Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘Jason Pennycooke’

I’m sure that by now no-one is interested in my view, but it’s too much of a theatrical milestone to let it pass by…….

Don’t expect anything else at the refurbished Victoria Palace Theatre for a decade or two. This inspired and audacious musical isn’t going anywhere. For once something lives up to all the hype. It’s as ground-breaking as West Side Story was sixty years ago. It excels in every department – writing, design, staging and performance. There isn’t a moment wasted, and the amount of detail is almost too much to take in on one visit.

Alexander Hamilton, illegitimate, an orphan, Caribbean immigrant, is (was!) the least known founding father of America. Lin-Manuel Miranda’s show, based on Ron Chernow’s book, takes us from his college days in New York City, through his military service as Washington’s right-hand man in the War of Independence, lawyer, Congressman, banker, and Secretary of the Treasury to his assassination by colleague and rival Aaron Burr. It’s virtually sung through, though the score isn’t entirely hip hop as the press has implied; there is rap, but its really an eclectic cocktail of popular music and modern musical theatre styles – and it’s excellent.

Director Thomas Kail and choreographer Andy Blankenbuehler have created a thrilling, extraordinarily detailed and fast-paced staging; you just can’t take your eyes off the stage. David Korins all-purpose set lets it breathe, facilitating both the epic and intimate, and Paul Tazewell period costumes with a twist are gorgeous to look at. I just can’t fault it – the production brings the story and the music to life and the combination of a 200-year-old true story with contemporary music doesn’t seem in the slightest bit incongruous.

We had the alternate Alexander Hamilton on the night we went, but you’d never know; Ash Hunter was superb. Rachelle Ann Go as his wife Eliza and Rachel John as Angelica Schuyler were excellent, in fine voice both. Jason Pennycooke as Lafayette / Jefferson and Giles Terera as Burr are outstanding, the former bringing a delicious humour to Lafayette. King George turns up just three times, on stage alone, but Michael Jibson’s characterisation is simply brilliant, seemingly looking each audience member, his subjects, in the eye, almost stealing the show. They are supported by a fine ensemble that’s a real tribute to British musical theatre talent.

To take the show to the capital city of the former colonial power seems to me to be as audacious as the show itself. The attentive audience was clearly as enthralled and thrilled as I was. I felt I was at a rare milestone in the history of theatre, an evening I will inevitably have to experience again, probably periodically for years to come.

Read Full Post »

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.

Read Full Post »

For a lover of musicals, ‘owing to the indisposition of Hannah Waddingham…….’. are amongst the most depressing words in the English language. I was very close to going home, but didn’t. All credit then to her understudy, Carolyn Maitland, for blowing away a lot of my disappointment with an outstanding stand in.

I last saw this show when the RSC brought it to the Old Vic in 1987 during my 15 minutes of fame (well, 12 months, actually) as a member of the Laurence Olivier Awards Panel. When it came to the voting, I was determined that BOTH John Barton and Emil Wolk would share the Best Supporting Actor in a Musical award for the gangsters as it would be invidious to choose one. This required a lot of persuasion as it meant another statuette had to be made, but when you only have 15 minutes (12 months) of fame, you can be very persistent and insistent. It wasn’t until 2012 that they did it again, this time for Benedict Cumberbatch and Jonny Lee Miller’s role sharing in Frankenstein.

Even though it didn’t seem that dated then, 40 years after it was written, it does now, another 25 years on, but perhaps that’s because Trevor Nunn’s production is a bit conservative and Robert Jones design a bit dated. The choreography of Stephen Mear is about the only thing that seemed fresh. It does fit the Old Vic better than it would probably fit any other theatre though.

Of course, it’s one of the few musicals adapted from Shakespeare . Taming of the Shrew – The Musical; though in all fairness, it weaves in the backstage story of a warring pair of ex’s and the world of American touring theatre in the 40’s.  It may be the only show with a showstopper to open each act – Another Opn’in, Another Show the first and Too Dam Hot the second. Then there’s a third showstopper in Brush Up Your Shakespeare, this time with David Burt and Clive Rowe as the gangsters (they don’t have a Best Supporting Actor in a Musical award any more, so that’ll save SOLT a few quid in these tough times).

It’s a fine cast, with Wendy Mae Brown and Jason Pennycooke giving excellent performances in their respective act openers and an excellent Fred / Petruchio from Alex Bourne; someone new to me. The dancing and Gareth Valentine’s great band are what make this production shine most; otherwise it seemed a bit slow (well, Trevor Nunn….) and occasionally flat.

Despite its scale, it’s surprising none of our fringe musical venues have revived it (well, they’ve done some pretty big shows). I think there has only been one (an import from Broadway) in the 25 years since it was last here at the Old Vic, so it is good to see it again (and I may have to return to see Ms Waddingham) but oh how I’d love to have seen it at the Open Air Theatre.

 

Read Full Post »

This show ‘inspired by the music, life and times of Ike & Tina Turner’ starts when Anna Mae Bullock auditions for Ike Wister Turner Jr in St. Louis in 1956 and ends at Tina Turner’s career re-launch 27 years later. It’s a fascinating story, though the telling of it is a bit clunky; it could do with a better book. Musically (well, for me anyway) the second half is a lot better than the first, which ends where I came in with River Deep, Mountain High.

Laura Hopkins design relies almost totally on projections. Though they are often highly effective, and provide the show with its pace, they sometimes change so fast that they are distracting, particularly when they contain words which aren’t there long enough for you to read them!

The band is superb, though the volume (and the bass in particular) meant my seat was vibrating for much of the time (!). Jason Pennycooke’s choreography recreates Tina’s stage style which is a bizarre combination of woman-with-attitude and quirky fun with a somewhat surreal butchness that made me smile. It wouldn’t have been out-of-place at a London 2012 ceremony.

I hadn’t bought in to the ‘star is born’ hype by the interval, but I left hugely impressed by Emi Wokoma, who shone in the second half as Tina herself broke free of her abusive husband and musical partner. In all this hype, the contribution of Chris Tummings as Ike has been lost, which is sad as this is an excellent characterisation of this complex, deeply unsympathetic man.

It ends, like most shows in this genre, as a concert with the audience on its feet joining in, and this is where it really takes off – when the music, superbly recreated, speaks for itself. By now I was reliving an evening more than 20 years ago at Wembley Arena when the woman herself commanded the stage and engaged with her audience like few really do.

Read Full Post »