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Posts Tagged ‘Jonathan O’Boyle’

From the moment the cast tap danced down the aisles onto the stage to Puttin’ on the Ritz, I was in musical theatre heaven. The Mill at Sonning’s Christmas musicals have become a treasured tradition in a very short period of time and waiting two years for this was agony, but it was worth the wait.

The show was made as a film in 1935 and only got on stage ten years ago with the world premiere in the UK, spending 2.5 years in the West End, winning the Olivier Award for Best Musical. When I saw it, I wasn’t that keen; I thought the production was too conservative, like a museum piece, with a wooden lead performance from Tom Chambers (https://garethjames.wordpress.com/2012/11/28/top-hat). This first revival, directed by Jonathan O’Boyle, is much much fresher.

British producer Horace Hardwick brings Broadway star Jerry Danvers to perform in London, where he meets and falls in love with fellow American Dale Tremont. The trouble is she thinks he’s Horace, and is not prepared to entertain a relationship with her friend Madge’s husband. Things become farcical when Jerry & Horace visit Madge in Venice, where Dale has already gone. Dale rushes into marriage with Italian dress designer Alberto before the truth is revealed, but the marriage proves to be invalid and it all ends happily.

Jason Denvir’s art deco design and Natalie Titchener’s costumes are gorgeous. Ashley Nottingham’s choreography is fresh and vibrant with some terrific tap dancing and fabulous ballroom dances for Jerry & Dale. Jack Butterworth shines as Jerry, with Billie-Kay as his love interest, and Paul Kemble is excellent as the much put upon and bashed about Horace. We don’t see much of Tiffany Graves, a favourite of mine, in the first act but she commands the stage as Madge in Act II. There’s a fine Italian comic caricature from Delme Thomas as Alberto, and a delightful set of comedy disguises from Brendan Cull as Horace’s loyal valet Bates.

Irving Berlin’s score includes such gems as Isn’t it a Lovely Day, Cheek to Cheek, Lets Face the Music and Dance and of course the title song (with White Tie and Tails!) brilliantly played by Chris Poon’s hidden band, which I was shocked to discover was only a trio (including him!).

Matthew White & Howard Jacques’ book is it’s weak spot, it’s a touch long, but its a delight nonetheless, as good as anything on a West End stage.

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This musical has been created to raise awareness and pay tribute to the victims of a little publicised 1973 hate crime when a New Orleans gay bar was subjected to an arson attack killing 32, the biggest toll of such a crime before Orlando in 2016.

We meet fashion designer Wes in the present time. He’s relocating from New York to his home town of New Orleans, buying premises to showcase his work, without realising it’s the scene of the 1973 attack. As soon as he’s signed the deal, the magic of theatre brings the club alive again and we’re back in 1973 on the evening of the tragedy. Thus begins a conversation between two generations of gay people across more than forty years, with the seventies set as shocked at Wes’ openness as he is at their secrecy. The eight characters tell their stories, which together show the contrasting lives in the two periods.

Max Vernon‘s score goes from one ballsy number to another for the whole 120 minutes, with the vocal honours going to Tyrone Huntley as Wes, Carley Mercedes Dyer as bar tender Henri and Cedric Neal as Willie, with excellent backing from Bob Broad’s invisible band. Declan Bennett and Andy Mientus bring the homeless hustler Dale and Patrick, the boy abandoned by his parents at fourteen who ends up doing the same, to life with fine acting. It’s great to see Victoria Hamilton-Barritt again and she’s superb as Inez, the Latin mum of drag queen Freddy, a breathless high energy performance from Garry Lee. Lee Newby has created a realistic period bar and director Jonathan O’Boyle and choreographer Fabian Aloise use the small Soho space well.

You have to go with the fantasy of the time warp, but if you do you will be rewarded with a fascinating contrast between gay life then and now illustrated by some great songs.

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This Stephen Schwartz show came just one year after his debut hit Godspell. That was 45 years ago. It took another thirty years for his mega-hit Wicked. Pippin hasn’t been revived very often, but it was a big hit again on Broadway in 2013. The last time we saw it here was six years ago, in a misguided production at the Menier Chocolate Factory (https://garethjames.wordpress.com/2012/01/06/pippin). This new production has come from the new Northern musicals powerhouse in Manchester, Hope Mill. I’m not sure I’ve ever been so impressed by a production of a musical I’m so unimpressed by.

Pippin is the son of the 9th century Holy Roman Emperor Charlemagne. We follow him from graduation, as he tries to make his way in the world, through war, sex, rebellion, politics and ordinary life. I’m afraid I find it impossible to relate to the story and the music is undistinguished bland pop to my ears, though its fair to say it was so well sung and played here, I warmed to the score.

When it comes to the production, it’s hugely impressive, with Jonathan O’Boyle’s staging, William Whelton’s choreography, Maeve Black’s design, Aaron J Dootson’s lighting and James Nicholson’s sound all outstanding. The cast is hugely talented, not a weak link amongst them. Newcomer Jonathan Charlton is a very likeable Pippin, Genevieve Nicole is a charismatic presence as the Lead Player, the narrator, and there’s a great doubling-up by Mairi Barclay as Charlemagne’s second wife Fastrada and mother Berthe. The eight-piece band under MD Zach Flis sounded great.

I can’t imagine a better production, so I have to warmly recommend it, whatever I think of the material. As for Hope Mill, more please!

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