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Posts Tagged ‘Lizzi Gee’

I often feel more positive about a show which has received indifferent reviews, though I never know if it’s the pressure of press night (never the best night to see a show in my experience), improvement as the run progresses or the difference between the view of people paid to be there against those who’ve paid to have a good time, and so it is again.

Sean Foley’s adaptation of the 1951 Ealing comedy, the screenplay of which got an Oscar nomination, moves it later in the fifties, but is otherwise faithful to the film; indeed, it feels very much a homage to the genre, still much loved, well certainly by me. One of the keys to their success was the celebration of the underdog, the outsider, the pioneer. In this case it’s the eccentric inventor whose invention threatens the livelihoods and wealth of others.

Cambridge chemistry graduate Sidney Stratton invents a stain resistant indestructible fabric which the mill owners at first embrace, until the potential impact on their wealth dawns on them. At the same time, the workers can see the threat to their jobs. The adaptation illustrates its timelessness and plausibility with clever references to oil. They try to pay off Sidney, and even use mill owner Birnley’s daughter Daphne’s allure to turn him. In the end, it’s the soundness of the science that seals the fate of the invention. There are other up-to-date references which bring a delightful cheekiness.

It’s played as broad comedy, and I thought it was great fun. Michael Taylor’s brilliant design moves us speedily from pub to factory lab. to mill-owner’s home to car ride to digs. Lizzi Gee’s choreography adds a sprightly feel. There’s skiffle music incorporated, with four members of the cast creating a live onstage band bringing a touch of knees-up to proceedings, playing original music by Charlie Fink. This is one of a number of features that reminds you of One Man, Two Guvnors. The cast’s enthusiasm is infectious, but its Stephen Mangan’s amiable charm and comic prowess that lifts it.

It’s a show to go to if you just want some fun, like those Mischief Theatre shows or One Man, Two Guvnors. It may not be up to the latter, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t a good night out. Find out for yourself.

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The perfect start to Kwame Kwei-Armah’s tenure at the Young Vic – a great big populist hit. This 90-minute musical adaptation of Shakespeare’s play, which loses much of the verse but none of the story, is bursting with energy and fun, joyous and uplifting.

It’s a musical comedy, so the spotlight is on the antics of Olivia’s uncle Sir Toby Belch, his friend Sir Andrew Aguecheek and Olivia’s maid Maria and the trick they play on her steward Malvolio (the contemporary take on yellow stockings and crossed garters is delicious!), but the love triangle of Orsino pining for Olivia whilst she’s attracted to Viola as Cesario who is herself infatuated with Orsino is handled brilliantly. When Viola’s supposedly dead brother Sebastian turns up, and Malvolio uncovers the plot against him, the resolution is rather moving, despite the comedy.

Designer Robert Jones has built a whole Notting Hill street (with the Duke of Illyria its pub!) in the Young Vic auditorium; an absolutely brilliant set. The eleven Shakespearean characters are supplemented by a thirty strong community chorus who fill the stage and are so good you’d never know it wasn’t a professional one. Shaina Taub’s score is fairly vanilla pop, as is Lizzi Gee’s choreography, but they both do the job and its well sung, played and danced.

The performances are outstanding, led by Gerard Carey as Malvolio, one of the finest comic performances I’ve seen in a lifetime of devotion to theatre. Gabrielle Brooks is simply brilliant as Viola / Cesario, handling the frisson with Orsino superbly and her reunion with Sebastian movingly, with beautiful vocals. Natalie Drew and Rupert Young are both superb as Olivia and Orsino. The comic duo of Sir Toby Belch and Sir Andrew Aguecheek are finely played by Martyn Ellis and Silas Wyatt-Barke, and there’s a lovely Feste from Melissa Allan, who sings beautifully.

Oskar Eustis co-directs this captivating piece with Kwei-Armah, who co-conceived it with Taub. A treat.

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August is wild west musicals month, though you have to go to the home counties to see them! First up is the Annie Get Your Gun tour in Woking; the principle reason for seeing it being Emma Williams’ Annie Oakley.

Irving Berlin’s most famous show is actually based on the true story of Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show (yes, it was real and it even toured Europe!) and in particular sharpshooter Annie Oakley. Oakley breathes new life into this touring entertainment, though not without ruffling a few feathers, notably erstwhile champion Frank Butler. It may have been the first (and only?) musical to feature an Indian chief (not a native American in 1946). The reason it has survived is a score with one of the best opening numbers ever – There’s No Business Like Show Business – that’s packed full of what are now standards, like The Girl That I Marry, They Say It’s Wonderful and Anything You Can Do.

