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Posts Tagged ‘Luke Fredericks’

This cult musical, which takes a real life event as its starting point, itself started life on the fringe in late 90’s LA. It ran 8 months Off-Broadway 4 years later and had its UK première at West Yorkshire Playhouse 3 years after that. Then they transferred it to the Shaftesbury Theatre, about the best place in the world to kill a show like this! So here it is ten years on in the much more suitable Southwark Playhouse in a new B-movie interpretation, the fourth show by the inventive Morphic Graffiti, in a co-production with Paul Taylor-Mills.

Three teenage friends stumble across Bat Boy in a local cave. He’s virtually naked, with pointed ears and fangs, and moves like an animal. They take him to the Sheriff who in turn takes him to the local vet. He’s not at home, but his wife Meredith takes him in, renames him Edgar and soon takes him under her wings, taming, civilising and mothering him. Her husband, Dr Parker, and the rest of the small-town community of Hope Falls, West Virginia, are less welcoming, not helped by the fact Bat Boy had attacked Ruthie and is now rumoured to have slaughtered a whole herd of cattle. What follows is the battle of the outsider, with the Parker’s leading the opposing sides.

The pop-rock score is a bit inconsistent, veering to more pompous pop-opera as the show progresses, but there are some good songs and a terrific opening sequence to the second half at an evangelical rally, where they attempt to save Bat Boy’s soul. It’s over-long at 2.5 hours, particularly after ‘the big reveal’ when even the most inventive staging can’t cover up the laboured conclusion. The whole thing does however have an appealing tongue-in-cheek quirkiness which saves the day.

Director Luke Fredericks and designer Stewart Charlesworth’s cartoonish production is packed with creativity, with excellent integration of projections (Benjamin Walden) and a huge selection of deliberately dodgy wigs! A couple of short scenes are given over to puppet dolls and the B-movie style is taken to its logical conclusion at the denouement. Clever stuff, with appropriately lo-tech production values. I thought it was too loud a lot of the time, and again at Southwark there were glitches in the sound.

The casting is terrific. Rob Compton is superb as Bat Boy, particularly in the physical stuff when he is discovered. Lauren Ward and Matthew White are outstanding as the Parkers, with particularly fine vocals from both. Simon Bailey excels in multiple roles, bringing the house down as Reverend Hightower in yellow suit and gold collar and shoes! I also loved Andy Rees characterisation of teenage Rick and there’s a brilliant turn from Nolan Frederick as mother nature in a hysterical ‘dream sequence’.

It’s a good rather than great piece, but there’s a lot to enjoy in this revival. A few cuts and a bit of a tone down would make it even better, but it’s the sort of production the show needed and on a much more appropriate scale. Well worth catching.

 

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Though we’ve seen rarer Rogers & Hammerstein shows on the fringe (most recently Me & Juliet, State Fair & Pipe Dream), I’m not sure anyone has tackled one of the ‘Big 5’ before (Oklahoma!, South Pacific, The King & I, The Sound of Music and this). If I had been asked for my opinion, it would be unequivocal ‘avoid’ – these are big Broadway shows that require big resources and a big stage. WRONG! This is an absolute triumph.

This was only their second show, 70 years old next year. moving musical theatre into a new era of realism, with themes never before associated with the form. It’s packed full of wonderful music, but it all goes a bit awry in the second half when it becomes sweet, sickly and a bit preposterous at the gates of heaven. Not here, though, where it becomes a tense musical drama with a moving moral message. Luke Fredericks’ production has not only turned the sentimentality into pathos, but he’s made the ballet an integral part of the show.

Based on an early 20th century Hungarian play, this production has moved the setting forward 50 to 60 years to start around the time of the Great Depression, providing clearer motivation, and ending as the second world war ends (the year it was first staged), more appropriate for its hopeful, uplifting conclusion. Nothing else is changed, but it’s more intimate, involving and moving. Thankfully, I wasn’t the only emotional wreck at curtain call.

The musical standards are sky high. The unamplified voices have a purity to them and don’t have to compete with a largely unamplified band located above and behind. The use of flute, double bass and above all harp brings a beautiful new quality to the music – it’s amazing how much harp accompaniment transforms You’ll Never Walk Alone. Stewart Charlesworth’s design is a miracle of economy and a brilliant use of the space, with versatile mobile metal ‘arcs’, everything from washing to carnival banners to canopies raised high by pulleys and superbly evocative costumes. Lee Proud’s choreography is fresh and often brave and the second act ballet was thrilling.

