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Posts Tagged ‘Lucie Pankhurst’

Biblical musicals aren’t really my thing. I’m not at all fond of the Lloyd-Webber / Rice pair, Jesus Christ Superstar and Joseph & the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat, or Godspell by Stephen Scwartz, who also wrote this (which flopped when it went straight to the West End twenty-five years ago). Somewhat perversely, I prefer it to the other three – all hits – but that may have a lot to do with the chamber scale and high quality of this revival.

Based on the Old Testament Book of Genesis, it tells the stories of Adam & Eve, Cain & Abel and Noah, the first two in Act I and the latter in Act II. I thought the score was rather good, as were Schwartz own lyrics, better than his other shows like Godspell, Pippin and Wicked. John Caird’s lucid book provides a cohesive structure. Even for an unbeliever like me, these are good yarns.

The staging (director Christian Durham) choreography (Lucie Pankhurst), design (Kingsley Hall) and lighting (Nic Farman) all come together to create a fresh, energetic and attractive whole. The animals were conjured up brilliantly and the use of umbrellas was very clever. Musical director Inga Davies-Rutter led an excellent quartet with particularly lovely woodwind sounds. It was very pleasing on the eye and ear.

There was a lot of doubling-up in the excellent young cast of eleven performers. I was particularly impressed by Stephen Barry as Adam / Noah and Canadian Natasha O’Brien (in her first UK role) as Eve / Mama Noah. There were other fine leading performances from Guy Woolf as Cain / Japeth, Daniel Miles as Abel / Ham and Nitika Johal as Yonah, and an excellent ensemble. They deserved a medal for getting through with the distraction of a front row of kids consuming an entire sweetshop with their mothers two rows behind necking cans of lager!

A very pleasant surprise, well worth catching.

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I have to confess I’ve never heard of Troma Entertainment, the American B-Movie studio that made the quirky film on which this musical comedy is based. I think I’m going to have to search out some DVD’s because if they’re half as much fun as this show, they’ll be a treat. I can’t remember the last time I laughed so much in a musical.

Geek Melvin Ferd the Third is worried about the pollution of his New Jersey town of Tomaville by New York City’s toxic dumping and, with the blind town librarian Sarah’s help, he tracks down the culprit, the city’s own Mayor, who is making a pile of money from it. She sends her henchmen after him and he gets thrown into a giant drum of the dreaded stuff, emerging as a mutant called Toxie, intent on cleaning up Tromaville and getting revenge on the Mayor and the love of Sarah. It’s style is cartoonish (think Little Shop of Horrors) which makes for fun musical theatre – as long as you can stomach the somewhat tasteless, though not viscous, jokes at the expense of blind Sarah.

Bon Jovi’s David Bryan, who wrote the rather good but very different Memphis before this, has written some great songs and his Memphis collaborator Joe DiPietro has provided a very funny book and lyrics. Mike Lees design and costumes are excellent, and the staging of Benji Sperring, with choreograhy by Lucie Pankhurst, serves the material really well. Alex Beetschen’s band sounds great and the vocals from the small cast of five are excellent.

What made the show for me, though, was five outstanding comic performances. They squeeze every ounce of humour out of the written material and much more. Mark Anderson is great as Melvin the Third, a nerd who transforms into gentle giant Toxie. Hannah Grover is delightful as Sarah the blind librarian, who is the butt of so many jokes. Lizzii Hills doubles up as the Mayor and Melvin’s Ma, at one point bringing the house down by duetting with herself. Above all, though, it was Marc Pickering and Ashley Samuels as White Dude and Black Dude, who play multiple roles (sometimes with extraordinarily fast costume changes) as henchmen, businessmen, policemen, female hairdressers, female backing singers, doctors and a brilliant folk singer, who both stole the show for me and made me laugh until my jaw was aching.

It was huge fun, all executed with sublime craftmanship – writing, staging, singing, playing and acting – and one of the best nights of musical comedy I’ve ever experienced. Not to be missed.

 

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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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