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Posts Tagged ‘Jo Swerling’

I never tire of this show. One of my top ten musicals (maybe top five, maybe 1st – ranking is impossible! ) but definitely the best musical comedy of them all. So my favourite drama school’s end of term production was an absolute must, but it’s a hell if a challenge for students, however good they are.

This show has everything. Set in a quintessential period in New York City as if time came to a standstill in the 50’s, from the moment you meet Rusty Charlie, Benny Southstreet and Nicely-Nicely Johnson (what names!) you’re swept up into Damon Runyon’s world. It has a wonderfully funny book by Jo Swerling and Abe Burrows with gamblers, missionaries, two love stories and a trip to Havana. Everyone’s lovable, even the rogues. Frank Loesser’s score is chock-a-block with wonderful tunes with brilliant lyrics (I’ll Know, If I Were A Bell, I’ve Never Been In Love Before, Luck Be Lady, Sit Down You’re Rockin’ The Boat…..). The guy gets his girl and the girl gets her guy and the mission is saved. Bliss.

The highlights of this particular production are the superb sound of a proper 23-piece orchestra under Michael Haslam, the luxury of extra Hot Box girls, great period costumes and an overture and entr’acte retro curtain light show! Bill Deamer’s choreography for Sit Down, You’re Rockin’ The Boat is sensational and Adelaide and Sarah’s duet, Marry The Man Today, has never been better. Luke Dale had great presence as Sky and Oscar Batterham’s characterisation of Nathan was spot on. Alexander Knox sang Sit Down beautifully (while coping with the energetic choreography) and Edward Sayer was a particularly fine Arvide.

Director Martin Connor has done many great shows here at GSMD and this was amongst his most ambitious. It wasn’t faultless, but it was huge fun and it shone when it mattered. For me, the superb encore could have gone on and on because by then I was in musical theatre heaven.

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This is one of my Top Ten musicals and quite possibly the greatest musical comedy ever written, so I take every opportunity to see it. I think I’ve seen every London production in the last 30 years, some of them on multiple occasions. I was a little hesitant about this first(?) fringe outing though, as it’s a big show. I thought staging it Upstairs at the Gatehouse, though bigger than many fringe venues, was somewhat challenging. In the end I couldn’t resist and boy am I glad I didn’t!

What director Racky Plews, choreographer Lee Proud and designer Martin Thomas have done in this small space with a cast of 13, a 5-piece band and the budget of a small unfunded theatre is nothing short of miraculous. I have never enjoyed the show more and left the theatre on an extraordinary high. It came alive in the opening scene and never let go until we were shouting and cheering at the end (though we were also cheering during!).

Writers Jo Swerling and Abe Burrows were lucky enough to have Damon Runyon’s wonderful tales as a starting point. This world of loveable rogues & showgirls juxtaposed with the Salvation Army is made for musical comedy. The show links the stories of  naive showgirl Adelaide & marriage shy Nathan and gambler Sky & missionary Sarah. Nathan has to find a venue for his floating crap game and continue to avoid marriage to Adelaide (who’s told her mother they’ve been married for 12 years and have 5 children!) whilst Sky has to get a Salvation Army officer to dinner in Cuba to win a bet, then deliver 12 sinners to her mission to avoid its closure and win his girl.

Frank Loesser’s lyrics are sharp and funny and his score littered with so many classic songs. Some are showstoppers, notably Luck be a Lady and Sit Down, You’re Rocking the Boat  (when I went to a 1990 charity performance of Richard Eyre’s NT production, they had to sing this six times before the audience would stop applauding and cheering!) but here even lesser numbers become showstoppers such that you’re on a rollercoaster of fun that just doesn’t stop from start to finish.

The four leads are all superb and really well matched. Amy Bailey makes earnest Sarah’s transition to lovestruck believable and seemless. It doesn’t take long before you’ve fallen for Rebecca Sutherland’s squeaky Adelaide and her numbers with the Hot Box girls are delicious. Jamie Sampson has the right mix of cheeky swagger and charm as Sky and you know you’d have such fun if James Kermack’s hapless Nathan was your friend. They all sing and dance brilliantly.

In a faultless supporting cast, Jos Slovik (who’s been one-to-watch since Spring Awakening) is great as Benny and his duet with Patrick Rufey’s terrific Nicely Nicely in the title song has never been better in my experience. Connor Dowling gives Officer Brannigan a clever, more manic interpretation. Many of the cast double-up so well that I couldn”t always work out which ones were which. Time for another nod to a casting director – a gold star to Ri McDaid-Wren!

They’ve had to be very inventive to stage this so well in a small space with a small cast. The staging of the phone conversations is a hoot and the solution to the problem of delivering 12 souls to the mission (given that 4 of the cast of 13 are ‘missionaries’!) is inspired. There may not be much of an ‘ensemble’ for the Broadway and Havana scenes, but they still thrilled. We move from streets to clubs to missions to sewers swiftly, with some of the scene changes themselves choreographed.

This musical heaven cost 10p a minute – less than a quarter of a West End show and at least 4 times as good as most! There was a spring in my step and a smile on my face all the way down Highgate Hill. If I have a more enjoyable evening of musical theatre this year I shall be a lucky boy indeed.

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