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Posts Tagged ‘Jules Styne’

This 1978 musical is based on Jack Rosenthal’s 1976 TV play of the same name. It seems to me to be an unlikely collaboration – book by Rosenthal himself, the master of gritty realism, a score by conservative Broadway composer Jules Styne (Gypsy and Funny Girl, 20 and 15 years earlier respectively) and Lloyd-Webber’s regular lyricist Don Black! 

The fact it’s taken 37 years to be revived is partly due to Rosenthal’s refusal when he was alive, haunted by his relationship with Styne and his dislike of the Broadway-style production of Martin Charmin (the basis for his play Smash, revived recently at the Menier – https://garethjames.wordpress.com/2011/04/15/smash!). This version is revised by David Thompson, original lyricist Don Black and director Stewart Nicholls, going back to source material and scaling it down, losing a number of extraneous characters.

Elliott Green is 13 and its time for his Bar Mitzva, the Jewish boy-to-man ritual. The first act sees the preparations and panic from mum Rita and back seat resignation by taxi driver dad Victor. Though Elliott is refusing to get his hair cut, everything else is on plan – until Elliott does a runner from the synagogue. In the second act, his whereabouts are leaked by school friend Denise and big sis Lesley persuades him to return home to face the music.

I felt the story might be pared back a bit too much; the second half in particular isn’t meaty enough. Styne’s score is very un-Broadway and very much in keeping with the material and Black’s lyrics are witty. The layout of the theatre results in a wide playing area which had both good and bad points, but I liked the authentic 70’s sensibility of Grace Smart’s design.

It’s great to see Sue Kelvin again and she makes a brilliant archetypal Jewish mom, well matched by Robert Maskell’s Victor. Lara Stubbs as Lesley and Nicholas Corre as her boyfriend Harold share the vocal honours. 13-year-old Adam Bregman steals the show though as Elliott, an assured and confident performance of great charm.

It works well as a chamber piece for eight actors and a 4-piece band, though it’s not as successful a musical adaptation as Rosenthal’s Spend Spend Spend some 20 years later. Despite protestations to the contrary by its creators at the time, I think the show still resonates more with a Jewish audience. 

A gold star to Aria Entertainment for giving us the chance to see it after such a long time.

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I can’t help comparing this show with Jules Styne’s other big hit, Gypsy. It’s another quintessentially American showbiz story with a gutsy heroine, and like the recent Chichester Gypsy, this production has a diminutive leading lady with the triple threat – acting, singing and dancing all sensational.

It’s the true story of Fanny Brice, who gets her vaudeville break by being funny and is soon top of the bill at the Ziegfeld Follies. She falls in love with businessman and gambler Nick Arnstein, moves to a mansion on Long Island and starts a family. Nick makes some bad, even dodgy, business decisions and she soon finds herself returning to work and bail him out. It backfires when her attempts to help become secretive, hurting his pride, and when he comes out of prison he doesn’t return to the family home.

It’s a conservative show, which here gets a very conservative production, including the design and the choreography. It’s as if its American director is scared to mess with it. I also don’t think it fits the Menier space well, a big show desperate to break out of this confined space. For once, the venue’s intimacy works against it. I think it will suit The Savoy, where Gypsy was and where this is heading, better.

That said, it has a good score, played to perfection by Alan Williams’ band, and it’s superbly cast. Darius Campbell continues to impress with great presence and a fine voice (here towering over his leading lady). Marilyn Cutts is excellent as Fanny’s mother, no more so than when she’s with her two friends, played superbly by Gay Soper and Valda Aviks. In fact, the more mature members of this cast all shine, with Bruce Montague a wonderful Ziegfeld too. Praise as well for Joel Montague as Fanny’s showbiz chum and dance coach Eddie, another fine performance.

It’s Fanny’s show, of course, and musical theatre lovers and Sheridan Smith fans have been seriously over-excited at the prospect of her in this role and she doesn’t disappoint. When she sings Don’t Rain on My Parade to end Act One you want to punch the air. In the final scene, alone in front of her dressing room mirror, she breaks your heart then breaks out and lifts you up to close the show. Terrific stuff. 2016 Olivier sorted.

Time to book for The Savoy, I think, if only to prove my prediction eight.

