Posts Tagged ‘Joanna Woodward’

Why on earth has it taken 20 years for this unlikely Broadway hit musical by Cy Coleman and Ira Gasman to reach London? Like Guys & Dolls decades before it, The Life places NYC street-life centre stage, but it’s not the lovable rogues of the 50’s, it’s the prostitutes and their parasitic pimps of the 90’s. I was bowled over by it. Time to open another superlatives box.

Memphis runs most of the girls on these particular blocks, except Queen, whose small-time ex-military druggie boyfriend Fleetwood purports to be her pimp. JoJo has higher aspirations, recruiting girls for a Californian porn mogul; though his latest NYC newcomer Mary isn’t as innocent as she seems. Long-time pro Sonja is the godmother of the girls. Memphis is determined to add Queen to his roster at all costs and the show turns very dark when he seeks to implement his plan.

Like The Wild Party recently at The Other Palace, it’s a raunchy jazzy score packed with showstoppers that showcase just about everyone of the 16-strong cast, and what a cast Ann Vosser has assembled. Long time favourite Sharon D Clarke is on sparkling form, totally inhabiting the role of Sonja, with stunning vocals that seem effortless. T’Shan Williams is less known to me and she’s simply terrific as Queen; a real find. Cornell S John has huge presence and to say he’s easy to loathe is a compliment to his characterisation of Memphis. David Albury, excellent in the Union Theatre’s Love Story, excels in a very different role here as Fleetwood. Joanna Woodward navigates her character Mary from seemingly naïve new arrival to wannabe porn start well, again with fine vocals. John Addison’s JoJo is a cool but oily chancer; another great characterisation. There a faultless supporting cast and a sensational 11-piece band under Tamara Saringer.

It’s a long evening, but for me it sustained its length. I left the theatre on a high and I was still on it the following day. Unmissable stuff.

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Well, you have to admire Phil Willmott’s ambition. The starting points for this musical are that the young soldiers in the trenches would have been brought up on Peter Pan and one of them was its creator J M Barrie’s adopted son George (who may have had a copy with him). Though set in the trenches, the show is in reality one long dream sequence involving Peter Pan and other characters from the book. Over-ambitious, perhaps?

There are some excellent songs and for me this is its greatest strength. They are, intentionally, in lots of styles, which didn’t really work for me as it made the show seem a bit of a musical ragbag. The dream includes Music Hall, Parisian clubs and a song about Jungian psychology of dreams (!) and though each were good on their own, they don’t make a cohesive whole. The choruses are particularly good, with the Act One closer a real high.

I liked the look of Philip Lindley’s set, with a Victorian wrought iron colonnade at the back and impressionistic trenches behind, but with this and the band on the left of the stage, it doesn’t leave much room for excellent choreographer Racky Plews to work with. The Finborough has looked less cramped before with more than twelve on stage. I suspect it will open out when it gets to Charing Cross Theatre.

There are some very good performances, most notably Joanna Woodward as Tinker Bell, though some of the less experienced cast members struggled a bit with the big demands of some of Willmott’s songs. I liked the keyboard / cello / clarinet arrangements and the three-piece band were well balanced with the cast.

Even though it was the night after press night it was only the fourth performance and it did feel like work-in-progress. At almost 2.5 hours, it doesn’t really sustain its length. It isn’t always a good idea for a writer to direct his own work; another director might have added some much needed criticality. It will no doubt improve and for once I think Charing Cross Theatre, though less intimate, may prove a better home for it. It’s probably too late to change much during this incarnation, but a rewrite might well bring out a very good musical that I felt was itself lost inside this.

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