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Posts Tagged ‘Lee Newby’

This musical has been created to raise awareness and pay tribute to the victims of a little publicised 1973 hate crime when a New Orleans gay bar was subjected to an arson attack killing 32, the biggest toll of such a crime before Orlando in 2016.

We meet fashion designer Wes in the present time. He’s relocating from New York to his home town of New Orleans, buying premises to showcase his work, without realising it’s the scene of the 1973 attack. As soon as he’s signed the deal, the magic of theatre brings the club alive again and we’re back in 1973 on the evening of the tragedy. Thus begins a conversation between two generations of gay people across more than forty years, with the seventies set as shocked at Wes’ openness as he is at their secrecy. The eight characters tell their stories, which together show the contrasting lives in the two periods.

Max Vernon‘s score goes from one ballsy number to another for the whole 120 minutes, with the vocal honours going to Tyrone Huntley as Wes, Carley Mercedes Dyer as bar tender Henri and Cedric Neal as Willie, with excellent backing from Bob Broad’s invisible band. Declan Bennett and Andy Mientus bring the homeless hustler Dale and Patrick, the boy abandoned by his parents at fourteen who ends up doing the same, to life with fine acting. It’s great to see Victoria Hamilton-Barritt again and she’s superb as Inez, the Latin mum of drag queen Freddy, a breathless high energy performance from Garry Lee. Lee Newby has created a realistic period bar and director Jonathan O’Boyle and choreographer Fabian Aloise use the small Soho space well.

You have to go with the fantasy of the time warp, but if you do you will be rewarded with a fascinating contrast between gay life then and now illustrated by some great songs.

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This show takes its title from a song in Mary Poppins sung by Mr Banks, played by the actor David Tomlinson, the subject of the play. A one-man biographical memoir featuring Miles Jupp, and its rather good.

Tomlinson had a very successful career playing the archetypal English gent. Though he worked on stage and TV, it was his prolific big screen career, some fifty films, for which he was best known. Walt Disney was apparently initially reluctant to cast him as Banks, but must have warmed to him as he later also cast him in Bedknobs & Broomsticks and The Love Bug, a trio of films which made him recognisable to a generation of children, and their parents & grandparents.

In addition to his film career, we learn about his difficult relationship with his domineering father, who led a double life, and the contrasting close relationship with his autistic son, one of four he had with second wife Audrey. These moving moments alternate with extremely funny ones of English eccentricity, somewhat lost in translation in Hollywood. Lee Newby’s Magrittesque pale blue set provides the perfect backdrop. Jupp plays Tomlinson engagingly, with great audience contact, warmth and charm.

It appears to be comedy writer James Kettle’s first play; an impressive achievement indeed. Perhaps Jupp is so comfortable with Kettle’s lines because he writes them for the News Quiz too. There’s a delicacy and lightness of touch about the writing, staging and performance that makes for a delightful evening, well worth a couple of hours of your time.

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When I saw the West End première of this show in 1992 I was completely underwhelmed. Part of the problem was that it was staged in the vast Dominion Theatre. I warmed to it when the Donmar revived it in 2004, winning an Olivier award for Best Musical Revival, and again when the Guildhall School of Music & Drama gave it their all just last year (https://garethjames.wordpress.com/2014/07/11/grand-hotel). Now I’m getting positively hot. The producer / director team of Danielle Tarento & Thom Sutherland have another big hit on their hands with this thrilling revival.

It’s a character-driven piece set in a Berlin hotel in the 1920’s. It revolves around a broke Baron, Felix von Gaigern, forced to steal by his criminal creditor. He falls for both fading Russian ballerina Elizaveta and temp secretary Flaemnchen, and befriends dying book-keeper Otto, himself intent on a little bit if luxury on the way out. Otto used to work for Preysing, an unprincipled businessman in the process of engineering a merger for his ailing company, and buying Flaemnchen’s attentions. Felix is also kind to hotel concierge Erik, awaiting news of the birth of his son, much more so than his boss. It’s all presided over by Colonel-Doctor Otternschlag, a somewhat mysterious morphine addict, acting as narrator.

The score is a lot better than I remembered and there’s a lot of it (and little dialogue). It unfolds over 105 unbroken minutes on a patterned faux marble floor, with a huge chandelier above and just a few props, in a traverse setting. Lee Newby’s costumes are terrific and Lee Proud’s choreography is superb, miraculous given the space he has to work with. Thom Sutherland’s staging is masterly, overcoming my initial fears that it would be cramped in this space. The Southwark Playhouse often has issues with sound at its musicals, but not here. With a lot of small overhead speakers angled down, Michael Bradley’s string-heavy septet sounds great, and all of the lyrics are clear.

Tarento does her own casting and again she has assembled a truly gifted ensemble. Scott Garnham is terrific as Felix, with particularly fine vocals. I loved both the characterisation and singing of Christine Grimandi, an auspicious British debut for this Italian performer. It’s great to see Valerie Cutko as Elizabeta’s companion / assistant Raffaela, the same role she took over in the original Broadway production. Here David Delve took over the role of the ‘narrator’ Otternschlag at very short notice, but you’d never know it from his confident, commanding performance. There are too many more to mention – another 13 – in this fine cast, except perhaps to say that there are excellent professional debuts from 2015 graduates Jammy Kasongo, Durone Stokes and Leah West.

We are ever so lucky to get work of this quality on the fringe. I think I might have to be greedy and go again…..

 

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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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