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Posts Tagged ‘Jodie Jacobs’

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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When I left the first outing of this show, in Stratford 27 years ago, I had two questions – ‘What on earth were they thinking of, turning this into a musical?’ and ‘Why did the RSC get involved?’ I think my companions’ question was ‘Why the hell did he bring is to this?’

Some hot-shot American producer had persuaded the RSC to première a musical of Stephen King’s first novel (horror, obviously) with a book by the man for whom the screenplay for the film of the book was his debut and music and lyrics by people who’d never done a stage musical before (though they had written for Alan Parker’s film Fame). It was directed by Terry Hands, whose only previous musical was Pete Nichols brilliant satirical panto Poppy. They’d even persuaded Barbara Cook to come over (though she tried to exit after almost being decapitated on opening night with a close encounter with a piece of the set). Despite the poor critical reception, they still showered it with millions of dollars and took it to Broadway, where it closed three days later and went down in history as one of the greatest flops of all time. I never expected to see it again.

I don’t know whether it’s the passage of time, the subsequent cult success of the teen horror genre, re-working of the show or just a bloody good production and cast, but it’s a whole lot better in this Southwark Theatre revival. It’s still a bit incongruous, the music is fairly formulaic pop-rock and the production may be papering over the cracks in the story, but I think its well worth catching. It starts in the school showers as naive Carrie is shocked by the onset of her first period, leading to humiliation by her fellow students and ongoing bullying. Her bible-bashing mother knows she’s an ‘odd’ / ‘special’ girl and tries to prevent her socialising, but fellow student Sue, full of remorse for the humiliation, decides to make amends by loaning her boyfriend as her partner for the school prom, an offer she can’t refuse. Sadly, some of the other girls are determined to continue the humiliation at the prom, which unleashes Carrie’s considerable powers for revenge. Cue blood and carnage.

This is all very well staged by Gary Lloyd, with a very good design from Tim McQuillen-Wright and excellent special effects by Jeremy Chernick. The musical standards are high, with a great six-piece band under MD Mark Crossland. The young cast is outstanding, with fine leading performances from Evelyn Hoskins as Carrie, Greg Miller-Burns as Tommy and Sarah McNicholas as Sue and Gabriella Wiliams and Dex Lee as the baddies. Kim Criswell and Jodie Jacobs are both excellent in the adult roles of mother and teacher respectively.

It’s not a great show, but it is a fine production and producer Paul Taylor-Mills should be congratulated for giving it another chance, as he did recently with that other flop Batboy. Two more weeks to catch it, and you should. Oh, and the writer Lawrence D Cohen is writing a book about his Carrie experience and it’s going to be called ‘ What Were They Thinking?’!

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Fringe powerhouse The Finborough Theatre and one-man musicals machine Thom Sutherland have teamed up again to give us another European premiere of a Rogers & Hammerstein show that proves to be even more of a delight than State Fair.

It’s got nothing to do with Shakespeare’s R&J; it’s a simple onstage-backstage love story, but you get a real baddie and a second love story for your money. Clearly it’s not in the Oklahoma / South Pacific league, but it’s a decent show and therefore astonishing that it’s taken 27 years to be seen here. It didn’t take long to sweep me away.

Designer Alex Marker has cleverly reversed the usual theatre configuration and integrated both audience and cast entrance doors and the spaces above them into the set. There’s some terrific staging, including scenes of the show-within-the-show lighting men from both above the stage and looking down from the stage which are inspired, and there’s a brilliant surprise entrance. The chorus numbers are delicious Busby Berkley miniatures staged with tongue slightly in cheek looking back 50 years very affectionately.

The singing and acting are first class. Laura Main and Robert Hands are great romantic leads. John Addison was so menacing he brought a believability to the bad-guy character which could easily have been a caricature.  Jodie Jacobs was so spot in every way she could have time-travelled from the 50’s for the evening. Dafydd Gwyn Howells (wonder where he’s from?!) and Anthony Wise also impressed as Company Manager and Lighting Man respectively. The musical standards are outstanding with MD Joseph Atkins alone playing the whole score on his upright piano.

Charming and irresistible, I hope that, like State Fair, it gets a second outing . We’re so lucky to have theatres like the Finborough, Landor and Union putting on musical productions of this quality and people like Thom Sutherland to present us with opportunities to see rare gems like this. I’d say GO GO GO, but it’s probably sold out by now!

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