Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘Jule Styne’

I was underwhelmed when I first saw this show in 2003 on Broadway, in Sam Mendes production with Bernadette Peters as Rose. That changed when Chichester presented it in 2014 with Imelda Staunton giving one of her many definitive performances. Now it’s Joanna Riding’s turn in Paul Kerryson’s production for the Buxton International Festival, and she rises to the occasion, commanding the stage, making the role her own. Surely this has to have more than the scheduled eight performances?

It’s the story of the ultimate pushy mom, determined to make her daughter a star, to live her own ambitions through her child. Rose creates a children’s act to showcase her favourite daughter June with other daughter Louise in the chorus of other kids. She takes them everywhere and anywhere to get stage time, but they never make the big time, going on for a long time beyond any definition of child act. June eventually runs away with fellow performer Tulsa, so Rose has to turn her attention to her other daughter. As vaudeville declines and burlesque takes off, she’s even prepared to push Louise beyond the point you’d expect any mom to do. Along the way former showbiz agent now candy salesman becomes infatuated with her, but both he and Louise have their breaking point. It’s based on the memoirs of Gypsy Rose Lee, which tells you who Louise becomes, but on her terms, with both her and Herbie leaving Rose behind.

It’s a wonderful score, mostly for Rose, and the second show for which Sondheim wrote lyrics before doing both. It requires an actress of immense vocal and acting talent to pull it off and Joanna Riding does it brilliantly. In a career full of high spots, this tops them all, until the next one of course. She gets under the skin of Rose and you can see and feel all that single-minded determination, uncontrollable ambition and ballsiness. Monique Young is excellent as Louise, initially accepting of the background, reluctant to take over from June, becoming her own woman and wresting control of her life from Rose. David Leonard brilliantly conveys the unconditional loyalty of Herbie before he too can take no more. In an outstanding cast, Tiffany Graves shines (again!) as burlesque long-timer Tessie Tura, with great sidekicks in Alesha Pease’s Elektra and Rebecca Lisewski’s Mazeppa, their number You Gotta Get A Gimmick a real comic showstopper.

Paul Kerryson’s production has great pace without losing the power of the fine solo moments when we see the beating heart of Rose. David Needham provides fitting choreography and Ben Atkinson leads a fine thirteen piece orchestra which does full justice to Jule Styne’s music. The design team of Phil R Daniels, Charles Cusick Smith and Jake Wiltshire create the period, locations and aesthetics superbly whilst facilitating the pace of the production. The Buxton Opera House proves to be a great home for this show; it fits it like a glove.

This was such a treat which elevates the show, for me, from one of interest because of Sondheim’s involvement to a master work of 20th Century musical theatre. London, you’ve no idea what you’re missing!

Read Full Post »

The 1953 film adaptation starring Marilyn Monroe and Jane Russell is much better known than this 1949 Jule Styne musical on which it was based. The Broadway show took 13 years to get to London and has only had one revival since then, at the Open Air Theatre 21 years ago, so a revival at the Union Theatre is to be welcomed.

I’ve lost track of how many Broadway shows are set on cruise liners or trains, but here’s another one. Follies dancers Lorelei Lee, from Little Rock Arkansas, and her best friend and chaperone Dorothy Shaw are heading for Paris, a trip funded by Lorelei’s betrothed, button king Gus Esmond Jr., who is planning to join them later. On the journey they meet Mrs Spofford, Philadelphia’s richest woman, who loves a drink, and her son Henry, zipper king Josephus Cage and British toffs Sir Francis and Lady Beekman. On the journey Lorelei flirts with Sir Francis and Henry and Dorothy with a group of Olympic athletes! Lorelei discovers Gus has gone to Little Rock with his dad to check out her background and worries they will uncover her secret. She gets Sir Francis to secretly fund the purchase of his wife’s tiara, makes a play for Josephus and fixes up Dorothy with Henry. When we get to Paris its all French stereotypes, dodgy accents and jokes at their expense. The Beekman’s arrive from London and Gus from Little Rock, later followed by his dad, and the story of buttons and zippers plays out in a night club, ending happily ever after, obviously, with two marriages.

It’s a big show that requires big resources, but the material doesn’t really deserve them. Jule Styne’s score comes to life occasionally (notably during its most famous number, Diamonds are a Girl’s Best Friend) but is mostly undistinguished. Anita Loos & Joseph Fields’ book, based on Loos novel, and Leo Robin’s lyrics are both weak, lacking the wit and sparkle a musical comedy requires. Though I saw the Open Air Theatre’s production, it only became clear this time why it is rarely revived. This production is at its best in the chorus numbers and in Zak Nemorin’s well choreographed set pieces. With just piano and drums it’s a bit underpowered musically, and I wondered if a solo piano might have been better if a bigger band wasn’t possible. Justin Williams and Penn O’Gara’s designs give it a great period look, well lit by Hector Murray. Eighteen is a big cast for the Union, including a handful of very welcome professional stage debuts, and they work hard and enthusiastically. Somewhat ironically, it sparkled most when the bar became the Paris club, as the interval transformed and transferred to the theatre for the second act; elsewhere Sasha Regan’s production lacked oomph, though this may have been partly due to first night nerves.

Good to catch it again, though, despite my reservations about the material.

Read Full Post »