Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘John Dempsey’

The Union Theatre is opening its new space with a revival of Michael Strassen’s 2012 production of this show by Dana P Rowe and John Dempsey. It was a US Presidential election year then, as it is now, but it feels even more timely. We begin with a quote from Trump, then a few more from current and former presidents before the opening scene where Presidential candidate Reed Chandler, tipped to win, dies on the eve of his anticipated appointment. His widow is determined that there will be a Chandler dynasty, so she goes about grooming reluctant son Cal, with the help of her dead husband’s brother and campaign manager Grahame, with a speedy rise through local and state politics with the White House in their sights. An arranged marriage and a convenient child help, but his lover, cocaine habit and mafia connections don’t.

When they mounted it last time I thought it was better than the Donmar’s world premiere in 1997, and I still do. It’s the same stripped back production ‘without decor’ but there’s some new casting which takes it to another level. I thought Lucy Williamson was sensational as the power obsessed mother Violet, Ken Christiansen was just as good as her crippled brother-in-law Grahame and Madalena Alberto was terrific as the ill-fated mistress Tina. All three are seasoned musical theatre professionals and it shows. Fra Fee did well as Cal, but in truth I didn’t think he suited the role as much as Louis Maskell did last time around. When I saw there was an electric quartet and no vocal amplification I was a bit nervous but the band was restrained and the vocals and lyrics shone through.

The new Union is having a few teething problems, notably with air handling, but I’m sure they’ll be resolved and we can revel in the new space and it’s bar, food and fragrant toilets! If they configure eight rows deep again though, they need to increase the rake as the sightlines are challenging for the short.

I’m very much looking forward to the new Union providing as much enjoyment as the old one, with two more shows already booked!

Advertisements

Read Full Post »

The premiere of this musical in 2000 was a high-profile affair for a relatively unknown American musicals team, Dana P Rowe & John Dempsey – the Theatre Royal Drury Lane no less (they had Cameron Mackintosh as godfather). It wasn’t a bad show, but the theatre was way too big for it. It moved to the Prince of Wales, but didn’t survive the tumultuous summer of 2001. This revival is at the opposite end of the scale, in a theatre about 10% of the size (in truth, a bit too small now) but its good to take a second look and it scrubs up well.

The first adaptation of John Updike’s novel was the stellar cast film with Jack Nicholson, Susan Sarandon, Michelle Pfeiffer & Cher. It works as well as a musical, though the first half is a touch too long. Bored housewives Alexandra, Jane & Sukie get more than they bargained for when devil-like Daryl Van Horne arrives in suburban New England to spice up their lives and wreak havoc on the conservative community. Local do-gooder Felicia and her sometime philandering husband Clyde become casualties, leaving daughter Jennifer (Alexandra’s son Michael’s estranged girlfriend) exposed to the advances of Daryl now that he’s bored with the trio he’s been bedding.

It’s done in the now customary Watermill actor-musician style and it’s exceptionally well cast. Poppy Tierney, Joanna Hickman and Tiffany Graves are a fine trio of ‘witches’ and Alex Bourne makes a great ‘devil’. Rosemary Ashe reprises her world premiere role as Felicia and though her singing is sometimes too ‘operatic’, her ability to regurgitate anything and everything is impressive! Tom Rogers’ design takes your breath away; he brings American suburbia to a converted 19th century Berkshire mill with a grey clapboard house and beds and bars that emerge from nowhere.

This is Craig Revel Horwood’s sixth Watermill show and his staging and choreography is as witty and playful as ever. I felt it was a bit crowded and loud (with inaudible lyrics) occasionally, and there’s so much going on it takes a while to settle, but by the second half its steaming (in more ways than one). There aren’t that many musical black comedies, and it’s well adapted for the form, even if it isn’t that memorable a score. Still, a good enough reason for the annual pilgrimage to Newbury and to be recommended.

 

Read Full Post »

This American musical had its first production here in the UK at the Donmar Warehouse in 1997, directed by Sam Mendes no less and starring a then largely unknown John Barrowman. Writers John Dempsey and Dana P Rowe went on to write the stage musical of The Witches of Eastwick three years later, which got a big scale production in the West End under the auspices of Cameron Mackintosh, but have not done a lot in the 12 years since than.

This revival at the Union Theatre has Michael Strassen at the helm; his recent productions of Company, Assassins, The Bakers Wife and Godspell at the same venue have wowed. He has a knack of creating stylish and slick shows with next to no set, relying on costumes lighting and the odd prop or two, as it is here. It looks terrific, but there’s no set – Neil Gordon’s costumes and Steve Miller’s lighting do it all.

Senator Reed Chandler dies on the eve of becoming president and his widow Violet becomes obsessed with the objective of ensuring her son Cal follows in his footsteps and makes it to the White House. She’s helped by her scheming and spinning brother-in-law Grahame, the architect of Reed’s campaign. Cal follows a fast track trajectory from the forces through City Hall to Governor acquiring a loveless marriage (and child), a mistress or two and a cocaine habit along the way. The family’s unsavory Mafia friends become their downfall as history repeats itself.

This production is brilliantly staged and paced; you’re on the edge of your seat for much of the time. The pop rock score sounds great with a (sadly uncredited) five-pice band under MD Simon Lambert in this snug venue, and outstanding unamplified singing from all involved. The three leads are simply extraordinary – Louis Maskell as son Cal has great presence and a fantastic voice, Liz May Brice convey’s Violet’s ambition, determination and passion superbly and Miles Western is terrific as the machiavellian fixer.

A musical I remember to be OK has scrubbed up great. Maybe it’s found its time now that such scheming and manipulation is more commonplace, or maybe its just a fine cast and creative team on top form. Whatever it is, you have to go!

Read Full Post »