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Posts Tagged ‘Madalena Alberto’

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 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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Twenty-five years ago we didn’t have blogs and Twitter, so it’s even more of a miracle that this critic-panned show survived. Those like me who were captivated and fell in love with it called our friends and re-booked to see it again and the rest is history. We had people power then too, but I certainly wasn’t expecting to be back at the Barbican where it began 25 years later watching a new touring production.

It’s good to report then that it’s in fine shape and some aspects of the new production have improved upon the original, most notably the scene in the sewers of Paris and the death of Javert. I found the longish prologue a bit clunky, but from the moment the opening music of act one began, the tingling and tension of the muscles returned and by the interval we were cheering the wonderfully uplifting first act finale.

The new staging of directors Laurence Connor & James Powell, with set design by Matt Kinley, does work well – it seems much zippier without feeling rushed or without losing any narrative. I was very impressed by Earl Carpenter’s Javert, Gareth Gates (yes!) Maruis, Jon Robyns’ Enjolras the Thenadier’s of Ashley Artus and Lynne Wilmot. There was much to admire about the acting performance of Valjean’s understudy Christopher Jacobson, though his vocal’s were a bit hit-and-miss in the upper register. Rosalind James as Eponine let herself down by wandering into pop diva mode occasionally and I’m afraid I found Fantine Madalena Alberto’s voice highly unattractive. I don’t know which kids were playing little Costette and Gavroche, but whoever they were they were terrific. The chorus sounded great and the new orchestrations are so much better than the synth-heavy budget version now at the Queens Theatre.

I do wonder if Cameron Mackintosh been around at the beginning of the 20th century, whether Puccini would have had similar long runs with Madam Butterfly and La Boheme, for this is the musical territory this show occupies. When they write the history of 20th Century musical theatre, this will most certainly be in the top ten, in the top five of dramatic musicals and maybe even…..

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