Posts Tagged ‘Josh Seymour’

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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In yet another co-incidence, it seems to be the week for stage adaptations of unproduced screenplays by America’s great 20th century playwrights and first up its Tennessee Williams.

This actually started as a short story in the mid-40s. He returned to it twenty years later to produce a screenplay, but given the subject matter it’s no surprise that Hollywood had no appetite for it, even though by now he was a theatrical giant. The stage adaptation was first performed another forty years on and this version just four years ago in New York. This is its UK première.

Central character Ollie Olsen was a sailor and navy boxing champ until he lost his right arm in a car accident. Unable to get work, propositioned by a man in a New Orleans park, he falls into a career as a male prostitute. He’s never comfortable and often repulsed by what he does through necessity.

Moises Kaufman has created his adaptation from both the short story and the screenplay, but unlike both in flashback from Ollie’s cell on death row, inundated by letters from former clients, though we don’t know what put him there until the end. This works really well and director Josh Seymour’s brilliant staging is riveting throughout its 80 minute running time.

Tom Varey is outstanding as Ollie with a bandage signifying the lost arm and a spot on accent. He’s got terrific support from Peter Hannah, Joe Jameson, Georgia Kerr and James Tucker who play 21 roles very effectively between them.

I’ve seen lots of TW shorts, but this betters all of them. In fact, it’s up there with some of his full length plays. I was bowled away by both the play and the production. Much more than just another one for the collector.


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