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Posts Tagged ‘Mark Inscoe’

This musical by Maury Yeston & Peter Stone / Thomas Meehan is a 2011 adaptation of a 1924 Italian play which was filmed twice, in 1934 with Fredric March, and in 1998 as Meet Joe Black, starring Brad Pitt. This is its European Premiere, staged by Thom Southerland, who has had great success with Yeston’s Titanic and Grand Hotel.

The Lamberti family have a near miss car accident on the way home from their daughter Grazia’s engagement party. It turns out that Death has prevented Grazia’s demise because he fancies a long weekend in human form, partly to answer the question of why he’s so feared. He takes the form of Russian noble Prince Nikolai Sirki and only Grazia’s dad, the Duke, knows the truth. He falls in love with Grazia and she with him and he’s intent on taking her with him at the end if his holiday, but her dad pleads with him not to, until counter pleas from Grazia.

I struggled to suspend enough disbelief to engage fully with the story, but it’s a gorgeous melodic score. Morgan Large has designed a terrific Italian villa and Jonathan Lipman has created brilliant period costumes. Stylistically, it feels like Sondheim’s A Little Night Music or Passion; very European, very early 20th century. Thom Southerland’s staging is up to his usual impeccable standard, with a forensic attention to detail. The humour surprised but pleased me. Dean Austin’s band sounds as beautiful as the music.

Zoe Doano and Chris Peluso are superb in the leading roles and there’s a fine supporting ensemble. Mark Inscoe has great presence as Duke Lamberti, Ashley Stillburn is excellent as Grazia’s fiancé Corrado, as is James Grant as servant Fidele (who will be promoted to the role of Death / Nikolai during the run!). It’s great to see Gay Soper give such a fine cameo, as Contessa Evangelina Di San Danielli (!), close to her 50th year in musical theatre.

I’m not entirely convinced by the premise and the story, but it’s a lovely lush score, it looks gorgeous and the performances are terrific.

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Yet again, I find myself reflecting on how you can visit a show again and come out with a completely different reaction. Earlier in the Summer I found Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead irritatingly glib, having previously found it clever and entertaining. When I first saw Alfred Uhry & Jason Robert Brown’s show four years ago at the Donmar, even though I’m perfectly comfortable with musicals on serious subjects, the musical form seemed wholly inappropriate for the subject matter and the musical style jarred. Now, having seen Thom Sutherland’s masterly production at Southwark Playhouse, I feel completely differently. Your frame of the mind at the time is so crucial to your response. If you’re in a Mamma Mia mood, however fine the Richard III production is, it just won’t do. If you’re up for a dysfunctional Sam Shepherd mid-west family, there’s no point in going to Priscilla.

Parade tells the true story of the framing a New York Jewish man for murder in Georgia in the early 20th century. The governor makes it clear he needs a conviction and the prosecutor delivers one by dubious means including the coaching of young witnesses. Just when it appears the governor’s review of the case will lead to a reprieve, a hasty hanging is arranged.

On this occasion, I found the music heightened the intensity and emotion of the story and Sutherland’s production grips throughout. Though it’s a tiny space with a traverse staging, it somehow feels epic. It flows seamlessly from scene to scene by having the set at either end of the space and just a handful of props to bring on and off. Wherever you sit, you’re never far away, so you always engage with the characters and the story. John Risebero’s set and costumes are excellent and there’s particularly effective lighting from Howard Hudson.

Yet again, Danielle Tarento’s casting is outstanding. Alastair Brookshaw and Laura Pitt-Pulford give hugely committed performances in the central roles of Leo & Lucille Frank; Laura’s singing is exceptional. Mark Inscoe has great presence as prosecutor and would-be governor Hugh Dorsey. It’s a tribute to David Haydn that it wasn’t until the end that I realised he’d played three roles including the pivotal ones as governor and newspaperman. Terry Doe follows two fine musical performances at the Finborough, with three fine performances in one evening here. There is also an auspicious London debut from Samuel J Weir, a 2011 graduate. The 7-piece band under Michael Bradley play the score brilliantly.

It’s not without its faults. Though mostly effective, the traverse staging was occasionally irritating, the over-amplification took away some subtlety from the solo vocals and at 2 hours 40 mins it was a little too long. That said, this production turned around my view of the show, won me over and deserved its spontaneous standing ovation.

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