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Posts Tagged ‘Ian Knauer’

Yet another Broadway flop becomes a London fringe hit – at the Union Theatre, where this time the capacity audience is just twice the size of the cast and band. Yet another minor Kander & Ebb – the third this year after Flora the Red Menace and Curtains; this one’s a European Premiere too.

They’re in They Shoot Horses, Don’t They territory here – the world of dance marathons. They could go on for weeks, despite the fact they only got 15 minutes break every hour. They were the X-Factor of their day – people desperate for fame, dancing for money, sponsorship and showcases. Along the way, they picked up coins thrown by spectators (as we did last night!) before they became exhausted, some also hallucinating.

This particular story sees MC Mick Hamilton colluding with his (secret) wife Rita Racine to not just win but also get precious exposure with a fake wedding. With no partner minutes before the start, she ends up with airman Bill Kelly. The trouble is she falls for him, Mick pushes her too far and, oh yes, he’s actually dead. I’m not sure if I was supposed to know he was in limbo from the start, but I only got it at the end and that’s where the show failed for me – a daft idea that just doesn’t work. It’s a fairly pedestrian score too, so on the whole not great material for a hit show.

The traverse staging with ballroom stage at one end makes for a lot of poor sight lines (those four pillars all getting in the way this time) but despite this David Shields art deco design with swing doors at the opposite end of the silver draped stage (and art deco touches to the pillars) is superb. There’s too little space for a show that’s all about dance, but despite this Richard Jones’ choreography is sensational. MD Angharad Sanders only has a five-piece band but despite this they make a terrific sound.

Above all, though, it’s the outstanding ensemble that take this unpromising material and make it something special. The four leads are excellent (three real Americans amongst them!) with Ian Knaur as lying cheating bullying Mick, Sarah Galbraith as his put-upon wife, Jay Rincon as her (sadly dead) love interest and most of all Aimie Atkinson’s Shelby Stevens, who brings the house down with her showstopper Everybody’s Girl.

I’m beginning to think that in the right space with a crack creative team and a premiere league cast and band, you can turn just about anything into a hit. Producer and director Paul Taylor-Mills certainly has with this one.

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I think this was Stiles & Drew’s first show. It’s first production at the Tricycle Theatre, twenty years ago, was directed by Mike Ockrent no less and Cameron Macintosh was its godfather. I loved it, and amongst my fond memories is the appearance of a young Clive Rowe who’d impressed me in the Guildhall School of Music & Drama’s end-of-year musical Girl Crazy – it may even have been his professional debut.

It still strikes me as an impressive debut musical, with catchy tunes from Stiles and witty lyrics from Drew. Based on Rudyard Kipling’s Just So stories, it’s more about the characterisation of the animals than it is about the simple story.

In this production, it is mostly well sung, though the small band feels as if it’s in the room next door – well, it almost is, sitting behind a screen on a ‘shelf’ to the left of the stage. The performances too are mostly good – particularly by the three leads. Lee Greenaway is cute and charming as Elephant’s Child, Ian Knauer an authoritative presence as The Eldest Magician and I loved Lisa Baird’s feisty Glaswegian Kolokolo Bird.

The Tabard is a small stage for 11 actors; unfortunately designer Christopher Hone has made it even more difficult for them by over-designing a two-tier set which restricts movement and adds little. In addition, the costumes, though clever, fail to create the magical animal world.

So, a good show well performed but let down by the design and staging I’m afraid…..but worth a second look twenty years on.

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