This is high quality touring fare, directed with great panache by Ian Talbot. Paul Farnsworth’s big top set, with the band onstage, limits the playing space for the 18-strong cast but makes it both more intimate and faster moving, and Lizzi Gee’s inventive choreography turns it into an advantage. I saw the first outing of this version, revised by Peter Shore for Broadway in 1999, with Bernadette Peters (who didn’t really suit the role) and this is a whole lot better.

Emma Williams is simply superb as Annie, making the transition from unknown tomboy to famous entertainer, singing these lovely songs beautifully. She must be the finest West End leading lady without the hit show she so richly deserves – she’s had artistic successes, notably the wonderful Howard Goodall musical Love Story, but she’s never had an artistic AND commercial hit. Someone correct that soon, please. Jason Donovan was either seriously under the weather, which I suspect, or he’s seriously undercast. He seemed to be going through the motions, totally lacking the sparkle of his co-star and singing poorly. To be frank, l was disappointed they didn’t send on his understudy in the second half.

This is West End ready, but somehow I don’t think, in the present climate, it will get the transfer it deserves.

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Well I’m pleased to report that the Union Theatre’s all-male Gilbert & Sullivan initiative still has legs. This is the fifth and it’s very well staged & performed and above all huge fun.

This was an early G&S, 135 years old, now but amongst the most popular of the ten or so still in the repertoire (there were c.15). It’s a navy setting for a satire on class and an illustration of how you could climb to the top of government without an iota of talent (nothing changes). Convention requires the captain’s daughter to marry the obsequious head of the navy rather than sailor Ralph who she loves. In true Shakespearean fashion, nothing is what it seems and it all ends happily (for some).

What struck me most about this production was the combined inventiveness of Sasha Regan’s staging, Lizzi Gee’s choreography and Ryan Dawson-Laight’s design. The action takes place aboard ship and the sailor’s quarters are created with a few metal bunks and the ship’s deck with a rope. The boys become girls with lifejackets transforming into costumes, a net used as a shawl and a shirt collar a headdress. The space is used brilliantly, with characters popping up all over the place (I jumped as one started singing behind me!).

The musical standards, under MD Chris Mundy on the piano, are as ever high, with diction particularly clear (important, given the story is told almost entirely in songs, which themselves contain so much wit) and the switches from low to high registers virtually seamless. This is a new crop of G&S boys and impressive they are too, with a handful of professional and London debuts.

The Union may have peaked with Patience, but this is fresh and clever and fully justifies the continuation of the five year project.

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This is the London premiere of a Rogers & Hammerstein show, one based on a John Steinbeck novel no less, for which we owe the Union Theatre a debt of gratitude. It came after Oklahoma, Carousel, South Pacific and The King & I but before The Sound of Music. It was a huge flop.

The setting brings together the world of a brothel, a man’s doss house and a marine biologist (!) in Monterey’s Cannery Row in California. New-girl-in-town Suzy is ‘adopted’ by brothel madam Fauna and a love story develops between Suzy and Doc, the marine biologist. That’s about it, really – and that’s its problem; an extraordinarily slight story. There are some nice tunes, but nowhere near enough to redeem what is in reality a turkey from the most unlikely of sources. How on earth did it even get to Broadway in 1955?!

Sasha Regan has done her best with such material, with an evocative setting by Elle-Rose Peake. The few choruses are stirring, with fine choreography by Lizzi Gee, and there are outstanding performances from Kieran Brown as Doc ad Virge Gilchrist as Fauna, and good turns in smaller roles from David Haydn and Nick Martland. My one quibble with the production is that the keyboard / percussion duo are musically underpowered.

Whatever you think of the show, though, it’s a must-see for musical theatre completists like me who want to see all of the work of the great masters, not just endless revivals of their hits like The Sound of Music, currently revived at the Open Air Theatre less than five years aft it closed at the London Paladium.

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Well, I’ve got seriously behind with my blog, so instead of individual play reviews, I’m adding them to the customary monthly round-up, which given I only spent 12 days of April in the UK, wasn’t much to round-up!

