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Posts Tagged ‘Mark Anderson’

Victor Hugo was fond of outsiders, and the grinning man seems to be the hunchback’s lesser known brother. Written in 1869, it has subsequently been adapted as a film six times and for the stage four times, twice as a musical, like this new one from Bristol Old Vic. He may also be the inspiration for Batman’s nemesis The Joker. Here the tale gets a suitably Gothic telling in a brilliant production by Tom Morris.

Set in 17th century England, young Gwynplaine’s mouth has been mutilated and now has a rather spooky perpetual grin. He rescues an infant girl when her mother is frozen to death and they are taken in by carnival proprietor Ursus, where Gwynplaine uses his misfortune to make his living in freak shows. The infant is named Dea and she’s blind. When she’s in her teens, they fall in love, but Gwynpaine is lured away to the royal court where he is destined to marry into royalty, but instead he returns to the carnival, which proves tragic.

Jon Bausor’s transformation of the problematic Trafalgar Studio I is terrific and his Gothic design and Jean Chan’s costumes combine to make a great look. Finn Caldwell & Toby Olie’s puppetry is highly effective, particularly Ursus’ pet wolf, where an actor seems to be a part of the animal. Tim Phillips & Mark Teitler’s music has a darkness to it and is unlike any other musical theatre score I’ve heard since The Tiger Lillies’ Shockheaded Peter almost 20 years ago. It’s a big book and Carl Grouse has done a fine job creating a much shorter, clear narrative.

Louis Maskell is excellent as Gwynpaine, though we never see his real face, and I loved Sanne Den Besten’s fragile, blind Dea. Their exit at the end took my breathe away. Julian Bleach as Barkilphedro and Sean Kingsley as Ursus are both outstanding and Mark Anderson brings a lighter touch to Dirry-Moir, the royal suitor Gwynpaine deposes.

It’s another breath of fresh air for the West End and I do hope it finds its audience there; on the night I went, they loved it, as did I.

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I have to confess I’ve never heard of Troma Entertainment, the American B-Movie studio that made the quirky film on which this musical comedy is based. I think I’m going to have to search out some DVD’s because if they’re half as much fun as this show, they’ll be a treat. I can’t remember the last time I laughed so much in a musical.

Geek Melvin Ferd the Third is worried about the pollution of his New Jersey town of Tomaville by New York City’s toxic dumping and, with the blind town librarian Sarah’s help, he tracks down the culprit, the city’s own Mayor, who is making a pile of money from it. She sends her henchmen after him and he gets thrown into a giant drum of the dreaded stuff, emerging as a mutant called Toxie, intent on cleaning up Tromaville and getting revenge on the Mayor and the love of Sarah. It’s style is cartoonish (think Little Shop of Horrors) which makes for fun musical theatre – as long as you can stomach the somewhat tasteless, though not viscous, jokes at the expense of blind Sarah.

Bon Jovi’s David Bryan, who wrote the rather good but very different Memphis before this, has written some great songs and his Memphis collaborator Joe DiPietro has provided a very funny book and lyrics. Mike Lees design and costumes are excellent, and the staging of Benji Sperring, with choreograhy by Lucie Pankhurst, serves the material really well. Alex Beetschen’s band sounds great and the vocals from the small cast of five are excellent.

What made the show for me, though, was five outstanding comic performances. They squeeze every ounce of humour out of the written material and much more. Mark Anderson is great as Melvin the Third, a nerd who transforms into gentle giant Toxie. Hannah Grover is delightful as Sarah the blind librarian, who is the butt of so many jokes. Lizzii Hills doubles up as the Mayor and Melvin’s Ma, at one point bringing the house down by duetting with herself. Above all, though, it was Marc Pickering and Ashley Samuels as White Dude and Black Dude, who play multiple roles (sometimes with extraordinarily fast costume changes) as henchmen, businessmen, policemen, female hairdressers, female backing singers, doctors and a brilliant folk singer, who both stole the show for me and made me laugh until my jaw was aching.

It was huge fun, all executed with sublime craftmanship – writing, staging, singing, playing and acting – and one of the best nights of musical comedy I’ve ever experienced. Not to be missed.

 

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This isn’t exactly culture, but after plays about dysfunctional relationships, broken Britain, grief & sectarian conflict and an opera set in Auschwitz, it was a welcome tonic to end the week!

It’s a 22 year-old reworking of a 44 year-old Broadway show by Clark Gesner based on Charles M Schultz  ‘Peanuts’ comic strip, given a delightful small-scale production by Anthony Drewe at the little Tabard Theatre in Chiswick. There’s no story as such – just cartoon strips turned into sketches with songs – but it’s the characters which make it hang together. The songs aren’t particularly distinguished, but its funny in a panto sort of way, appealing to adults and children, but each getting something different. For us adults, it’s wry, tongue-in-cheek and quirky.

It’s the performances that pull it off – six lovely characterisations. It’s great to see Hairspray’s Leanne Jones again here as Lucy, with Adam Ellis terrific as her brother Linus, with comfort blanket and speech defect. Nathanial Morrison has a wonderfully expressive face, which means you rarely stop smiling at his Schroeder and Hayley Gallivan gives us a cheeky gregarious Sally. Of course, it all revolves around Charlie Brown and Snoopy and Lewis Barnshaw & Mark Anderson respectively are spot on with their sense of resignation at whatever they encounter.

Great for kids and adults who’ve overdosed on angst and bleakness!

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