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Posts Tagged ‘Justin Paul’

It’s only three months since I saw newcomer Sam Tutty in the British Theatre Academy’s production of Once On This Island at Southwark Playhouse (co-incidentally, Benj Pasak & Justin Paul’s other stage show Dogfight was in the same season) and here he is starring in this enthralling Broadway transfer of a musical with the unlikley themes of teenage anxiety & depression, parenting and the irony that social media has made us more connected but lonlier. Both he and the show are extraordinary.

Evan Hansen is a troubled teenager. His parents split up when he was seven and he lives with his mum, who spends most of her time working and studying to improve her and Evan’s lives. He suffers from anxiety for which he has medication and a therapist, who has set him the task of writing letters to himself to build his confidence and self-esteem. Fellow student Connor, himself a troubled teen who uses drugs to deal with his depression, bullies Evan, stealing one of these letters. When Connor commits suicide, his parents find and misinterpret this letter, which sets Evan on a series of lies that gets out of control.

He effectively invents a friendship with Connor, and initially this has positive impact on his confidence, proving to be better therapy than therapy, and brings comfort to Connor’s parents. Even his fantasy of a relationship with Connor’s sister Zoe becomes a reality. At school it’s more surreal as a grief bandwagon begins to roll, with people who hardly knew Connor inventing friendships. It goes viral with its own hashtag #youwillbefound and Evan becomes the de facto leader, spurred on by colleagues Alana and Jared, though the latter for more cynical reasons. Throughout all of this, his mother is oblivious. Then the truth comes out…….

You rarely see an actor invest so much into a role, but Sam Tutty’s neurotic, vulnerable, emotionally raw, authentic performance captures just about every heart in the theatre. There’s another auspicious professional debut from Lucy Anderson as Zoe, a much cooler, guarded, suspicious character. Jack Loxton is great as the more worldly wise Jared who can hardly believe all this emotional stuff, Nicole Raquel Dennis delightful as Alana, fully wrapped up in it, and a fine performance from Doug Colling as Connor, who we see briefly alive, but also in Evan’s head. The parents – Lauren Ward, Rebecca McKinnis & Rupert Young – are all excellent, each having their own revelatory journey.

The design, which relies heavily on projections, is simple, facilitating an organic flow for Michael Greif’s impeccable staging. The musical theatre form suits the story because musicals are good at conveying the emotional and Steven Levenson’s book and Pasek & Paul’s music and lyrics are seamlessly conjoined and produce something even deeper, addressing serious themes delicately but with humour and heart, leading to a hopeful conclusion. I loved every moment of it and left the theatre emotionally drained but exhilarated.

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It’s an unlikely premise for a musical – a bunch of jar heads on a bender the night before deployment in Vietnam! It took a while to prove itself, but prove itself it did. Southwark Playhouse seems to have another hit musical on its hands.

Benj Pasek, Justin Paul & Peter Duncan’s 2012 show is set in San Francisco in 1963, where a group of marines seek out girls for their last night party. It takes a while before we realise that it’s more of a cruel game than a farewell shag. Eddie’s waitress pick-up Rose gives as good as she gets when they’re rumbled, but by now Eddie has fallen in love with her. He rescues the situation with a romantic dinner, though he can hardly suppress his pent up anger at the world. When he leaves with Rose’s address, he promises to keep in touch. The show is framed by scenes of his homecoming in 1967 (this isn’t that clear) and in the second and final one we see his reception, both political and personal. Though I loved the music and Matt Ryan’s direction & Lucie Pankhurst’s choreography, by the interval I wasn’t so sure about the story or where it was going, but it’s nicely sown up in the second half.

It’s not a lot more than a love story, but it has a lovely score which is beautifully played by George Dyer’s largely acoustic six-piece band. The six voices of the marines sound great together and Jamie Muscato is a fine romantic lead as Eddie. Every now and again I find myself blown away by an outstanding performance and here Laura Jane Matthewson makes an extraordinary professional debut as Rose, with gorgeous vocals and a very believable transition from naive girl to feisty woman. More great vocals from Rebecca Trehearn as Marcy and a lovely cameo from Ananda Minihan (straight from playing a wonderful Nettie in the Arcola’s superb Carousel) complete a fine cast, something producer Danielle Tarento is renown for.

Like Southwark Playhouse’s last musical In The Heights, it’s staged with the audience on three sides and a two-story backdrop containing the band and entrances designed by Lee Newby (it’s only towards the end I realised what this represented) and the playing space is used to great effect, particularly in the thrilling ‘dance’ numbers. The sound needs a bit of attention to ensure full audibility of the lyrics throughout the auditorium, but that could be easily solved by press night.

Haven’t booked yet? Why?

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