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Posts Tagged ‘Joseph Pitcher’

This is the third year The Mill at Sonning have put a big musical on their small stage, striking gold yet again. It’s amazing how quickly traditions can be established and these shows are already firm seasonal favourites; I now can’t imagine a Christmas without them.

I’ve got a very soft spot for this tale of gamblers, showgirls and the Salvation Army on the streets of 50’s New York City, with a brief visit to the playground that was pre-Castro Cuba. My love of it started at Bristol Old Vic in the 70’s, confirmed by three visits to the iconic NT production in 1982, 1990 & 1996, two to the 2005 Donmar West End revival, the 2015 Chichester production both there and in London, a fine production on the fringe Upstairs at the Gatehouse, in GSMD & LAMDA drama schools and at Wandsworth Prison! It always brings me joy.

The strengths of Joseph Pitcher’s production are the outstanding cast, exceptional musical standards and thrillingly staged scenes in Havana and the sewers of New York. In the opening scene it struggles to conjure the street-life of New York City, but it quickly grows and draws you in to the world of lovable rogues, earnest missionaries and seemingly hopeless relationships. Showstoppers like Luck Be a Lady and Sit Down, You’re Rockin’ the Boat sit alongside comic gems A Bushel and a Peck and Take Back Your Mink and romantic ballads I’ll Know and I’ve Never Been in Love Before. I loved the curtain call with the entire cast dressed in Salvation Army uniform with tambourines.

Stephane Anelli makes a great commitment-phobic Nathan, desperate for a venue for his game, bullied by Big Jule from Chicago when he gets one. Natalie Hope is outstanding as Adelaide, capturing her indefatigable devotion to Nathan, great at both the comedy and the naivety, with a spot-on accent. Victoria Serra excels at the earnestness, drunken dancing and helpless infatuation of Sarah, singing beautifully. Richard Carson has a commanding presence as expert gambler Sky and genuine passion in his pursuit of Sarah. Four fine leads and an excellent supporting cast.

I’m now looking forward to what they dish up in Sonning next year, and to my next Guys & Dolls, wherever that might be.

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Productions of this show don’t come around that often. I can only remember one in London in more than thirty years, at the NT / West End in 2001. This is on a much smaller scale – twelve actors and four musicians – but it’s an absolute delight.

Lerner & Loewe’s adaptation of G B Shaw’s play about turning a Covent Garden flower seller into a society lady by making her talk proper is packed full of songs you know so well, including Wouldn’t It Be Loverly, With A Little Bit Of Luck, I Could Have Danced All Night, On The Street Where You Live and Get Me To The Church On Time, but what really struck me about this revival was how Shaw’s satire on class and attitudes to women shines through all this jollity. Higgins may be a clever man, an expert linguist, but he’s also a misogynist and a bully, treating Eliza as a pawn in his game.

On this scale the story and musical spectacle are more balanced and the production values and performances do more than full justice to the material. The set design is simple but flexible, and Natalie Titchener’s costumes are gorgeous, sometimes taking your breath away, especially when we first see Eliza’s ball gown. The four-piece band sounds lovely, with the fine violin of David Larkin standing out. There’s a lot of dance and movement in director Joseph Pitcher’s background, which shows with some fine choreography and musical staging. A terrific production all round.

The two leads are both excellent – Bethan Nash making a superb transition from flower seller to society lady and on to assertive woman and Martin Fisher as a naive academic with zero emotional intelligence who comes over as a patronising pratt, until Eliza finally puts him in his place. They’ve got fantastic support from Phil Snowden as Eliza’s cheeky and sprightly dad Alfred and Eric Carte as Colonel Pickering, a benign but charming presence. The superb ensemble play multiple roles, often with swift, slick changes, showing off their versatility without interfering with fine vocal performances.

I think this is only the second seasonal musical at Sonning, but I’m banking on it becoming a tradition already. A great revival, on an intimate scale that magnifies and illuminates the story.

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It’s a while since I’ve been to The Mill at Sunning dinner theatre – their programming of whodunit’s alternating with farce’s isn’t really to my taste – but I couldn’t resist ‘big’ musical High Society in this intimate space, even though it’s less than eighteen months since I saw it in a big space, or perhaps because I had…….

