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Posts Tagged ‘Jerry Mitchell’

It’s not even four years since this show ended its 2-year West End run and we’re already getting the first fringe revival here Upstairs at the Gatehouse, and a new regional production in Leicester’s Curve in a few months time. It’s a good choice for a Christmas show and a bit of a coup for this North London theatre.

A show about the deeply conservative, thoroughly traditional and quintessentially American college system would normally be a real turn-off for me, but it’s tongue is so firmly in its cheek, it’s a real hoot and a feel-good treat. I saw the West End production three times! Blonde bimbo Elle Woods follows her obnoxious ex-fiancée to Harvard only to be humiliated by him, his new girlfriend and most of her fellow students, but she’s determined to prove she’s got brains and gets herself onto the professor’s team assisting in a legal case where her girlie knowledge comes into its own. Of course, she ends up winning the case and admired by everyone (except the professor, whose sexism gets him his comeuppance), and rejects the ex-fiancée’s fresh advances for life with the much nicer Emmett. It’s a good score and it’s very funny, which is what makes it overcome its unpromising starting point.

I’m not sure the traverse staging does it many favours; despite being amplified, and accompanied by a relatively quiet band, too many words are lost. It’s also a touch rough at the edges, with a very inexperienced cast, but I felt it made up for this with enthusiasm and energy and though one can’t expect something as polished as Jerry Mitchell’s Savoy Theatre production, it won me over and proved to be a fun end to my theatrical year. Abbie Chambers makes an impressive professional debut as Elle and both the loves of her life – Robert Colvin and Ross Barnes – perform well. It’s a good ensemble in which I particularly enjoyed Jodie Jacobs characterisation of hairdresser Paulette.

If you don’t go expecting the production values and polish of the West End, you’ll have a lot of fun.

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The adaptation of British feel-good films as stage musical continues. This is the third in the last twelve months, following Made in Dagenham and Bend It Like Beckham, and in my book it’s another successful transition. This time, like The Full Monty before it, it came via Broadway, but thankfully without being relocated to an American town. It suffers from a dose of typically American sentimentality in the second half, but that can be forgiven for the pleasures elsewhere.

Northampton shoe factory Price & Son is struggling when Mr Price dies suddenly and son Charlie becomes the reluctant heir. The family loyalty to their employees means it has been on its uppers for some time and Charlie isn’t initially well disposed to flog a dead horse. A chance encounter with a drag queen gives him the idea of transforming it into a niche supplier of, well, kinky boots, and drag queen Lola becomes his unlikely business partner.

You can see why they had the idea of turning it into a musical and it works well. Though it’s ten years since I saw the film, Harvey Fierstein’s adaptation seems faithful to Geoff Deane & Tim Firth’s screenplay (apparently based on a true story). Cyndi Lauper might seem an odd choice for the music and lyrics but I thought her score suited the subject matter and period. It could do with toning down a bit (a bit too brash for Northampton!) but there are some very good solos and choruses. 

The clever design by David Rockwell facilitates speedy transition from a dull factory to the brash colourful world of drag, and ultimately a Milan catwalk, and Gregg Barnes costumes (presumably including footwear) are delightfully eye-popping. Jerry Mitchell is the perfect choice as director / choreographer; his irreverent sense of fun proven by Hairspray, Legally Blonde and Dirty Rotten Scoundrels. I thought the sound was too loud, losing some of the lyrics – this is unforgivable for a show four or five months into its run.

In his last two shows, The Commitments and Memphis, Killian Donnelly has shone vocally and here he adds acting honours, investing the role of Charlie with great passion yet every bit the boy next door. Matt Henry is terrific as Lola, again with exceptional vocals and very good acting, though I’m not sure how he can even move in those dresses and boots. There is a lovely performance from Amy Lennox as Lauren and excellent turns from Jamie Baugh as Lola’s nemesis Don and Michael Hobbs as factory foreman George.

An excellent, uplifting evening which I’m glad I caught up with at last and will no doubt re-visit.

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After what seems like an age of pompous pop operas and jukebox musicals, this old-fashioned but new musical comedy comes as a breath of fresh air; and I mean old-fashioned in a positive way! In what seems like a golden age French Riviera, designed by Peter Mackintosh, it fits the art deco Savoy Theatre like a glove.

I’ve never seen the film, so I come to it fresh with the twists and surprises unspoiled. Lawrence Jameson is the reigning king of the con and as the show starts he’s in the process of getting money for his destitute kingdom. New grifter on the block, young American upstart Freddy Benson arrives to challenge him and after some initial competition, an unlikely friendship develops and they start combined scams, though not without some healthy competition for good measure.

There’s nothing like a lovable rogue and here you get two for your money – the suave smoothie and the cheeky chappie – played by actors with terrific chemistry. The role of Lawrence was made for Robert Lindsay and he doesn’t disappoint. His particular brand of slick charm contrasts well with the rough-and-ready clumsiness of Rufus Hound’s Freddy. This is only Hound’s third stage role, and his first musical, and he’s a revelation, virtually unrecognisable, red-faced and cherub-like without that trademark tash. Katherine Kingsley is sensational as Christine Colgate, in fine voice and gliding effortlessly as if assisted by some modern day dance machine. There’s great support from her poshness Samantha Bond and John Marquez, complete with dodgy French accent, in an unlikely but delightful sub-plot love story.

On first hearing, David Yazbek’s score did’t wow, but it was perfectly enjoyable and the lyrics are sharp. It’s the comedy that shines through with a good book by Jeffrey Lane, nimble staging by Jerry Mitchell and the infectiousness of a cast that is clearly having as much of a ball as the audience, with the occasional ad lib and knowing look. The show was broken in out of town so at the third London preview it’s more than ready. I thoroughly enjoyed it and left the theatre feeling nostalgic about something brand new.

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Well you have to, don’t you? Go and see something that divides people. Make your own mind up.

Well, I’m not with the phans and I’m not with the whingers. I actually don’t regret going (though I didn’t pay, so I might have felt differently if I’d coughed up the £67.50 my seat cost) though I wouldn’t go again. The show’s the problem; the production is the reason to go.

The truth is there isn’t much of a story – SPOILER WATCH – Phantom goes to NYC and sets up a freak show – anonymously invites Christine over to sing  (she needs the money as she’s now married to a drunken aristocrat) – her son turns out to be the Phantom’s – she dies. It’s spun out for 2.5 hours with another one of Ben Elton’s pathetic books, undistinguished lyrics from Glenn Slater and another dose of ALW’s mushy pop-opera music.

BUT the production and performances really are good, so there’s stuff to look and wonder at and singing and acting to admire. I wasn’t impressed by Sierra Boggess (the title song was the lowspot of the evening for me) but was hugely impressed by the Phantom’s understudy, Tam Mutu. The boy – Harry Child at the performance I saw – was terrific. Summer Strallen almost steals the show with her quick-change-almost-strip number. A big talent like Joseph Milsom is rather wasted in the rather underwritten role of Raoul.

The orchestrations are great and the 27-piece orchestra really does sound good. There is some nice music, though not enough – but it’s a lot better than Woman In White. Bob Crowley’s design with Jon Driscoll’s projections, Scott Penrose’s special effects and Paule Constable’s lighting are highly effective. The sound is amongst the best I’ve experienced in a musical. Director Jack O’Brien and choreographer Jerry Mitchell do their best with the material they’re given.

In the end, it proves yet again that ALW really does need a collaborator as good as Tim Rice; chairing a committee with Elton, Slater and Frederick Forsyth (!) just doesn’t produce a good show. So, a great production in search of a good show. You’re left to admire the talent on and off stage and in the orchestra pit.

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