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Posts Tagged ‘Lucy Williamson’

The Union Theatre is opening its new space with a revival of Michael Strassen’s 2012 production of this show by Dana P Rowe and John Dempsey. It was a US Presidential election year then, as it is now, but it feels even more timely. We begin with a quote from Trump, then a few more from current and former presidents before the opening scene where Presidential candidate Reed Chandler, tipped to win, dies on the eve of his anticipated appointment. His widow is determined that there will be a Chandler dynasty, so she goes about grooming reluctant son Cal, with the help of her dead husband’s brother and campaign manager Grahame, with a speedy rise through local and state politics with the White House in their sights. An arranged marriage and a convenient child help, but his lover, cocaine habit and mafia connections don’t.

When they mounted it last time I thought it was better than the Donmar’s world premiere in 1997, and I still do. It’s the same stripped back production ‘without decor’ but there’s some new casting which takes it to another level. I thought Lucy Williamson was sensational as the power obsessed mother Violet, Ken Christiansen was just as good as her crippled brother-in-law Grahame and Madalena Alberto was terrific as the ill-fated mistress Tina. All three are seasoned musical theatre professionals and it shows. Fra Fee did well as Cal, but in truth I didn’t think he suited the role as much as Louis Maskell did last time around. When I saw there was an electric quartet and no vocal amplification I was a bit nervous but the band was restrained and the vocals and lyrics shone through.

The new Union is having a few teething problems, notably with air handling, but I’m sure they’ll be resolved and we can revel in the new space and it’s bar, food and fragrant toilets! If they configure eight rows deep again though, they need to increase the rake as the sightlines are challenging for the short.

I’m very much looking forward to the new Union providing as much enjoyment as the old one, with two more shows already booked!

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This is a surprisingly fresh show (given its as old as me!) about a Washington socialite and friend of the president (Trueman) who’s posted as ambassador to an obscure European country and causes diplomatic havoc through her naivety and clumsiness.

It’s a fairly slight romantic comedy where the ambassador ends up with the PM and her aide with the Princess, but the political shenanigans are timeless (there’s even a US election happening at the time, which makes this Union Theatre production rather timely) and there are some nice songs and some good comedy.

It was written by Irving Berlin as a vehicle for Ethel Merman and it’s success does rely on the casting of the lead role, Sally Adams, who has most of the musical numbers and most of the best lines. Lucy Williamson, who I’ve seen a few times before, is a revelation. She commands the stage in a real star performance, delivered in a knowing way as if she’s sharing a private joke with you. She sings well and has great comic timing.

Amongst the other performances I was most impressed by Leo Miles as her aide who sang beautifully and moved with real style. It’s a fine ensemble too and MD Ross Leadbeater plays the whole score on a grand piano. I liked Mark Smith’s more modern choreography (it didn’t jar with the period) and it’s staged by Michael Strassen in his usual uncluttered style relying on three curtains, elegant costumes and fine lighting.

In an echo of an incident I witnessed on Broadway, when a man walked out of Gypsy loudly claiming Bernadette Peters was ‘no Ethel Merman’, another man last night, as he left the theatre, said ‘she doesn’t have the subtlety of Ethel Merman’. Well, I have no comparison, but for me Lucy Williamson claimed the role in a real star performance.

Great to catch a rarely performed show and yet another fine evening at the Union Theatre.

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This was Lynn Ahrens & Stephen Flaherty’s first musical, back in 1988. They went on to write a classic – Ragtime (brilliantly revived here at the Landor last year and included in this years Open Air season) – plus some good but less successful shows like Once on This Island, My Favourite Year and A Man of No Importance.

Based on Michael Butterworth’s book, the show tells the somewhat preposterous story of an English shoe salesman who inherits his American uncle’s fortune – provided he takes his corpse on holiday to Monte Carlo! He’s followed by a dog’s home representative who is checking he meets the conditions in full as otherwise they cop the lot. Of course, its musical comedy (farce) so nothing is as it seems and nothing turns out as planned.

Though it’s an early work, it’s a quirky and funny show with some nice tunes. We move from dull English shop and lodgings to the French Riviera (cue intentionally dodgy French accents and jokes about French stereotypes) as plain Harry wheels uncle around between locations followed by equally plain Annabel from the dogs home and uncle’s more manic ex and her brother. There’s even a dream sequence which includes a tap dance!

All the leads are excellent. James Winter and Abigail Jaye both strike the right note as quiet souls at sea in a strange world. Lucy Williamson is a terrific scorned woman, brash loud and somewhat gothic; a great double-act with Miles Western as her less manic but equally mad brother. The stiff (Mark Hayden?) would win any Best Performance by a Corpse award going – on stage for most of the play, he hardly flinched.

Rob McWhir’s production has a cartoonish quality and great pace. There’s a clever set with eleven doors and a descending bed. At the interval, I was puzzled at the lack of a design credit, but witnessing the interval repairs I was less surprised! The cast dealt with the elongated interval brilliantly by including a lyric referencing the bed in the second act opener – delicious!

Its great fun and you only have two more weeks to catch it.

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