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Posts Tagged ‘Joseph Alessi’

As soon as this show started, you could sense the shock of the audience at the discordant music. To my ears, this was modern opera not musical theatre (and I’ve seen a lot of both). It took a long while to turn itself into something resembling a musical as we know it, perhaps too long, though the discordant start eventually seemed to make sense. It’s based on the 1923 play by Elmer Rice, a rather prolific American writer of some forty plays whose only work I knew was Street Scene, which Brecht and Weill turned into a musical / opera. This 2007 adaptation has music by Joshua Schmidt and a book by Schmidt and Jason Loewith. It’s original, rather audacious and full of surprises!

Mr Zero has worked as a number-cruncher for many years and is in a fairly loveless marriage with Mrs Zero. His boss announces that he is going to be replaced by an adding machine. This sends him off the rails and he murders his employer, resulting in arrest, trial, imprisonment and execution. This is where it turns, as he arrives in heaven (people sunbathing, reading and drinking at a swimming pool – in the Finborough!). He’s followed there by work colleague Daisy; they have been attracted to one another but it never came to anything, but she’s now committed suicide in the hope it will. From this point onwards it’s more of a musical, though far from an orthodox one.

I ended up admiring it, though never really forgave it for the challenge of the first part – even for someone seeped in modern opera. It’s a hugely impressive production by Josh Seymour with the audience on two sides of a raised platform in a clever design by Frankie Bradshaw, and a fine ensemble that includes Joseph Alessi as Mr Zero and Joanna Kirkland as Daisy. I’m glad I saw it, though I’m not sure I’d be queuing to see it again.

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Still unsure that this rare Bernstein revival will find its way into the West End, off I went to Woking to be sure not to miss it. Yet another very good decision!

I don’t think there’s been a production here since 1986, when Maureen took the role now taken by Connie Fisher. It does require a cast of 24 and a decent sized orchestra , but that isn’t a good enough reason for a 25-year hiatus. This touring version of Wonderful Town started out as a joint venture between two Manchester institutions, the Royal Exchange Theatre and the Halle Orchestra.

Bernstein had such range, writing symphonies, an operetta, chamber operas, ballets, film scores, choral works, song cycles, chamber pieces and a mass for 200 performers (getting a rare outing at the Proms this year) as well as his musicals, to which he brought a classical sensibility and blended it with jazz, swing, ragtime and ‘pop’. 

Wonderful Town (NYC, of course) tells a simple story of  Ohio sisters Ruth and Eileen coming to New York City – the former trying to make her name as a writer and the latter in showbiz – and their adventures as they meet exploitive landlord Mr Appopolous (before he became the owner of the Walford launderette, obviously), neighbour Helen & her giant baseball player boyfriend Wreck, nerdy Walgreen manager Frank, seedy newspaper owner Chick, sleazy club owner Speedy, editor and love interest Bob, Brazilian sailors and a lot of  policemen, all Irish! Having such a diverse range of characters facilitates a whole load of musical comedy set pieces on streets, at the port and in apartments, clubs and police stations. Comden & Green’s lyrics are witty and the score is even better than I remembered.

Simon Higlett’s simple uncluttered but colourful design enables this to flow seamlessly. Braham Murray, not particularly known for musicals, and choreographer Andrew Wright make a great job of the staging and dancing, which is fresh and uplifting. There are so many highlights, from the opening street scene (very Guys & Dolls) through a port-side conga, Irish dancing in the police station (with a nod to Riverdance) and a modern ballet to some excellent club numbers. We no longer have the Halle in the pit, but the 17-piece band is a cut above, somewhat refreshingly without a synthesiser in sight.

It would be hard to imagine a better cast show. Every single role is brilliantly played. I was one of those who thought Connie Fisher was a major new talent and its great to report that she’s put her vocal troubles behind her, dropped an octave or two, turned into a redhead and revealed a natural talent for comedy to add to her natural charm and vocal prowess. Lucy van Gasse is just as good as her more dipsy blonde sister and Michael Xavier again shows us how good he is at these romantic lead roles. There’s a handful of lovely performances in smaller roles – Tiffany Graves and Nic Greenshields are great as the neighbours and Sevan Stephan,  Joseph Alessi and Michael Matus are a fine comic trio as landlord / artist, newspaper baron and club owner respectively.

This really ought to come into town and if it does, I’ll be back. A real treat.

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