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Posts Tagged ‘Killian Donnelly’

The adaptation of British feel-good films as stage musical continues. This is the third in the last twelve months, following Made in Dagenham and Bend It Like Beckham, and in my book it’s another successful transition. This time, like The Full Monty before it, it came via Broadway, but thankfully without being relocated to an American town. It suffers from a dose of typically American sentimentality in the second half, but that can be forgiven for the pleasures elsewhere.

Northampton shoe factory Price & Son is struggling when Mr Price dies suddenly and son Charlie becomes the reluctant heir. The family loyalty to their employees means it has been on its uppers for some time and Charlie isn’t initially well disposed to flog a dead horse. A chance encounter with a drag queen gives him the idea of transforming it into a niche supplier of, well, kinky boots, and drag queen Lola becomes his unlikely business partner.

You can see why they had the idea of turning it into a musical and it works well. Though it’s ten years since I saw the film, Harvey Fierstein’s adaptation seems faithful to Geoff Deane & Tim Firth’s screenplay (apparently based on a true story). Cyndi Lauper might seem an odd choice for the music and lyrics but I thought her score suited the subject matter and period. It could do with toning down a bit (a bit too brash for Northampton!) but there are some very good solos and choruses. 

The clever design by David Rockwell facilitates speedy transition from a dull factory to the brash colourful world of drag, and ultimately a Milan catwalk, and Gregg Barnes costumes (presumably including footwear) are delightfully eye-popping. Jerry Mitchell is the perfect choice as director / choreographer; his irreverent sense of fun proven by Hairspray, Legally Blonde and Dirty Rotten Scoundrels. I thought the sound was too loud, losing some of the lyrics – this is unforgivable for a show four or five months into its run.

In his last two shows, The Commitments and Memphis, Killian Donnelly has shone vocally and here he adds acting honours, investing the role of Charlie with great passion yet every bit the boy next door. Matt Henry is terrific as Lola, again with exceptional vocals and very good acting, though I’m not sure how he can even move in those dresses and boots. There is a lovely performance from Amy Lennox as Lauren and excellent turns from Jamie Baugh as Lola’s nemesis Don and Michael Hobbs as factory foreman George.

An excellent, uplifting evening which I’m glad I caught up with at last and will no doubt re-visit.

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Another catch-up courtesy of a January offer, and not really what I was expecting at all. The pastiche score, by Bon Jovi’s David Bryan, the singing, the brilliant band and the dancing actually blew me away. I don’t think it’s as successful as a narrative musical, but as a purely musical experience it’s terrific.

They probably won’t like me for saying that it treads similar ground to Hairspray. That show was about the evils of segregation too, but in the world of the TV pop shows of 60’s Baltimore. This one’s in 50’s Memphis, but the underlying theme is the same, even though the treatment and style are very different. Memphis does benefit from taking place during the birth of rock and roll, though, and I have fond memories of visiting the city and visiting clubs on Beale Street ten years ago, so it resonates with me more.

Huey is a bit of a loser until he finds his vocation as a rebel DJ, his radio show quickly becoming No.1 in Memphis and graduating to his own TV show. He visits a black only club, which is as unacceptable as a black man visiting a white club, where he meets singer Felicia, who becomes friend, muse and ultimately lover. Their relationship is fraught with problems caused by segregation – she can’t appear on his show and they can’t be seen together in public (mixed marriage was illegal in some states, such as Tennessee, less than 50 years ago!). They both get opportunities to go to the bright lights of the north, but the price is too high for principled Huey and Felicia heads for the big time alone, despite the prejudice, while Huey heads back to his now ailing radio show.

I first saw Beverley Knight a  year ago in The Bodyguard and she impressed me greatly, as she does here. The West End needs to hang on to her. He’d done a lot before, though I didn’t know that, but Killian Donnelly really arrived with a bang in The Commitments in 2012 and he tops this with an even more sensational performance. In an excellent supporting cast, Jason Pennycooke gives yet another of his superb cameos. The ensemble is outstanding, with the dancing particularly thrilling.

The music and narrative aren’t joined up enough to make thoroughly satisfying musical theatre, but musically it’s simply wonderful.

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Adapting a book or a film for the stage is a risky business. If the audience have read / seen the original, the characters already exist in their head, where the story is also firmly embedded. Perhaps having Roddy Doyle on board helps this page-to-screen-to-stage show pull it off, for pull it off it does!

Soul becomes the soundtrack of working class Dublin as Jimmy goes about putting a band together. He engages some friends and auditions others and in no time, there you are listening to classic songs like Reach Out, I’ll Be There and Papa Was A Rolling Stone played superbly by a partly onstage, partly offstage band and sung brilliantly by Killian Donnelly as Deco (how will he do this eight times a week?!) and three backing singers. The show’s certainly got soul.

It’s also got heart, as you fall in love with the inhabitants of fictitious Barrytown in north Dublin and their fecking self-deprecating humour. Designer Soutra Gilmour has created blocks of flats on three sides from which characters appear and peer down. You’re rooting for the entrepreneurial but naive manager Jimmy, desperate to make The Commitments a success, even when they seem set on self-destruction. Whether his tales are true or not, you can’t help liking been-there-done-that predatory Joey, who seems to get all the girls. You even fall for skinhead bouncer-come-drummer Mickah, brilliantly played by Joe Woolmer.

At first It seemed to be rushing through the story – at one moment, you’re seeing an audition and the next a public performance – but in the end it didn’t really matter as it captured the lives of the ‘niggers of Europe, niggers of Ireland, niggers of Dublin’. The humour is terrific, not least when one band member has a dalliance with jazz, which comes in for some coruscating swipes, and with a running gag involving a new romantics auditionee. There isn’t a weak link in the young (mostly) Irish cast. Above all, the music raises the roof, with a soundtrack to die for.

The idea of half-price previews is inspired. The houses are full, the cast and the audience are getting hyped up and the word of mouth is flowing. The absence of a big producer in the credits (unless they are hiding behind ‘The Commitments London Limited’) suggests we may be seeing a fresh approach here, in which case they deserve the success this show is almost certain to get. It’s a West End show that feels like a fringe show and it has HIT written all over it – and it’s the 4th in six months for director Jamie Lloyd.

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