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Posts Tagged ‘Kirk Jameson’

It’s hard to believe that it’s the 40th anniversary of this Peter Nichols play (with songs by Dennis King), inspired by his own period in forces entertainment in the CSEU, and what a superb revival it is.

Set in the Malayan peninsula after the Second World War, when Britain was having a spot of bother with Chinese commies, SADUSEA entertains what’s left of the troops in Singapore before embarking on a Malayan tour to perform for an altogether different audience. The military leader is god-fearing Major Flank (brilliantly played by Callum Coates), assisted by corrupt Sergeant Major Drummond (Matt Beveridge, excellent), but the entertainment is led by Captain Dennis, outrageously camp and openly gay at a time when he would no doubt have been imprisoned back home. His entertainment troop includes a brummie, a cockney, a posh boy, a mixed race (Welsh-Indian) woman and newcomer Flowers. Their lives and loves are interspersed with rehearsals and performances. It starts as light and frothy but gets very dark indeed, though it’s often hilarious. I enjoyed Dennis King’s songs much more in this small-scale production, because they felt more authentic.

Mike Lees superb design and Kirk Jameson’s staging serve the play very well. Simon Green is outstanding as Captain Terri Dennis, with terrific turns as Marlene Dietrich, Noel Coward and Carmen Miranda. I’ve been lucky enough to see the late Dennis Quilley in the original production, Roger Allam’s Olivier Award winning turn in 2001 and Simon Russell Beale just five years ago and Green is a match for all of them. There’s a most auspicious professional debut by Martha Pothen and a fine ensemble, most of which were new to me – Samuel Curry, Paul Sloss, Tom Pearce, Matt Hayden, Tom Bowen and Mikey Howe as the mute native help.

Well worth catching, whether you’ve seen it before or not.

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My track record with this Irving Berlin show isn’t great. On Broadway in 1999, Bernadette Peters was too demure and not enough of a tomboy. At the Young Vic in 2009, Richard Jones inventive production, brilliantly re-scored by Jason Carr for four pianos, miscast Jane Horrocks and had dreadful sight lines. In the 2014 touring production, Jason Donovan’s Frank was no match for Emma Williams’ Annie. Well, this revival has none of those problems, and a lot to enjoy.

It’s easy to forget that this is based on the true story of Buffalo Bill’s show which toured, not just in the US but in Europe in the late 19th century, before merging with competitor Pawnee Bill’s show. When we open (with There’s No Business Like Show Business, one of the greatest opening numbers ever), Frank Butler is the show’s star sharpshooter, but young Annie Oakley turns up from nowhere and ends up challenging and usurping him, which rather scuppers their mutual attraction. Annie heads off to Europe, with Chief Sitting Bull now involved with the show, and Frank defects to Pawnee Bill’s show, but when they return triumphant but broke, love eventually wins.

This staging uses Peter Stone’s 1999 revision of Dorothy & Herbert Fields’ original book, making it more politically correct (changing some, but not all, of the racism towards native Americans), adding a romantic sub-plot and a song, but dropping a handful of other songs and making it a play-within-a-play, a feature which I don’t think really works. It was particularly odd when Annie’s brother Jake puts on a headdress and becomes Chief Sitting Bull, initially with script in hand. Kirk Jameson’s production is appropriately costumed, but with limited props, leaving plenty of space for Ste Clough’s excellent choreography. It’s lacks pace occasionally and the band sometimes drown the solos, but otherwise I liked it. The most important thing is that the standard-laden score is very well sung.

I very much liked Gemma Maclean’s Annie, an excellent transition from naïve tomboy to star turn. She’s well matched by Blair Robertson’s Frank, with great presence and great vocals. They are well supported by a cast of thirteen others who shine in the ensembles and choruses.

Good to see it at last without miscast leads and poor sightlines!

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This show, by Joe DiPietro & Jimmy Roberts, ran Off Broadway for 12 years / 5000 shows between 1996 and 2008 but has only managed three short runs in London. Though there are some unsung scenes, its really a song cycle for four actors, and it’s rather good.

It follows relationships from casual dating through serious courting, marriage, parenthood and empty nesting to divorce, death and back to dating! Four actors, two male and two female, play all of the nameless individuals and couples in various combinations, that represent stages in archetypal relationships. The songs are good, but its strength really lies in its humour, finding the truth in life’s twists and turns.

The great attraction of this production is four of Britain’s finest young musical theatre performers – Julie Atherton, Gina Beck, Samuel Holmes and Simon Lipkin – at the top of their game. Not only are they good delivering the songs, but they also prove very adept at the comedy, squeezing every laugh possible from the witty lyrics and sharp lines. Scott Morgan accompanies on an upright piano with no amplification which I liked, though I missed some lyrics when the performers weren’t facing me.

Staged in the small space Above the Arts Theatre by Kirk Jameson with movement by Sam Spencer Lane and just a few props but a lot of costume changes, it’s a delightful 80 minutes, though lengthened to almost two hours by an unnecessary interval and some bad timekeeping, which stretched the patience on a sweltering evening.

