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Posts Tagged ‘Joe DiPietro’

I saw a preview of the Broadway production of this show in 2012, with soon to be West End bound Matthew Broderick and the recent Broadway / West End star of The King & I, Kelli O’Hara. I predicted a big hit, but it only ran for 15 months and never crossed the Atlantic, so its down to Upstairs at the Gatehouse to give us the first London look, as they did with Nine to Five fifteen months ago, which is now getting a West End outing.

It’s actually a Gershwin compilation musical, like Crazy For You, with a fairly daft but funny book by Joe DiPietro based on material by P G Wodehouse & Guy Bolton. It’s the days of prohibition and bootleggers are using the Long Island seaside mansion of Jimmy Winter’s mother to stash their booze while the family aren’t in residence. Twice married Jimmy embarks on a third with Senator Evergreen’s daughter Eileen, an exponent of modern dance, and goes home for his honeymoon, so the bootleggers have to don disguises and pose as staff. From here, just about everyone falls in love with someone so that we have four couplings by the end, almost two-thirds of the characters!

Director John Plews and choreographer Grant Murphy work wonders in the small space and Chris Poon’s band sounds way bigger than a sextet, doing full justice to Gershwin’s songs and incidental music, also pinched from his back catalogue. The score includes standards like Someone to watch over me, Let’s call the whole thing off, ‘S wonderful, Fascinating rhythm and the title song of course. The musical standards are as high as the dancing ones, and you can’t help getting swept away by the energy, enthusiasm and sense of fun.

Alistair So is a real find, an outstanding romantic lead with a great voice. His leading lady was ill, so assistant choreographer Amy Perry stepped in. She obviously knew the dances, but had to learn the songs and carried her script. She’s a performer too and her vocals were excellent. A really triumphant stand-in performance. Charlotte Scally is a hysterical delight as squeaky Eileen, her contemporary dance sequences bringing the house down. Then there are two terrific veterans of musical theatre just as at home on West End stages – David Pendlebury as Cookie and Nova Skipp as the senator’s sister Estonia. It’s as fine a supporting cast as you’d wish for.

It might not have Broadway production values, but I think I had a lot more fun above a pub in Highgate than at the Imperial Theatre on Broadway at a fraction of the price. Try and catch the last few performances if you can.

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I have to confess I’ve never heard of Troma Entertainment, the American B-Movie studio that made the quirky film on which this musical comedy is based. I think I’m going to have to search out some DVD’s because if they’re half as much fun as this show, they’ll be a treat. I can’t remember the last time I laughed so much in a musical.

Geek Melvin Ferd the Third is worried about the pollution of his New Jersey town of Tomaville by New York City’s toxic dumping and, with the blind town librarian Sarah’s help, he tracks down the culprit, the city’s own Mayor, who is making a pile of money from it. She sends her henchmen after him and he gets thrown into a giant drum of the dreaded stuff, emerging as a mutant called Toxie, intent on cleaning up Tromaville and getting revenge on the Mayor and the love of Sarah. It’s style is cartoonish (think Little Shop of Horrors) which makes for fun musical theatre – as long as you can stomach the somewhat tasteless, though not viscous, jokes at the expense of blind Sarah.

Bon Jovi’s David Bryan, who wrote the rather good but very different Memphis before this, has written some great songs and his Memphis collaborator Joe DiPietro has provided a very funny book and lyrics. Mike Lees design and costumes are excellent, and the staging of Benji Sperring, with choreograhy by Lucie Pankhurst, serves the material really well. Alex Beetschen’s band sounds great and the vocals from the small cast of five are excellent.

What made the show for me, though, was five outstanding comic performances. They squeeze every ounce of humour out of the written material and much more. Mark Anderson is great as Melvin the Third, a nerd who transforms into gentle giant Toxie. Hannah Grover is delightful as Sarah the blind librarian, who is the butt of so many jokes. Lizzii Hills doubles up as the Mayor and Melvin’s Ma, at one point bringing the house down by duetting with herself. Above all, though, it was Marc Pickering and Ashley Samuels as White Dude and Black Dude, who play multiple roles (sometimes with extraordinarily fast costume changes) as henchmen, businessmen, policemen, female hairdressers, female backing singers, doctors and a brilliant folk singer, who both stole the show for me and made me laugh until my jaw was aching.

It was huge fun, all executed with sublime craftmanship – writing, staging, singing, playing and acting – and one of the best nights of musical comedy I’ve ever experienced. Not to be missed.

 

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This show, by Joe DiPietro & Jimmy Roberts, ran Off Broadway for 12 years / 5000 shows between 1996 and 2008 but has only managed three short runs in London. Though there are some unsung scenes, its really a song cycle for four actors, and it’s rather good.

It follows relationships from casual dating through serious courting, marriage, parenthood and empty nesting to divorce, death and back to dating! Four actors, two male and two female, play all of the nameless individuals and couples in various combinations, that represent stages in archetypal relationships. The songs are good, but its strength really lies in its humour, finding the truth in life’s twists and turns.

The great attraction of this production is four of Britain’s finest young musical theatre performers – Julie Atherton, Gina Beck, Samuel Holmes and Simon Lipkin – at the top of their game. Not only are they good delivering the songs, but they also prove very adept at the comedy, squeezing every laugh possible from the witty lyrics and sharp lines. Scott Morgan accompanies on an upright piano with no amplification which I liked, though I missed some lyrics when the performers weren’t facing me.

Staged in the small space Above the Arts Theatre by Kirk Jameson with movement by Sam Spencer Lane and just a few props but a lot of costume changes, it’s a delightful 80 minutes, though lengthened to almost two hours by an unnecessary interval and some bad timekeeping, which stretched the patience on a sweltering evening.

I took against the Arts Theatre’s new upstairs venue, Above the Arts, like a room above a pub for an open mic night, with no raking, no stage and no air, but I’m really glad I caught up with this show at last, especially with such fine casting. It deserves a better venue (St James Studio, Union Theatre, Landor Theatre….)and a longer run, though.

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