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Posts Tagged ‘Mark Smith’

I fell in love with Tommy, the world’s first ‘rock opera’, when the concept album was released in 1969. I liked rather than loved Ken Russell’s 1975 star-studded film, but fell in love with it all over again when the new stage adaptation hit the West End in 1996, and here I am again completely smitten by this thrilling and uplifting revival.

One of the great successes of this production is the integrated casting, including a deaf Tommy and his mother Nora, and actors and musicians with other disabilities. The story of a boy traumatised by his father’s death, becoming deaf dumb and blind, seems to resonate so much more cast in this way, and what talent – a stage brimming with it. The four-piece band (three of whom also have a role) led by Robert Hyman is terrific. The vocals are superb, with two actors assisting Tommy and one his mum; Max Runham is particularly strong vocally as Captain Walker. Additional wind, brass, guitar and percussion is provided by eleven members of the cast.

Kerry Michael’s staging has great pace and there’s some funny, quirky period choreography by Mark Smith. Neil Irish has provided a design which manages to create both intimate and big spaces. It was an inspired idea to cast Peter Straker as the Acid Queen, for whom Pete Townsend has written an extra number. Garry Robinson has great presence as Uncle Ernie and I very much liked Alim Jayda as Tommy’s step-dad Frank. I found William Grint’s performance as Tommy deeply moving.

This has been co-produced with Graeae and some of our finest regional theatres and I can’t imagine a better use of public funding; a terrific example of how such collaborations can produce exciting world class work. I can’t recommend it strongly enough.

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This is a surprisingly fresh show (given its as old as me!) about a Washington socialite and friend of the president (Trueman) who’s posted as ambassador to an obscure European country and causes diplomatic havoc through her naivety and clumsiness.

It’s a fairly slight romantic comedy where the ambassador ends up with the PM and her aide with the Princess, but the political shenanigans are timeless (there’s even a US election happening at the time, which makes this Union Theatre production rather timely) and there are some nice songs and some good comedy.

It was written by Irving Berlin as a vehicle for Ethel Merman and it’s success does rely on the casting of the lead role, Sally Adams, who has most of the musical numbers and most of the best lines. Lucy Williamson, who I’ve seen a few times before, is a revelation. She commands the stage in a real star performance, delivered in a knowing way as if she’s sharing a private joke with you. She sings well and has great comic timing.

Amongst the other performances I was most impressed by Leo Miles as her aide who sang beautifully and moved with real style. It’s a fine ensemble too and MD Ross Leadbeater plays the whole score on a grand piano. I liked Mark Smith’s more modern choreography (it didn’t jar with the period) and it’s staged by Michael Strassen in his usual uncluttered style relying on three curtains, elegant costumes and fine lighting.

In an echo of an incident I witnessed on Broadway, when a man walked out of Gypsy loudly claiming Bernadette Peters was ‘no Ethel Merman’, another man last night, as he left the theatre, said ‘she doesn’t have the subtlety of Ethel Merman’. Well, I have no comparison, but for me Lucy Williamson claimed the role in a real star performance.

Great to catch a rarely performed show and yet another fine evening at the Union Theatre.

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You might think the all-male Gilbert & Sullivan idea might run out of steam after a wonderful Mikado and terrific Pirate of Penzance, but no they’ve come up with another treat with Iolanthe.

In truth, the starting point – book, lyrics and music – aren’t as good, though the silly scenario – fairies meet peers! – thoroughly suits the concept and the frequent references to Tories and Liberals, though not directly referencing coalition, added a delicious contemporary twist. Stewart Charlesworth’s low-budget design ideas are superb – the fairies are dressed in assorted underwear with home-made wings and individual touches like shuttlecocks in the hair and the peers are in dressing gowns with assorted headgear and individual touches like ties. Each group seems to move as if a pack of cute animals sticking together in Mark Smith’s excellent choreography.

I’m not going to single out individual performances as this really is an ensemble piece. Quite how you find 16 men who can sing both falsetto and tenor / baritone is beyond me, but suffice to say the standard of singing is outstanding, five of them ‘with form’ in one or both of the previous two all-male G&S’s. Chris Mundy heroically plays the entire score on an upright piano, adding to the thrown together feel of the whole production.

I’m not sure I got the  point of the business with torches during the overture, it is a bit slow to get going & the first half is a bit long and I felt the campness was pushed just a little too far, but it’s still an irresistible cocktail and a whole lot of fun. Another triumph for director Sasha Regan and another feather in the Union’s now feather-heavy cap!

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