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Posts Tagged ‘Luke Sheppard’

I suppose it was only a matter of time before someone made a jukebox musical out of the songs of Sir Tom Jones. Given that I was brought up 5 miles away, over the mountain in a neighbouring valley, a bio-musical would probably have resonated with me (particularly if they recreated that concert at Penyrheol Community Centre, though that may be a false memory). Using Henry Fielding’s 1749 novel about another Tom Jones may be the most unlikely idea for a jukebox musical ever, but I’m delighted to report it works. Just as well, given I made a 250-mile round-trip to see it. It’s great fun.

We start in 18th Century Somerset where Mrs Western – a terrific turn from an unrecognisable Melanie Walters, (Gavin &) Stacy’s mum Gwen – is seeking to marry her daughter Mary to Lord Allsworthy’s son William, but Mary is in love with Lord Allsworthy’s ward, illegitimate child and serial cad Tom Jones. Here we have to suspend disbelief as Tom heads for London and ends up in 60’s Soho. becoming the toy boy of fashion queen Lady Bellaston. Mary follows but stops pursuing Tom because of his philandering and instead pursues a fashion career, introducing mini skirts to Carnaby Street (Mary!) under the patronage of Lady Bellaston, who also helps Tom persue his career as a rock star.

The songs are distributed amongst the cast regardless of sex or age and they fit well. I still remember that delicious moment during my first visit to Mamma Mia (the first jukebox musical?) 22 years ago when Chiquitita is made to fit the show, and it was the same in the prison scene here when Big Mickey (an excellent Lemuel Knights) bursts into Delilah and brings the house down with a rousing sing-along rendition. The vocal performances are generally good, though some are too shouty (which the man himself would never do) and the high volume and poor sound quality, particularly in the first half, robs it of some moments of necessary restraint and subtlety.

Writer Joe Dipietro’s idea and book are great and Luke Sheppard’s effervescent tongue-in-cheek production, like his big hit & Juliet, is a delight. Arlene Philips is the perfect choreographer, having lived and worked through the 60’s, and there’s more than a nod to that period’s iconic dance group Pan’s People. Jon Bausor’s set and Janet Bird’s costumes are a riot of colour and totally evocative of the period, right down to the clear plastic clothing!

I refuse to believe this show’s journey will end in Birmingham in three weeks. It’s huge fun.

Footnote – No knickers were thrown at the stage during this performance.

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This new jukebox musical comes twenty years after Mamma Mia, which of course featured the catalogue of Swedish group ABBA and is still running in London. This
latest one features the compositions and collaborations of another Swede, songwriter Max Martin, with a book by David West Read. I’m not the target demographic and I didn’t know many of the songs, but I thought it was huge fun, quite possibly the most successful non-biographical example of the genre since Mamma Mia.

The company are in rehearsal with William Shakespeare at the Curtain Theatre for the premiere of Romeo & Juliet when his wife Ann, visiting London, intervenes wanting to change the ending. From here we embark on Juliet’s ongoing story, written and rewritten live on stage by Will and Ann. The sixteenth century meets the twenty-first, in costume, language and behaviour, as the songs are fitted in with great skill to the narrative of this new tale with a contemporary spin by both Shakespeares.

One of the joys of seeing Mamma Mia for the first time was those delicious moments as you hear a song audaciously slotted in, and it felt the same here. It’s tongue is firmly in its cheek and you find yourself laughing and smiling with it. The play within the show takes us from Verona to Paris and has great pace and energy, propelling us to the happy ending that the first version doesn’t, with no less than four unions to celebrate.

Though it’s look is loud, gaudy and colourful, there are a lot of clever touches in the meeting of periods 400 years apart in Soutra Gilmour’s set and Paloma Young’s costumes. Howard Hudson lighting and Andrezej Goulding’s projections add to the pop concert aesthetic and Jennifer Weber’s pop video choreography completes the picture. This must be director Luke Sheppard’s biggest gig and he rises to the occasion with a slick, sassy, funny show, with has more depth and layers than you might expect in this genre.

Miriam-Teak Lee, in only her third West End show, is sensational as Juliet, with the complete ‘triple threat’ of acting, singing and dancing. Oliver Tompsett and Cassidy Janson are a great pairing as Will and Ann, sparring affectionately with each other, and there’s another great pairing in David Badella and Melanie La Barrie, both of whom its great to see on stage again. The rest of the cast of twenty-five are brimming with talent and infectious enthusiasm. It was good to see the fine but hidden nine-piece band get an onstage curtain call.

The Shaftesbury Theatre hasn’t had that many long runners, but I suspect that is about to change. Great fun.

