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Posts Tagged ‘Marc Antolin’

My third open air theatrical treat in eight days took me to a favourite haunt, the lovely Watermill Theatre near Newbury. I’d seen a show in their garden before, when they did Alan Ayckbourn’s House & Garden in 2017, Garden performed there with House playing simultaneously in the theatre and the cast moving between the two in real time. Nothing in the theatre this time, but ten actor-musicians on a tiny stage, also moving around the garden, gave us an edited semi-staged version of this rarely performed 60-year-old Lerner & Lowe musical which I have only seen once, somewhat ironically at the Open Air Theatre in 2004.

We’ve lost seven named characters, but only two songs, and we’ve gained a narrator. The tale of both the King’s promotion of honour and justice by the creation of the Knights of the Round Table and the love triangle with his wife Guenevere and the French Knight Lancelot are intact, but some characters and some sub-plots have ended up on the cutting room floor, as it were, but this is a concert version, so it’s the music that matters and that’s where it excels. There were some, but not too many, delicious COVID references, one explaining that Arthur & Guenevere are a real life couple.

The three leads are all excellent. Michael Jibson follows his royal role in Hamilton with a very different king, idealistic and earnest, more charismatic. Caroline Sheen is lovely as Guenevere, torn between two men, in fine voice. Marc Antolin’s Lancelot is every bit as narcissistic as you’d expect, yet charming with it, and he makes a spectacular first entrance. Seven others, including MD Tom Self, play all the remaining roles, and all instruments in the now well established Watermill style. Paul Hart’s staging spills out from the stage with jousts and journeys.

The Watermill’s Covid measures were as professional as my other two open air outings, with even more social distance in this lovely space. My cup runneth over.

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I’ve had a soft spot for this Howard Ashman / Alan Menken musical since I saw the original London production 35 years ago. It was successfully revived at the Menier Chocolate Factory 12 years ago, heading off on tour afterwards. Now it’s the latest in the Open Air Theatre’s summer musicals, the 31st I think, reinvented by director Maria Aberg and designer Tom Scutt.

Based on Roger Corman’s iconic 1960 b-movie, the musical was an instant hit off-Broadway, on Broadway and in the West End, where it ran for two years. When it was itself made into a film, the budget was 1000 times that of the original (which gave Jack Nicholson his screen debut). You wouldn’t think it was a natural for the leafy green Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre, but it works. Scutt has built a B&W cartoon New York City, with a riot of colour provided by the characters and the plants of Mushnik’s shop where geeky Seymour breeds Audrey II and is in love with Audrey (I), his fellow shop assistant, who has a sadistic dentist as a boyfriend.

Audrey II becomes a sensation, leading to radio & TV interviews for Seymour and lots of new customers for the shop, but Seymour has been feeding the plant with his own blood and can hardly keep up. He ends up feeding it whole people, starting with Audrey’s boyfriend Orin, as the fame leads to magazine features, TV’s first gardening programme and a plant cutting franchise which sees plants take over America. Audrey II is normally voiced by an offstage actor / singer, but Aberg’s big idea is to bring her alive and onstage in the form of American drag queen Vicky Vox and a handful of assistants, and though a good idea, I didn’t think it really worked. Towards the end, they turned up the excess dial and it became pure fantasy with a stage full of colourful SciFi plants raising the non-existent roof in the finale of Don’t Feed the Plants. With what seemed like an additional song turning it into a bit of a rock concert, the cast invading the auditorium and green pods flying around, the audience went wild and you just had to give in.

It’s very well cast, with Marc Antolin shining as Seymour. I don’t associate Jemima Rooper and Forbes Mason with musical theatre, but they both did a great job as Audrey and Mr Mushnik. Busted’s Matt Willis was excellent as Orin the sadistic dentist, plus four great cameos as TV exec, (female) magazine editor, agent and business guru. Ms Vox was outrageous and cheeky; I’m not sure what the parents of the kids in the audience made of it. The show is famous for it’s chorus of three black girl singers (Crystal, Chiffon and Ronnette – get it), an idea Tony Kushner and Jane Tesori stole for Caroline, or Change twenty years later, and Seyi Omoomba, Renee Lamb and Christina Modestou were all great.

I’ve got mixed views really. Part of me missed the nostalgic, b-movie aesthetic and part of me admired the reinvention, but I’m glad I went nonetheless.

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The smile didn’t leave my face for the duration of this chamber musical in the lovely Sam Wanamaker Playhouse. It’s got bucket-loads of charm and romance aplenty. Emma Rice’s staging is a delight, from the chocolates distributed before it begins to the badges as you leave, with an interval song in the foyer to keep that smile on your face. I defy anyone not to be charmed by it.

