the iconic Leigh Bowery.

Though these real life characters populate the show, it’s a fictional character, Billy, whose story provides the narrative. He abandons university to seek fame as a photographer in London, following his friend Kim who is making her name in fashion. He dinosaur dad Derek more than disapproves but his mum Josie is secretly supportive and eventually escapes the family home and joins Kim as a dressmaker and Billy in his new world.

Christopher Henshaw’s  excellent 360 degree staging really does facilitate the creation of this early 80’s sub-culture (though it almost did my neck in having to move my head frequently to see it all!), enabling them to perform on catwalks on two sides of the small round platform stage, on the bar and even on the bar tables. There’s no set, so Mike Nicholls brilliant costumes and Howard Hudson’s lighting have to do it all.

Paul Barker reprises his outstanding Olivier award-winning performance as Philip Sallon. Paul Kevin-Taylor transforms brilliantly from dinosaur dad to cross-dressing Petal to Lucien Freud (sometimes with extraordinary speed). Then there are the three auspicious debuts – Paul Treacy as Boy George, Alex Jordan-Mills as Billy and a very brave Sam Buttery (finalist in The Voice) as Leigh Bowery. It’s an exceptional cast.

I wasn’t particularly interested or enamoured with the period (I’d just had my second youth with punk and new wave) but with hindsight it was clearly more significant than I thought. Boy George doesn’t seek to recreate the music of the period (just a couple of CC songs I think) and his score serves the show well, but it’s the production and performances that make this a must see revival.

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There have been more operatic adaptations of Shakespeare’s plays (most by Verdi) than there have musicals and they haven’t been as faithful to the bard as this Howard Goodall show (he also produced a musical version of A Midsummer Night’s Dream). It has none of the verse but every bit of the essence and the story. Add to this a beautiful score, wonderful performances and a brilliant production by Andrew Keates and you have another triumph at the Landor Theatre.

The two halves are very different. In the first it’s tragic – Sicilian King Leontes’ obsessive jealousy leads to the death of his wife, illness of his son, banishment of his baby daughter and loss of his best friend, Bohemian King Polixines, and loyal aide Camillo. It lightens in the second half as Polixines’ son Florizel falls for Perdita, daughter of a mere shepherd. We get a jolly sheep-shearing festival (I will reluctantly forgive the Welsh accents!) gatecrashed by an outraged King determined to prevent the marriage of his son to Perdita. They flee to Sicily where the truth emerges and it all ends happily (this is musical theatre, after all).

There’s a lot of story for a musical but the book by Nick Stimson and Andrew Keates delivers it with complete clarity (it has to be said – much more than the play!). I’d know a Goodall score if I heard just a few bars because his music is distinctive and unique with lush, sweeping melodies and glorious harmonies that are simply uplifting, and this is one of his best scores. The unamplified voices deliver it beautifully with just two keyboards and cello accompanying them. I’m not sure I heard one dud note last night.

As they did with the Hired Man, director Andrew Keates and choreographer Cressida Carre have made great use of the Landor space which doesn’t feel small even with 18 people on it! The production values are outstanding – Martin Thomas’ design is elegant, with a simple but brilliant transformation between locations, Philippa Batt’s costumes are terrific and Howard Hudson’s lighting bathes the space in warmth.

For once, I am not going to single out one performance in this faultless cast of 18; no-one stands out because everyone stands out. They were clearly loving this show as much as I was. From professional debuts to musical veterans, this is a company any producer would consider a privilege to have.

As a huge Goodall fan, I’ve been a bit over-excited about this premiere, so there was a risk I’d be disappointed. In the end, it delivered way beyond my expectations and I’ve already booked to go again. Howard Goodall is Britain’s greatest composer of musicals and here he’s got a production this wonderful show deserves. I’ve run out of superlatives……..you should know by now what you have to do…..

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This show started life as a film, made by Blake (Pink Panther) Edwards as a vehicle for his wife Julie Andrews some 30 years ago. It got to Broadway 13 years later but took another 9 years to get to London; a fringe production by Phil Wilmott at the then home of fringe musicals, The Bridewell Theatre. It’s only taken 8 more years for its second London outing (I think), this time at one of our now multiple fringe musical homes, Southwark Playhouse, in a production by the talented and prolific Thom Sutherland.

It owes a lot to Cabaret. English girl abroad. Decadent nightclubs. Cross-dressing. It’s the story of Victoria Grant who after a failed audition as a club singer is persuaded by new friend Toddy to pose as Polish Victor playing a woman – a woman playing a man playing a woman; very Shakespearian.