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Musical theatre lovers are very precious about this show. Many consider it the greatest Broadway has seen, but I wouldn’t agree with that (Guys & Dolls and West Side Story, to name but two, would be ahead of it in my list). The only other time I saw it, on Broadway with Bernadette Peters as Mamma Rose 10 years ago, right in the middle of the show a huge man stood up, said ‘well, she ain’t no Ethel Merman’ and stomped out of the theatre. It’s forever associated with Merman and Angela Lansbury, who was London’s first Mamma Rose, and any actress attempting it is very brave indeed.

It’s the archetypal showbiz show and Rose is the archetypal stage mom, pushing her daughters forward relentlessly, regardless of their own wishes. She keeps their kids act way beyond its sell-by date, recycling it with variations on a theme. She loses her youngest and favourite June, who escapes and elopes, only to turn her attention to the elder Louise who she had hitherto virtually ignored. The declining standards of the act and the demise of vaudeville happen simultaneously and they find themselves in burlesque, providing cover for the racier stuff. In her final act of self obsessed determination, she puts Louise on stage as a stripper, renamed Gypsy Rose Lee, the real life person on whose memoirs it’s based.

It’s got a very good score by Jules Styne, with a high quota of standards, a book by Arthur Laurents and terrific lyrics by Stephen Sondheim no less. A bit of a dream team, I’d say. Chichester has matched it with their own creative dream team – director Jonathan Kent (responsible for their stunning Sweeney Todd just three years ago), inventive choreographer Stephen Mear and Designer Anthony Ward (who co-incidentally designed my only other Gypsy – which was itself directed by Sam Mendes!). The band under Nicholas Skilbeck make a thrilling sound; I can still hear that wonderful brass.

Louise Gold, Anita Louise Combe and Julie Legrand brought the house down as strippers who Gotta Get A Gimmick, Lara Pulver plays the transition from second string daughter Louise to star Gypsy Rose Lee superbly and Gemma Sutton is great as favourite daughter June growing up before your very eyes. I was surprised to see Kevin Whately cast as Herbie, but he pulled it off. What can you say about Imelda Staunton? Following a definitive Mrs Lovett with a brilliant down-on-her-luck Boston woman in Good People to this truly commanding performance. I knew she’d act it well, but the vocals were a revelation. She started with a great Some People, ended the first act with a stunning Everything’s Coming Up Roses and ended the show with a deeply emotional Rose’s Turn. She inhabits this single-minded woman, combining humour with an extraordinary range of emotions – whilst singing and dancing! You don’t see many performances that good in a lifetime of theatre-going; thrilling stuff.

London producers are now spoilt for choice – should they transfer Guys & Dolls or this or both? I’d put my money on this for sure – London has to see Dame Imelda’s finest hour.

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The history of this 45-year old show is fascinating. Written by Jules Styne no less, based on an Arnold Bennett book and with Vincent Price & Patricia Routledge leading the original cast, it lost three directors and five librettists en route to Broadway. It closed after a month, though it won a ‘posthumous’ Tony for Routledge.

In this British premiere at the enterprising Union Theatre, it proves to be deeply old-fashioned, but I did succumb to its charms and the opportunity to see it is very welcome. Despite being a big musicals ‘name’, this was one of a lot of Styne shows this musicals lover had never even heard of – some 80% of what he actually wrote!

When a valet dies, the doctor certifying his death thinks he’s Priam Farll, his famous artist employer. At first protesting, Farll soon sees this as a welcome opportunity for anonymity. He marries the valet’s intended (Alice Challice!) and settles in Putney, a part of London seemingly inhabited by chirpy cockneys (!), which is maybe why I kept comparing it with Me & My Girl. Art dealer Clive Oxford and art collector Lady Vale continue to exploit Farll, whose value soars as he is buried in Westminster Abbey and posthumously knighted.

It’s all rather daft, with a somewhat preposterous relationship between Priam & Alice sitting alongside a more plausible satire on the art world. Even The King makes an appearance! The music is a bit sweet for a contemporary audience, though its amusing lyrically (who can resist rhyming museum with dream and lucky with duckie!). Yet, somehow it does win you over – perhaps because Paul Foster’s production has its tongue in its cheek and the cast clearly having a lot of fun is rather infectious.

The two leading ladies, Katy Secombe and Rebecca Caine, are in fine voice. The leading men, James Dinsmore and Michael Hobbs, less so – but it doesn’t really matter. The ensemble is excellent, which makes both the choruses and Matt Flint’s sprightly dances great. In addition to two Secombe’s (brother Andy plays a handful of key roles, including the deceased), there’s a dead ringer for Robbie Williams – Will Keith.

