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Posts Tagged ‘Marilyn Cutts’

This is a musical theatre debut by Gus Gowland, who is responsible for the book, music and lyrics. I can’t think of a more auspicious British musical premiere since Howard Goodall’s The Hired Man over thirty years ago.

It’s a very cleverly structured piece which takes you a short while to unravel, juxtaposing a contemporary gay relationship with a wartime one, where one party is the grandson of another. Newly married Edward is conscripted and at the war front fellow serviceman Tom offers to teach him to dance so that he can sweep his wife Anna off her feet on his return home. A seemingly hopeless relationship soon develops.

Many years later, at Edward’s funeral, we meet his only daughter Jane, who disapproves of her son (Edward’s grandson) Ed’s homosexuality and boyfriend Harry. Ed’s younger sister thinks it’s normal, even cool – a change in just one generation. A stranger, Rose, arrives with a box of memories, we learn she is Tom’s sister and the story is pieced together and we understand the significance of the title.

The score is lovely, with delicate solos and duets and more rousing ensemble pieces like Standing in the Shadows, which sees all four men across time in unison and melodies return and interweave. Perhaps because he wrote both, the book and lyrics are seamless, jointly propelling the story. There’s an organic flow between scenes in a very fluid staging by Ryan McBryde, with a cleverly effective design from newcomer Fin Redshaw. Paul Herbert’s ensemble of piano, cello and reeds makes a beautiful, delicate accompaniment.

It’s strongly cast, with Craig Mather & Joel Harper-Jackson as wartime lovers Edward and Tom and Andy Coxon & Gary Wood as contemporary Ed & Harry. Carol Starks brilliantly conveys the cold, emotionless Jane literally in the middle of it all, with Ella Dunlop excellent as Ed’s feisty sister Gemma. I very much liked Lauren Hall, who has to switch from doting newlywed to heartbroken wife, and there’s a lovely cameo from Marilynn Cutts as the older Rose.

I can’t believe for one minute that this premiere production in Colchester will be its last. Gold stars to the Mercury, Perfect Pitch and TBO Productions for developing it.

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I can’t help comparing this show with Jules Styne’s other big hit, Gypsy. It’s another quintessentially American showbiz story with a gutsy heroine, and like the recent Chichester Gypsy, this production has a diminutive leading lady with the triple threat – acting, singing and dancing all sensational.

It’s the true story of Fanny Brice, who gets her vaudeville break by being funny and is soon top of the bill at the Ziegfeld Follies. She falls in love with businessman and gambler Nick Arnstein, moves to a mansion on Long Island and starts a family. Nick makes some bad, even dodgy, business decisions and she soon finds herself returning to work and bail him out. It backfires when her attempts to help become secretive, hurting his pride, and when he comes out of prison he doesn’t return to the family home.

It’s a conservative show, which here gets a very conservative production, including the design and the choreography. It’s as if its American director is scared to mess with it. I also don’t think it fits the Menier space well, a big show desperate to break out of this confined space. For once, the venue’s intimacy works against it. I think it will suit The Savoy, where Gypsy was and where this is heading, better.

That said, it has a good score, played to perfection by Alan Williams’ band, and it’s superbly cast. Darius Campbell continues to impress with great presence and a fine voice (here towering over his leading lady). Marilyn Cutts is excellent as Fanny’s mother, no more so than when she’s with her two friends, played superbly by Gay Soper and Valda Aviks. In fact, the more mature members of this cast all shine, with Bruce Montague a wonderful Ziegfeld too. Praise as well for Joel Montague as Fanny’s showbiz chum and dance coach Eddie, another fine performance.

It’s Fanny’s show, of course, and musical theatre lovers and Sheridan Smith fans have been seriously over-excited at the prospect of her in this role and she doesn’t disappoint. When she sings Don’t Rain on My Parade to end Act One you want to punch the air. In the final scene, alone in front of her dressing room mirror, she breaks your heart then breaks out and lifts you up to close the show. Terrific stuff. 2016 Olivier sorted.

Time to book for The Savoy, I think, if only to prove my prediction eight.

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