She falls for visiting American nightclub owner King Marchand (and he for him/her in a nice touch of confused sexuality) but is rumbled by competing club owner Henri Labisse for whom she originally auditioned.  All is revealed so that she can get her man (and his sidekick can get his man i.e Toddy!). It’s a bit of a slight story and the score isn’t much more than OK, but it scrubs up well in this excellent production.

It’s a traverse staging with a (rather too noisy) entrance and stairway at one end and an (underused) staircase and eight club tables with table-top lights (occupied by audience members) at the other end. A few tables and chairs constitute the minimal props but its an effective design by Martin Thomas, well lit by Howard Hudson.

The key to its success is a star turn from the wonderful Anna Francolini who is perfectly cast and believable as both Victor and Victoria. Richard Demsey is good as Toddy, as is Matthew Cutts as King. Mark Curry had real presence as the club owner / manager and Kate Nelson did a lovely job as King’s dumb blonde Norma. In the supporting cast, Jean Perkins gave a fine set of cameos, including a warm-up magic act!

The show was still in preview and it didn’t seem quite ready; in particular there was some ragged playing from the eight piece band under Joseph Atkins. I suspect it will settle and improve as the run continues, but in any event it’s well worth a visit.

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We seem to be awash with great musical revivals on the fringe and back at Southwark Playhouse, Thom Sutherland has worked wonders again on this difficult show about Mack Sennett, the master of silent movies, and his on / off relationship with actress Mabel Normand.

The story is told in flashback from the time Sennett is forced to leave his studios. We first see him churning out films at a heck of a pace from his Brooklyn studios, where he comes across the natural talent of Mabel when she delivers a bagel! Keystone studios move to Hollywood ,where their pre-eminence continues, until talkies come on the scene and Sennett refuses to change with the times. This is the backdrop for the story of the pair, both as a working partnership and as a relationship.

The Vault at Southwark Playhouse is the perfect space for a show which largely takes place in film studios and set & costume designer Jason Denvir and lighting designer Howard Hudson have done a great job creating the backstage world and the early 20th century period with a pile of props and machinery at the back which is brought forward and moved around to create many different scenes. The period costumes are excellent and the lighting is hugely atmospheric.

I loved the way the show flowed, with intimate moments drawing you in and big numbers taking your breath away. Lee Proud’s choreography is fresh and often funny and Thom Sutherland’s staging captures the organised chaos of film making but allows the characterisations to shine through. You feel as if you’ve been given an insight into this world of movie making and into the hearts of its protagonists

Norman Bowman and Laura Pitt-Pulford are sensational as Mack and Mabel. Their attraction and relationship are totally believable and they sing beautifully. There’s a fine ‘supporting’ cast of 13, too many to mention but all worthy of it, and a large band of 11 (for the fringe) under Michael Bradley, who do full justice to Jerry Herman’s under-rated score.

This is a very different show to Herman’s hits Hello Dolly and Mame and more like his third hit La Cage Aux Folles in the merging of a unique world with a troubled love story. Despite its lack of commercial success, this production made me think that it’s a better show than the first two in so many ways. We don’t see it that often, and never to my knowledge on this scale, so it’s both an opportunity and a treat!

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This is the third Flaherty & Ahrens musical here at the Landor in six months, and this time a European premiere of their latest (2007) show. There was a wonderful revival of Ragtime back in September and Lucky Stiff  just last month was great fun.

You have to admire this pair for the range of their subjects; this time its 16th century Italian Commedia dell’Arte! We follow a troop of street players as they enact scenes and their relationships are revealed. It’s somewhat broad and crude, in keeping with the style it pays homage to (and suggests is the origin of much modern comedy) and there are some nice songs, particularly those of Columbina and Armanda at the start of the second half, which are beautifully sung by Kate Brennan and Jodie Beth Meyer.

Robert McWhir’s staging is excellent, with a lovely period design from Martin Thomas and (yet again) great lighting by Howard Hudson. The opening and closing scenes, with the players behind gauze, are particularly effective. The string / woodwind / piano quintet under Joanna Cichonska, playing new orchestrations by Niall Bailey, produce a sound which is simply gorgeous. I applaud the lack of amplification, but the sound is probably better balanced further away from the band. I’m afraid I thought Mike Christie’s Flaminio was a weak link in the casting, which was otherwise very good, and its a crucial role.

The problem with the evening is the structure of the show – it’s just a series of scenes which hang loosely together, leaving you wanting more of a narrative. It’s the weakest of the six musicals I’ve seen from this pair, but it’s a good production and still worth catching if you’re a musical junkie like me!

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