I took against the Arts Theatre’s new upstairs venue, Above the Arts, like a room above a pub for an open mic night, with no raking, no stage and no air, but I’m really glad I caught up with this show at last, especially with such fine casting. It deserves a better venue (St James Studio, Union Theatre, Landor Theatre….)and a longer run, though.

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This is a compilation of songs from the shows of Kander & Ebb. They wrote 15 musicals (I’ve only managed to catch 8 of them), the most famous of which are of course Cabaret & Chicago. What makes them unique, in my view, is the diversity of subjects (a bit like Sondheim) and the way they matched musical styles to their subjects. This features songs from the first ten shows plus the now iconic New York, New York and other songs from the same film.

There’s more staging and choreography than such shows normally get and you have to admire the look of Kirk Jameson’s production. There’s an elegance and sophistication to it which makes it stand out from the crowd of similar shows. We’re more used to hearing these songs backed by a band, but the solo piano worked for me, particularly as it allowed it to be refreshingly unamplified. Tom Boucher’s lighting was a key part of the look, but the noisiness of the movement of the spots sometimes detracted.

I’m less familiar with these songs than those of Sondheim, but I’m not sure they stand alone as well. I wasn’t keen on some of the rearrangements, particularly those from Cabaret, and not all songs suited the singer. A multi-lingual NewYork New York was an inspired idea, though. There was some unevenness in performance, though Emma Francis shone throughout. MD & pianist Michael Riley provided fine accompaniment. The five dancers, choreographed by Sam Spencer Lane and most making their professional debuts, animated the songs and turned it into more of a show than a concert.

Kander & Ebb’s body of work is probably second only to Sondheim, though we see a lot less of it. This show provides an excellent opportunity to hear great songs like Arthur in the Afternoon and Sara Lee that you are unlikely to hear elsewhere as well as the handful like All That Jazz and Cabaret that have become standards. Go see for yourself.

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Another day, another rare revival of a Broadway show (the 60’s this time). This one has a book & lyrics by Alan Jay Lerner no less ( Brigadoon, Paint Your Wagon, My Fair Lady, Camelot & Gigi) and music by the less well-known Burton Lane, the man who discovered Judy Garland.

It’s a funny little story concerning Daisy, whom a psychiatrist discovers is uber-susceptible and has ESP, who regresses under hypnosis and reveals a former life in England as Melinda, who the psychiatrist falls for. You can see why it wasn’t a big hit on Broadway; it’s a chamber piece with no big choruses and no real showstoppers. That makes it very suitable for the Union Theatre, of course – even more intimate than usual with seats on three sides.

It’s very tuneful, but only one song – the title number – stands out and the story is a bit daft, but director Kirk Jameson has done well with the material. The musical standards are particularly high under MD Inga Davies-Rutter. In a faultless ensemble, Vicki Lee Taylor shines as Daisy, with a spot-on American accent fine-tuned after six months in A Chorus Line. This is a real star performance worth the ticket price alone.

I love all these opportunities to catch up with old shows and though this isn’t the best, it’s well worth reviving and well worth catching.

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The Union Theatre’s pre-eminence as the home of  musical theatre continues with this very welcome revival of a preposterous & implausible but delightful & charming 60’s American homage / spoof of the golden age of 30’s film musicals.

In the first act, we’re on the stage of a broadway theatre where final rehearsals are underway for that night’s opening of a show starring the legendary Mona Kent. Stage struck Ruby arrives by bus from Utah and gets to replace the chorus girl whisked away by a rich punter. Newly enlisted sailor and songwriting wannabe Dick (from the same town in Utah!) then turns up and gets a song accepted by predatory Mona and falls in love with Ruby. Fellow sailor Lucky arrives looking for Dick (!) and falls in love with fellow chorus girl Joan. The demolition of the theatre means the show can’t open but the sailors have a plan – and we’ve only been going 50 minutes!

In the second half, the show must go on, so it’s staged on the navy ship, Mona is seasick so Ruby gets her big break and a star is born. We end with the triple wedding of Dick & Ruby, Lucky & Joan and Mona with the ship’s captain, an old flame…..and we’ve only been going another 50 minutes in real-time and only a day in stage time!

It has an excellent score beautifully sung and played well by just two pianos (MD: Richard Bates) and there are some very funny lines. Kirk Jameson’s revival, with excellent choreography from Drew McOnie, is pitch perfect, balancing the tongue-in-cheek parody with romantic charm. They are lucky to have a stunning cast. It’s great to see Rosemary Ashe on the fringe and she’s every inch the Broadway diva with a booming voice and terrific comic timing. Gemma Sutton and Catriana Sandison are both superb as the girls and Daniel Bartlett and Alan Hunter equally superb as the boys. Ian Mowatt and Anthony Wise provide fine comic cameos as the ship’s captain and theatre director respectively. In an outstanding ensemble there’s another Strallen, Sasi (exactly how many are there?!) and two impressive professional debuts from recent Arts Ed graduates Matt Gillett and Joshua Tonks.

It’s a delightful, charing and funny evening that is unmissable for any lover of musical theatre.

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