It’s hard to talk about the performances with anything but a shower of superlatives. Gemma Sutton follows her sultry, sexy turn in Hackney Empire’s Blues in the Night with a wonderful sweet, naive Julie, with Vicki Lee Taylor matching her all the way as best friend Carrie. Tim Rogers brings more passion and a rougher edge to Billy, which makes the second act all the more heart-breaking. Amanda Minihan’s younger Hettie is more of a role model for the girls and the character seems more central in this setting. There isn’t a weak link in this cast, one any producer would die for.

This is the fourth time I’ve seen this show. The first three – NT, West End and most recently Opera North – were very good, but this intimate staging is something else altogether. I’ve seen and enjoyed producer Morphic Graffiti’s first two shows, but this propels them into the premiere league. Why on earth would you want to go to the West End when you can see a show this good for a third of the price?

Missing this makes any lover of musical theatre certifiable!

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Hoxton Hall might be a bit of a schlep for us South West Londoners, but it’s the perfect venue for Morphic Graffiti’s music hall take on Leslie Bricusse’s musical comedy. A surprisingly small hall with a high proscenium stage and two levels of tiny balconies with wrought iron railings held up by thin pillars. Gorgeous.

The musical is ‘framed’ by a music hall show with the cast in period costumes telling us that there’ll be magic, puppets and singalongs. The musical itself opens with a puppet show of the ending of the Reichenbach Falls adventure where both Holmes and Moriarty perish, but we soon meet him back at Baker Street to find he didn’t die at all. After solving a couple of cases, including the disappearance of the House of Commons mace, the evening’s main story starts and Holmes finds himself pursued by a mysterious woman with a big grudge.

It’s tongue-in-cheek fun, made more so by the clever idea of the music hall framing and the appropriateness of the venue. Bricusse’s music, though probably not his best, also suits the idea / setting well. The puppets provided an appropriate prologue, the magic was very good and there were lots more clever touches. I normally prefer small-scale musicals unamplified, but in this high venue with a 5-piece band (including percussion) to the left and in front of the stage, it meant some of the lyrics of solo numbers were lost, though this didn’t really spoil the fun of the evening.

Stepehn Leask as Inspector Lestrade, John Cusworth as Watson and Andrea Miller as Mrs Hudson seemed most at home with the style, though the whole ensemble gave their all and Nathan Jarvis’ band played very well. There’s some sprightly choreography from Lee Proud and Stewart Charlesworth’s design and costumes are terrific. Like their Jekyll & Hyde at the Union Theatre last year, Luke Fredericks staging is inventive and fresh.

Morphic Graffiti have built on an impressive start with Jekyll. They had Bricusse on board for this and have nabbed a Stage One new producer bursary at a very early stage. Definitely a show to catch and definitely a company to watch.

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This Frank Wildhorn & Leslie Bricusse show has never had a West End run, though it has toured the UK (I saw it a few years back in Wimbledon with Paul Nicholas in the title role). On Broadway it ran for c.4 years (but never made a profit). It has now been scaled down for the Union Theatre as the first production by Morphic Graffiti with an interesting configuration which limits the performing space but facilitates some clever set changes and dramatic intensity.

There’s little point in telling the story (who doesn’t know it?) which in this production starts by Jekyll seeking approval for his research from an NHS Trust board and ends with what seems like a production line of murders. The score is a little too pompous in a Lloyd-Webberesque way, though there are some nice solo numbers and good choruses. The first half is a bit slow but in the second half, when we get to some serious carnage, it zips along in an excellent staging by Luke Fredericks. It seems like a better show here, which given the resources relative to the touring production, is a big compliment.

I’m sure Stewart Charlesworth’s design budget was miniscule, but what he achieves is highly inventive and suitably atmospheric. With 16 actors playing 18 + characters, it can get a bit cramped, but it moves from hospital to house to street to church to brothel etc. with slick ease (apart from one moment when a mini-revolve stuck). Ben Walden’s projections and Catherine Webb’s lighting made a significant contribution.

After a slightly shaky start, Tim Rogers came into his own as Jekyll / Hyde, bringing a brilliant manic intensity to Hyde in the second act. Joanna Strand as his fiancée and Madalena Alberto as the prostitute both act and sing very well and there is as fine a supporting cast as you’d wish for, with an auspicious professional debut from Anthony Lawrence as Stride. The musical standards are high and I loved the orchestration of keyboards, cello, acoustic guitar and woodwind, which Dean Austin’s band played beautifully.

It’s not a great show, but I’d doubt if it could get a better small-scale production than this one – and an impressive debut for this new company.

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