The highlight was undoubtedly the ballet – Scottish Ballet’s new working of A Streetcar Named Desire at Sadler’s Wells. I felt just like I did the first time I really ‘got’ ballet as dance drama, when I saw Kenneth MacMillan’s Romeo & Juliet. This wordless form was more dramatic than any production of the play I’d seen – and both operas adapted from it. Starting with Blanche’s back story (way before her arrival in New Orleans when the play starts) was inspired. The drama unfolded chronologically from her childhood to her incarceration in an asylum by her sister Stella & husband Stanley. The fingerprints of director Nancy Meckler were all over it and the choreography of Annabelle Lopez Ochoa matched it seamlessly. Graeme Virtue’s jazz influenced score was hugely atmospheric, played beautifully by a small 13-piece orchestra. Niki Turner’s designs were elegant, evocative and simply beautiful. You got every bit of the play’s intensity, the longing, the sadness, the testosterone, the fragility….this is a masterpiece I can’t wait to see again.

The opera was ROH 2’s Opera Shots in the Linbury Studionew operas by those new to opera. Graham Fitkin’s Home wasn’t really an opera but a dance drama with music! Nice music though, and lovely flowing movement. What it was about is another matter; don’t ask me. Neil (the Divine Comedy) Hannon’s Sebastopol was more substantial, but still felt more like a staged song cycle than an opera. Again, nice music – though lots of missed words with opera singers singing the way they do i.e often unintelligibly!

I first saw Filumena in the West End in 1977 in a Zeffirelli production starring Joan Plowright – though I didn’t really know who Zeffirelli and Plowright were! Samantha Spiro at the Almeida makes a great Filumena and Clive Wood is an excellent Domenico. Robert Jones’ vast set is so realistic it looks fake (all those artificial plants!). Somehow though the play doesn’t seem that good now. There’s an implausibility to the story of a prostitute who ‘goes native’ but never manages to bag her man, even using the parentage of her sons as bait. A good production, but I’m not sure the play has stood the test of time.

I was recalling my first trip to NYC in my recent travel blog and in particular that one of the plays I saw in that 1980 visit was a preview of Arthur Miller’s The American Clock (which closed soon after opening, but got an NT production some years later). The co-incidence was that I’d booked to see it at the Finborough two days after my return – and very glad I was that I had. Director Phil Wilmott’s idea of framing the play with scenes at a present day exhibition of great depression photos was inspired and heightened even further the parallels between 1929 and today. Given the number of scenes, the production has to be simple and it was, and the acting was the usual high standard we’ve got used to at the Finborough – but what grabs you is the uncanniness of the contemporary relevance of Miller writing 30 years ago about something that happened 80 years ago. Spooky!

Big & Small’s big draw is its movie star lead – Cate Blanchette – and she is an extraordinarily good stage actor. Sadly, her vehicle here is a load of pretentious bollocks about a woman searching for meaning in her life. I will allow the director’s quotes in the programme to sum it up as I can’t – ‘It alludes simultaneously to the spiritual and political dimensions of life; macro / micro, cosmos / cell, state / individual, history / present, eternity / now. The expansion and contraction of being…..the seemingly fragmented de-centred dramatrugy…..the slow-motion detonation of character and narrative…..the existential puzzle…..the play offers a radical perspective on society. Lotte’s odyssey confronts us with the limits of rational order. She is a stranger in her own culture. A fool and a saint dancing on the rim of the abyss. As I said, bollocks.

Making Noise Quietly gets a gentle loving production from Peter Gill and the three playlets are finely acted. Again the problem is the material, Robert Holman’s 27-year old piece, now apparently an ‘A’ level text! Loosely connected by the second world war and the Falklands war, I didn’t really find them satisfying, particularly the last (title) play which I found unbelievable; I just couldn’t buy in to the characters and situation. Not the Donmar at its best.

Babes in Arms wasn’t the Union at its best either. Hampered by a weak book, this musical just didn’t sparkle as it could and has. The musical standards weren’t up to the Union’s usual high, though the choreography of Lizzi Gee was outstanding so all was well in the dancing department. Overall, a disappointment though.

I’ve lost track of the number of Alan Ayckbourn shows I’ve seen – maybe half of his 75? – but of late the new ones have seemed dated and the old ones like veritable museum pieces. Neighbourhood Watch at the Tricycle (what’s it doing here?) was no different. The one location and setting was dull and restrictive and the whole thing was just a bit predictable and dull. The premise was fine and it was nicely acted, but it didn’t sustain its 130 minute length and left me thinking ‘so what?’

Not the greatest eight days in theatre, then…..

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