It’s set in the elegant thirties amongst the rich socialites of Long Island. Tracey is about to marry ever-so-dull George, but not before she has an elongated drunken flirt with tabloid photographer spy Mike and has been visited by her ex (and true love) Dexter. Her feisty teenage sister Dinah is determined to reignite her relationship with Dexter and spike the wedding. Her mum is rather pre-occupied with reigniting her relationship with her own ex Seth, a bit of a philanderer, and Uncle Willie chases any woman in sight, but particularly tabloid journalist spy Liz, who’s love for colleague Mike is unrequited. Liz and Mike have been promised the wedding story in exchange for burying the story of Seth’s fling with a dancer. Still with me?

It’s based on the 1939 Hollywood film The Philadelphia Story and started out as a film musical in 1956 before making it to the stage in 1987 in London in a Richard Eyre adaptation (nine years before another stage version on Broadway). The Broadway version had a very successful Ian Talbot production at the Open Air Theatre in 2003, which toured before transferring to the West End, where it only lasted a few months. The latest incarnation was Maria Friedman’s sensational in-the-round production at the Old Vic in 2015. The show’s trump card is Cole Porter’s score-to-die-for with more standards than just about any other show.

Scaled down for a cast of eleven and a three-piece band, it works superbly on this scale. Though it’s occasionally unclear which location we’re in, it’s a simple elegant design by Ryan Light (with great costumes by Natalie Titchener) which enables fast-moving action and scene changes, leaving enough space for director / choreographer Joseph Pitcher’s nifty staging and movement. The musical standards under MD Charlie Ingles are excellent. There isn’t a fault in the casting, with a lovely leading lady in Bethan Nash, a great comic turn from David Delve as Uncle Willie and Kirsty Ingrams’ spirited Dinah.

I love musicals on this scale and this was certainly a treat, and where else can you see a quality musical with a decent two-course meal, coffee and a programme for not much more than £50! On this form, a deserved winner of the 2016 UK Theatre Most Welcoming Theatre Award.

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I’d almost forgotten what a great show this is. It’s packed full of standards (Wunderbar, So In Love, Always True To You In My Fashion, From This Moment On…..), has cracking openers to both acts (Another Op’nin, Another Show and Too Darn Hot), a superb comedy number in Brush Up Your Shakespeare and some of the best lyrics Cole Porter ever wrote.

We’re in Baltimore where a theatre company is about to open Taming of the Shrew, improved by a team of six new writers! The on-off relationship of producer / director / actor Fred and Hollywood star and leading lady Lilli mirrors Petruchio & Katherine in Shakespeare’s play. Add to this the fact that someone has posed as Fred, resulting in him being chased by a pair of gangsters, and Lilli is being courted by a General close to the president and you have a terrific set up for musical comedy.

I first saw the show when the RSC did it at the Old Vic 24 years ago and I think the only other time was a Broadway transfer to London ten years ago. I won’t easily forget the RSC production as I was on the Laurence Olivier Awards panel that year and had to bully the Society of West End Theatre (as it was then called) to get an extra statuette made so that we could give the Best Supporting Actor in a Musical award to both John Barton and Emil Wolk as we weren’t prepared to choose one over the other! Another memory is of taking a bunch of Commonwealth colleagues to see it and hearing one of them say it brought back fond memories of seeing Shakespeare in Rawalpindi! To say that this stands up well against both these productions is indeed a compliment.

Martin Connor has done some excellent work at GSMD and this is amongst his best. He has assembled one of the finest casts I’ve ever seen here. Leading man Alex Knox is outstanding, with particularly good vocals; he makes a great job of Where Is The Life That Late I Led. He is well matched by Alex Clatworthy as Lilli / Katherine. Kae Alexander is a superb Lois / Bianca, handling Always True To You In My Fashion brilliantly. The comic honours are shared between Lewis Goody & Stephen Wilson as the gangsters (who give us a fine music hall-style turn in Brush Up Your Shakespeare) and Kingsley Ben-Adir as the General. It was great to hear an orchestra of 27 play this lovely score (MD Steven Edis). Joseph Pitcher’s excellent choreography shines in Too Darn Hot.

Another big Broadway show, South Pacific, will be opening next door at the Barbican Theatre in a few weeks. It will cost you over five times to see it, but I bet it won’t be anywhere near five times better. This is an excellent production of a great show with added youthful enthusiasm and another big hit for GSMD.

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