In the first few minutes, I wasn’t convinced I’d make it to the end, but it did win me over. I suspect it might be another 45 years before London sees it again, but I’m glad I did. Now I’m wondering what the other 20 I’ve never heard of are like!

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Sugar is the 1972 stage musical adaptation of the 1959 film ‘Some Like It Hot’ – if you haven’t seen the film, your life is incomplete so you’d better get the DVD sharpish! It didn’t get its UK stage premiere until 1992 and I don’t think it has been seen since. It takes the enterprising and unfunded Pimlico Opera, whose work with prisoners is now in its 11th year, to present us with the opportunity to see what its like on stage.

This was my fifth time in prison – twice before with Pimlico opera in Wandsworth prison for Guys & Dolls and Carmen – but the first in a women’s prison. On this occasion, the chorus of c.20 and some of the backstage staff are prisoners; the four leads and two male dancers are professionals. Reading the self-written biographies breaks your heart and the prisoner thank you speech at the end brings you to tears. This is much more than a worthy project, it shines a light into broken lives, bringing just a glimmer of hope for a few weeks.

Peter Stone’s book, based on Billy Wilder & I.A.L Diamond’s screenplay, is faithful to the film and very funny. Jules Styne’s score and Bob Merrill’s lyrics aren’t great, which is presumably why it isn’t often revived, but its good enough. The story of course is of a couple of musicians who innocently witness a Chicago gangster crime and go on the run to escape their elimination. Disguised as women, they join an all-girl big band on tour. One falls for the singer and one bags a millionaire and it all ends happily (if somewhat bizarrely). Delightfully preposterous! The traverse staging has the band at one end and the beach at the other with other scenes played in-between.

It must be hard to step into the shoes of Marilyn Monroe, Tony Curtis and Jack Lemon, but Victoria Ward, Duncan Patrick and Rob Gildon do it very well indeed. Deryck Hamon is also good as Sir Osgood Fielding. The prisoners play all of the other roles – male and female – and do so with considerable enthusiasm and energy; I was particularly impressed by the confidence and stage presence of Gaillene Young (AKA Ella!) as band-leader Sweet Sue, who stood in at short notice when the original Sweet Sue was released! The 17-piece professional big band under Toby Purser make a glorious sound.

Any thought that you were in a real theatre was dispelled at the curtain call with the announcement ‘please stay in your seats whilst we check we’ve got all the cast back’!

It’s running again next weekend if you fancy a spell in prison (and if there are tickets left – http://www.grangeparkopera.co.uk) – go on, it’s fun!

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RAM seems to be the only one of our major music / drama colleges joining in with the celebrations of the great man’s 80th, but boy did they do it in style.

I’ve always found A Little Night Music one of Sondheim’s least satisfying shows. The story is very conventional (for Sondheim) and the music – virtually all waltz – a little twee for my taste. The Menier started to change my mind last year with Trevor Nunn’s terrific production, but it was this one which was the real revelation. It really brought out the humour but contrasted it with more poignancy. I’ve heard Hermione Gingold, Judi Dench & Hannah Waddingham sing Send in the Clowns on stage, but only Alex Young in this production moved me to tears. Sarah Covey’s interpretation of The Millers Son was positively uplifting and there were fine performances from Becky Moult, Matthew Crowe, Daniel Cane and Michael Storrs. On a simple set, it was left to the gorgeous period costumes to provide appropriate style. Overall, the singing was better than the acting and the orchestra played the score like it’s never been played before, so a  musical triumph I think.

Assassins didn’t live up to my memories of earlier productions. It’s a highly original show – linking the assassinations / attempted assassinations of eight US presidents – but a hard one to pull off. This production seemed a lot darker, sometimes burying the black humour completely. It was staged well, but this time the acting bettered the singing and the band was too loud, losing a lot of the subtley in the music.

In between the shows, there was a wonderful cabaret of lyricists Comden & Green songs. They wrote the lyrics to more shows that any other Broadway writers, working with Leonard Bernstein, Jules Styne and Cy Coleman. The twelve singers & pianist more than did justice to their brilliantly funny songs and it was more treat than filler.

This musical theatre feast followed Saturday’s theatrical feast; the lack of aircon made the day more challenging, but a feast just the same.

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