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Posts Tagged ‘Lizzie Wofford’

This appears to be the first London production of this Bernstein / Comden & Green musical comedy for thirty years. I think the last one was the the 1986 revival, which featured Maureen Lipman. There was a touring production with Connie Fisher and the Halle Orchestra no less, but the nearest that got to London was Woking, where I went to see it. I’m a bit surprised as it’s really a lot of fun.

Ruth & Eileen are sisters who arrive in Greenwich Village from Ohio intent on making their names, Ruth as a writer and Eileen as a performer. They get a poky, noisy apartment formerly occupied by a prostitute, and soon their circle includes neighbours Helen & Wreck, drugstore manager Frank, their landlord and sometime artist Appopolous, night club owner Valentin, editor Baker, newspaperman Chick and most of the local police, all Irish and all besotted with Eileen, as are Frank, Baker and Chick. They get into scrapes trying to get work, notably with most of the Brazilian navy, but eventually end up with a press card and a cabaret job respectively.

In this production they really play it for laughs, with some pretty broad performances, but it works as it’s not at the expense of the musical standards, which are as high as we’ve come to expect in this fringe venue. MD Aaron Clingham is flying solo at the piano this time, and that works too. There’s some cracking musical staging and choreography from director Tim McArthur and choreographer Ian Pyle, who throw in some Irish dancing by the policemen with Eileen, and some great ensemble work in Christopher Street and The Wrong Note Rag. Can there be another show with a conga in it? and here one which exits the auditorium at the interval, picking up audience members along the way.

Lizzie Wofford (who I first saw six years ago as a brilliant Mrs Lovett in the NYMT’s Sweeney Todd at the Village Underground) and Francesca Benton-Stace are both terrific as Ruth and Eileen respectively, and they have a fine young, enthusiastic, energetic supporting cast (casting by Benjamin Newsome again).

I’ve come to very much enjoy my trips to Walthamstow, and this is no exception. It’s over now, but look out for their next show.

 

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London seems to have more Christmas shows than ever this year, so here’s the antidote – a lovely home-grown new musical without the tiniest fragment of tinsel in sight. Tom Lees & Ray Rackham, London Theatre Workshop’s Artistic Directors, have written, produced, directed and MD’d a hugely impressive show.

Apartment 40C is in New York City and newly graduated Eddie & Katie discover it has been leased to both of them. The fighting doesn’t last long before they agree to share it, and more. Their older selves Ed & Kate, now successful lawyer and journalist respectively are still living there when they arrive at a turning point in their relationship. The even more mature Edward & Kathryn, now divorced, meet back at the apartment where their son has been living at another turning point in their lives.

The show moves back and forth in time between these three life-changing moments and as it does you unravel the story for yourself; I very much liked the jigsaw effect this creates. There are often more than one pairing on stage, with an occasional glance between an older and younger self. The space doesn’t need much of a makeover to pass for an apartment and given the resources of this small company there’s a real authenticity to the set-up. I really liked Tom Lees songs and arrangements, played by himself on piano, with others on cello and violin, and Ray Rackham’s book and lyrics tell the couple’s story well.

They’ve got a uniformly excellent cast. Alex James Ellison & Alex Crossley (an impressive professional début) invest Eddie & Katie with youthful energy and optimism. Drew Weston, who seems to be a new arrival from Australia, and Lizzie Wofford, particularly impressive playing older than her age, are both outstanding as Ed & Kate (four years ago, before her training at Mountview, Lizzie was a terrific Mrs Lovett in NYMT’s Sweeney Todd https://garethjames.wordpress.com/2010/08/05/nymt-sweeney-todd). Peter Gerald & Nova Skipp provide both maturity and musical theatre experience as the mature Edward & Kathryn.

I’m not sure why they chose to set this in NYC, given that its a new British musical – perhaps it seems more plausible there? I’m also not sure how we get from a (controlled rent) apartment to an owned one, but these are minor points in a major achievement. If you are interested in musical theatre or sick of Christmas fare, or both, you really shouldn’t miss this lovely show.

 

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The National Youth Music Theatre doing Sondheim’s Sweeney Todd? This makes the decision of RADA, the UK’s premiere drama school, to do Company seem decidedly unambitious. Despite the fact people like Jude Law, Sheridan Smith and Matt Lucas did their first work for NYMT, I was still somewhat sceptical…..

When we entered the former Victorian warehouse closer to where its set than any production before it (apart from the Bridewell Theatre’s virtually in Fleet Street itself), we’re confronted by ‘the outsiders’ wandering around the space talking to themselves, pushing supermarket trolleys and generally behaving spookily. This could be completely naff, but it’s actually rather disturbing and uncomfortable and a great scene-setter.

It’s performed on the floor of the space in a sort of traverse staging with seats on three sides and the barber shop on the fourth and it’s very atmospheric. The action mostly takes place in the centre with the ‘barbering’  and ‘baking’ on a two-level platform at one end.

The 25-piece orchestra, hidden behind screens behind & to the side of the audience plays this complicated score superbly; you’d never believe this was a youth orchestra. The performances are simply extraordinary – Matt Nalton and Lizzie Wofford are terrific as Sweeney and Mrs Lovett and in an outstanding supporting company, a very young Michael Byers as Tobias is so good it takes your breath away.

I’ve seen nine Sweeney Todd productions before this, including Covent Garden, Opera North and the National Theatre and it has never been better than this. It’s a triumph for NYMT and a highlight of Sondheim’s 80th celebrations; I really hope he’s hung around after Saturday’s Prom to see this as the enthusiasm of the young cast and the excitement of the young audience prove that his legacy as the king of musical theatre will be as long-lasting as fellow American 20th century theatrical gods  Tennessee Williams, Eugene O’Neill and Arthur Miller.

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