Based on the 2010 French-Belgian film of the same name (Les Emotifs Anonymes in French), it tells the story of desperately shy chocolatier Jean-Rene, who has inherited an ailing business from his father, and Angelique, the equally shy secret ingredient of competing chocolatier Mercier. After her employer dies and she’s out of a job, Angelique attends the shyness support group of the title, where an employee of Jean-Rene meets her and subsequently introduces her to her boss, who gives her a thoroughly unsuitable sales job. Fortunately, she talks herself into a role commensurate with her talents, rescues Jean-Rene’s business and navigates the difficult path to true love.

Emma Rice has adapted Jean-Pierre Ameris & Philippe Blasband’s screenplay of the sort of film only the French seem to be able to do these days (oh for a return of the Ealing comedies). American music & lyrics partners Michael Kooman & Christopher Dimond are new to me, and the UK, and they’ve done a lovely job producing songs that suit the subject matter perfectly. The SWP is a design in itself, but Les Brotherston has added some neon signs (shock, horror!) which signpost locations and become a running joke in themselves. Etta Murfitt’s choreography adds much to Emma Rice’s inventive staging. Dominic Marsh and Carly Bowden are superb in the lead roles and there’s luxury casting in the ensemble, with includes Joanna Riding, Lauren Samuels and Marc Antolin no less, with multiple cameos from Philip Cox and Gareth Snook.

I left the theatre with a warm glow, which hasn’t really gone yet; it’s a delightful evening. It’s Emma Rice doing what she does best, a heart-warming evening, her last production here as AD. You have until early January and you know what you have to do…..

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When booking opened for this I decided I didn’t need another Peter Pan. Then I realised it was the same team who brought a brilliant Jane Eyre to this very stage. Need became want and all willpower was lost. A good decision and a brilliant 12th night ending to the festive season.

Visually grungy but colourful, all scrapyard and striped pyjamas, Michael Vale & Katie Sykes design gives it a home-made feel. A huge metal frame, to facilitate flying with people as counter-balances, fills the Olivier. There’s a giant white brick wall at the back, with holes smashed through for two spaces for musicians and action. It looks like Jackson Pollock painted the floor, in one of his more cheerful, colourful moments. When the pirate ship sails in, we all gasped. The look is terrific.

Without messing with J M Barrie’s story, Dramaturg Mike Akers and director Sally Cookson have somehow enhanced both the playfulness and the morality of the tale. There’s a great rock and reggae infused score by Benji Bower, with the lost boys food song an absolute joy. The whole thing has been developed by the company and it shows in a tightly knit ensemble.

Anna Francolini is excellent as both Mrs Darling and Captain Hook, played by a woman as Barrie apparently originally intended. I adored Felix Hayes characterisation of Mr Darling (he also plays Smee and a lost boy). Madeleine Worrall is a delight as Wendy, with Marc Antolin and John Pfumojena equally delightful as John and Michael. Paul Hilton is an unlikely Peter but he makes it his own. Saikat Ahamed’s Tinker Bell is an extraordinary interpretation, as is Ekow Quartey as Nana the dog nanny. You can’t help falling in love with the pyjama-clad lost boys, some with brightly coloured woolly jumpers and hats.

It’s a long way from the National’s classic Peter Pan exactly 20 years ago (with Ian McKellern, Jenny Agutter, Daniel Evans, Alec McCowan and Clive Rowe!) and in many ways more magical. Another import from / co-production with the very enterprising Bristol Old Vic. Great stuff.

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I’ve always liked the work of artist Marc Chagall, the subject of this play, but that turned into a love affair when I visited the Musee Marc Chagall in Nice eighteen months ago. Daniel Jamieson’s play is a beautiful, captivating biographical homage to him and his first wife Bella.

Chagall was born in Vitebsk, then Russia, now Belarus, to a Lithuanian Jewish family. He fell in love with Bella aged 22, just before he left for his first spell of four years in Paris, and this is where the story begins. He returned just before the outbreak of the First World War and they marry and begin a turbulent ride through the war, when he works in the war office, the Russian revolution and the pogroms, while he is running an art college in his home town, before they escape to France via Lithuania and Germany. They’re on the move again seventeen years later, escaping from occupied France to the US, where Bella dies and our play ends.

Jamieson’s play captures the child-like charm of the couple in a clear narrative (you always get a clearer narrative from a playwright experienced in writing for children!) to which is added feather-like movement by director / co-choreographer Emma Rice and co-choreographer Etta Murfitt and the most delightful original music by Ian Ross. It’s all set on an extraordinary wooden construction designed by Sophia Clist that they climb over and occupy various parts of. The Sam Wanamaker Playhouse is the most perfect venue, with its candlelight adding more warmth to that already generated by the words, music and performance.  Marc Antolin and Audrey Brisson are each terrific, and wonderful together; their singing is gorgeous. The composer and fellow-musician James Gow accompany and occasionally add vocals.

Emma Rice’s final production as Kneehigh AD, now in her new home, was a delight from beginning to end; another fine night in the SWP.

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