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Posts Tagged ‘Mark Turnbull’

This is a new chamber version of the Michel Legrand – Herbert Kretzmer / Alain Boubil / Claude-Michel Schonberg (the Les Mis team) – Jonathan Kent 2008 West End flop. I loved it first time around; went twice and bought the music. It’s much scaled down and now feels more like a Howard Goodall show, which is a compliment not a criticism.

It’s occupied Paris in the second world war and Parisian chanteuse Marguerite is a ‘kept woman’, showered with attention and gifts by a Nazi general. She falls for Armand, a young jazz pianist, but after an intense initial three-day relationship, its doomed. There’s no way her Nazi is going to allow her to go off with a younger model. Tragedy ensues as her best friend is killed and she is forced to reject Armand. Armand’s sister and her friends join the resistance and urge him to follow, but he’s obsessed with Marguerite.

The new orchestrations for a small 7-piece band under Alex Parker (who also produces) suits the music and there’s some lovely singing (though a few too many off-key moments and too little subtlety on the night I went). Overly loud solo’s notwithstanding, Yvette Robinson was a believable Marguerite, well matched by Nadim Naaman as Armand looking much like Julian Ovenden,who played the original, but without the age gap we have here. There’s good support from Michael Onslow as Otto, Mark Turnbull at Georges and Jennifer Rhodes as Madeleine. Director Guy Unsworth (who also contributed to the new book) makes good use of the small Tabard space with help from Max Dorey’s evocative set and excellent costumes.

If it had been more consistently sung I would be more enthusiastic. As it is, I was glad I went but don’t feel I saw it at its best.

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I’ve waited over 21 years for a revival of this show, which was a critical success but a commercial flop in the West End in 1989, but Michael Strassen’s production at the Union Theatre was worth the wait. This bumper year of small-scale musical revivals and of the Union Theatre’s pre-eminence continues.

Stephen (Godspell) Schwartz’s show is based on the Marcel Pagnol / Jean Giono film La Femme du Boulanger and it’s the best score he wrote. Here it’s beautifully sung, unamplified, with just piano and cello (and occasional acoustic guitar) under MD Chris Mundy. It so suits the story – delightful, funny, charming & wistful.

A French village is incomplete without its baker (I think there is still a law in France that actually prevents this) and this village has been without one for seven weeks, so withdrawal symptoms are rampant and the inhabitants seriously over-excited when the new baker arrives with his beautiful new young wife. It doesn’t take long before a dashing young man whisks her away and the baker is distraught and unable to  bake. Of course, it all ends happily ever after. It is indeed a slight tale, but frankly it doesn’t really matter.

Michael Matus brilliantly captures the lovestruck naivety of the baker (appropriately named Aimable) and Lisa Stokke the struggle between loyalty and temptation. Matthew Goodgame is as dashing as you’d wish for a lover and there is a terrific partnership from Ian Mowat and Ricky Butt as the bickering cafe owner and his wife and a fine Marquis / Mayor (with three ‘nieces’ in tow!) from Mark Turnbull. There isn’t a weak link in the ensemble; a superb supporting cast of twelve.

Though I didn’t really like the painted backdrop, which seemed to me more Munch’s The Scream than the presumably intended Chagall, there is an authentic French village feel created by a handful of props and good costumes but more than anything else by good, somewhat tongue-in-cheek acting. I loved the opening in French, before the cafe owner’s wife as narrator is reminded where she is – it lasted just long enough for panic to set in with some audience members! The staging is excellent – with particularly fluid ensemble movement.

Yet another fine production at the Union. Next stop Texas for The Best Little Whorehouse!

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