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I caught the world premiere of Jake Brunger & Pippa Cleary’s musical adaptation of the late Sue Townsend’s book in it’s home town of Leicester just over two years ago (https://garethjames.wordpress.com/2015/03/23/the-secret-diary-of-adrian-mole-aged-13-34-the-musical) so it’s good to report that I liked this London premiere even more. In a smaller space, trimmed by 20 minutes, with what seemed like a more unrestrained production and more energetic, infectious performances, it was a lot more fun.

Tom Rogers’ set is an extraordinary use of space, changing quickly from kitchen to bedroom to school and other locations, props turning up from all over the place. Luke Sheppard’s staging seems much more sprightly and the pace never lets up. A year in Adrian’s young life speeds by, through parental separations and reunions, falling in love with Pandora, being bullied by Barry, writing the school nativity play and the Royal Wedding. This is 1981, of course.

Benjamin Lewis is sensational as Adrian; a perfect characterisation with deadpan delivery and superb comic timing. Dean Chisnall has hot-footed it over from Working at Southwark Playhouse and makes a terrific dad, with Kelly Price excellent as mum. John Hopkins turns in a great cameo as neighbour Mr Lucas (and makes a hilarious schoolgirl with gymslip, pigtails and moustache!) and there’s a delightful pair of seniors in Gay Soper’s grandma and Barry James’ Bert Baxter. The whole ensemble seem to be having the time of their lives and it’s infectious.

I will be astonished if this doesn’t transfer, but I hope it isn’t scaled back up too much as it’s simply perfect as it is.

Catch it at the Menier if you can.

 

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This might be the first verbatim musical, based on US oral historian Studs Terkel’s interviews with working people about their jobs, some of which are set to music by no less than six songwriters. It premiered in 1975, but this European premiere is a revised version first seen in 2009, incorporating new interviews conducted by co-adapter Stephen Schwartz and two new songs from musicals-man-of-the-moment Lin-Manuel Miranda. I loved it.

Six actors tell the stories of twenty-six people in a diverse range of occupations. Some are spoken, some sung, some both. I thought it was an inspired idea to add six performers as ‘chorus’, making their professional debuts, just starting their working lives – they add life and energy to the show. In addition to Miranda, there are songs by Schwartz and singer-songwriter James Taylor amongst others, and the quality is consistently high. It’s surprising how much you learn about these people and its refreshing to see something that reflects the lives of ordinary people, their motivations and their aspirations and here, the presence of the young cast members gives it a strong sense of generational change and parental aspirations for children, particularly moving in Peter Polycarpou’s rendition of Fathers & Sons.

The characters and songs are superbly interpreted by Polycarpou plus Gillian Bevan, Dean Chisnall, Krysten Cummings, Siubhan Harrison and Liam Tamne, and there’s a great band led by Isaac McCullough. I liked Jean Chan shabby workplace set & Gabriella Slade’s ‘distressed’ costumes. There’s some excellent choreography from Fabian Aloise and Luke Sheppard, who directed In The Heights here, does a fine job putting this all together into a captivating and uplifting ninety minutes.

Not to be missed.

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A gold star to the Curve Theatre Leicester for putting a new British musical by a relatively unknown team on their main stage. The fact that both Sue Townsend, the writer of the original book, and her main character hail from their city means it truly belongs there, and there is much to enjoy in this world première.

Adrian tells us the story of one year of his life (most of the first of what became eight books!) from one New Years Eve to the next, during which his mum runs away with Mr Lucas, his dad gets together with Doreen Slater, he gets bullied by Barry Kent, he befriends left-wing pensioner Bert Baxter and he falls in love with Pandora Braithwaite. Oh, the trials of puberty and growing up, particularly when you’re an intellectual lost at sea in Leicester.

Adrian’s diary is now an iconic book and for those of us who read this first (and later) instalments in real time, this is all very nostalgic. It works well as a musical, with a book by Jake Brunger and a simple tuneful score by Pippa Cleary and lyrics by both which contribute to telling the story. The second half has more pace than the first, reaching its peak in an unforgettable scene where Adrian gives us his version of a Nativity play.

I very much liked Tom Rogers design of houses that open out to provide interiors and giant pens and pencils which nod to the source. The thirteen characters are played by four extraordinarily talented children (I don’t know which of the 3 / 4 of each we had on Saturday evening) and six adult actors including the excellent Neil Ditt and Kirsty Hoiles as Adrian’s dad and mum, Amy Booth-Steel tripling up brilliantly as teacher, Mrs Lucas and Doreen Slater and Rosemary Ashe no less as Grandma Mole. Some haven’t taken to the adults playing child ‘extras’ but I thought it was rather fun. Director Luke Sheppard marshals his resources well and MD Mark Collins 5-piece band played with zest.

It’s the first showing of the work, so we shouldn’t perhaps expect a fully finished piece, but it’s a welcome and successful musical adaptation which brings Adrian to a new generation and will no doubt improve with age.

 

 

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