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Posts Tagged ‘James Lapine’

In 1987, a quirky and, at that time, highly original little one act musical called March of the Falsettos turned up in the West End for a few weeks. It was the second part of a trilogy but we never saw In Trousers, the first part, or Falsettoland, the third, here in the UK. This is the second and third part together, and its taken 27 years to get here, hot on the heels of a successful Broadway revival three years ago. It’s writer William Finn went on to give us The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, Little Miss Sunshine and the song cycle Elegies, and there are a handful of other shows that never made the crossing. His book co-writer James Lapine is better known as Stephen Sondheim’s collaborator on three of his shows between 1984 and 1994.

The story revolves around Marvin, Jewish New Yorker, married to Trina, son Jason. He leaves Trina for a man, Whizzer. Trina goes to Marvin’s shrink Mendel to help her come to terms with it. She gets Mendel to see her son Jason at home, though he might be the most balanced of them all. She ends up marrying Mendel. Marvin and Whizzer bicker, as do Marvin and Trina. He seems to want it all. Marvin and Whizzer split. In the second part we meet the lesbians, Marvin’s neighbours, and he is reconciled with Whizzer. The family rows turn to Jason’s bar mitzvah and the spectre of AIDS appears. The story is told almost entirely in song, thirty-five of them in fact. They are expertly crafted, catchy tunes with sharp, witty lyrics that really do propel and animate the story. Each part starts lightly, but gets serious, and both dare to end sadly. It struck me how ground-breaking it must have been and how much it was ahead of its time. With the exception of the fatality of HIV, it seems more a story of now than then.

This appears to be a big gig for Director / Choreographer Tara Overfield-Wilkinson and she’s done a great job. The real strength of the production is its faultless casting; I loved every one of them. Daniel Boys as Marvin and Oliver Saville as Whizzer excel in both acting and singing and the combination of their voices is beautiful. Laura Pitt-Pulford shines as always as Trina and I loved Joel Montague’s characterisation of Mendel, both also in fine voice. Natasha J Barnes and Gemma Knight-Jones make great contributions in the second past as the lesbians, with great big vocal performances. Young George Kennedy gives an incredibly assured performance as Jason; a most auspicious professional debut indeed.

In the last six months the producers Selladoor have given us Amelie at the Watermill and on tour and Finn’s Little Miss Sunshine at the Arcola and on tour. Long may they continue to deliver such high quality productions like this. Don’t miss it!

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When I walked into the Menier and took my seat, my reaction was the same as it was for the Bacharach Reimagined show last year. Designer Derek McLane has turned it into a magical, even more intimate space. There’s a proscenium made of piano keyboards, side ‘walls’ of grand piano innards, a back wall of ropes, three or four deep, representing the woods, and eight chandeliers above the stage and the front of the auditorium. Lovely. The show was lovely too, a very original and inventive small-scale take on Sondheim’s deceptively moral show.

It weaves the well known tales of Cinderella, Jack and the Beanstalk and Little Red Riding Hood with the less well-known (well, here at least) Rapunzel and The Baker’s Wife. The Baker has to find a white cow, red cloak, golden slipper and yellow hair to break the witches curse on his barren wife. By the interval, the baker’s wife is no longer barren, Cinderella and Rapunzel each marry a prince and Jack has solved his family’s money problems, but Cinderella’s sisters are blind, the wolf is dead, the witch has lost her powers and turned into a beautiful woman and the giantess is really pissed off! In the much darker second half Cinderella loses her prince, the baker his wife, Little Red Riding Hood her grandma and Jack has to decide what to do about the giantess.

The production has a storytelling quality totally in keeping with the material, more of a play with music, without the staginess of much musical theatre. This brings even more charm to the lighter moments, plunging into a deeper darkness in the second half. The moral of the tale comes over much more strongly. With five of the hugely talented cast doubling roles, and all playing an array proper and improvised instruments, it is all told, sung and played by just ten actors, including co-directors Noah Brody and Ben Steinfeld, and pianist Evan Rees. They’ve all brought the show over from the US and we appear to be benefiting from an ensemble who have worked on it for some time in more than one incarnation.

This is an original and imaginative interpretation, an excellent addition to my collection of nine productions. Definitely one for other Sondheim fans to see and a great introduction to those who don’t know the work or who have only seen the film.

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