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Posts Tagged ‘Martin Connor’

To be honest, I’m not that fond of this show, but I’m very fond of GSMD’s end-of-year musicals, which combine West End production values with terrific young talent and the biggest and best orchestra you’ll ever hear playing for a musical, and this year is no exception.

By 1964, Rogers & Hammerstein had made it OK to write musicals on serious subjects and Jerry Bock, Sheldon Harnick & Joseph Stein chose the early 20th Century Russian pogroms for theirs. They’d done five shows before this, but this was their big hit, running on Broadway for almost ten years, in the West End for almost five, made into a successful film in 1971, with countless revivals since, including three in the West End. Though the political background is dark, the story of dairyman Tevye, his wife and five daughters in the village of Anatevka is light, and the contrast doesn’t work for me, with the latter smothering the former. Though there are four numbers in the show which have become standards, I find the score a bit too twee.

Whatever you think of the show, though, Martin Connor’s production is superb, with an excellent design by Adam Wiltshire, great choreography by Joanna Goodwin and a luxurious 28-piece orchestra which sounds glorious under MD Steven Edis. Another outstanding cast is led by Alex James-Cox as Tevye, a hugely impressive performance. I was looking at the news of last year’s graduates in the programme to find they’ve since been at Shakespeare’s Globe, the Old and Young Vic’s, Almeida, Bridge and Chichester theatres, two in the Harry Potter plays plus Game of Thrones and the BBC’s A Very English Scandal. That tells you something about the talent that awaits you at a GSMD show.

Can’t wait to see this lot in my future theatre-going.

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It’s less than a year since I last saw this show, a lovely production at the Watermill Newbury, but I so love my July trips to the Guildhall School of Music & Drama’s end of year musicals that I couldn’t resist, particularly with Martin Connor at the helm. As it turned out, one of my best decisions. I’ve had so many wonderful evenings there, but this might just top the lot. 

When this Gershwin show first appeared twenty-five years ago, it revived a practice started by Handel & his contemporaries in the early 18th century, stealing tunes from other shows to make a better one. This is packed full of some of the Gershwin’s best – Someone To Watch Over Me, Embraceable You, I Got Rhythm, They Can’t Take That Away From Me, Nice Work If You Can Get It…..woven into a show that pits Broadway against the Wild West with a pair of posh Brits added for good measure.

Failed showman Bobby is sent by his mother, on behalf of the family bank, to foreclose on a theatre in Deadrock Nevada, but instead tries to revive it, while falling in love with owner’s daughter Polly at the same time. Despite getting his friends from the Zangler Follies to come west, with Zangler himself following for reasons of a romantic nature, he fails to find an audience or bag his girl so he returns to New York where he’s given the Zangler Theatre when that defaults. Unbeknown to him, back in Deadrock the show has become a success. He returns and we get our happy ending with three love stories concluding as they should. 

The production values are as good as any West End show, with an excellent design and costumes by Adam Wiltshire. A 33-piece band is a luxury and it did indeed sound luxurious. Luke Thallon is terrific as Bobby with vocals, dancing and acting all outstanding; a star is born, I’d say. Lucie Fletcher is great as the girl growing up in a man’s world; so much so, she took my breathe away when she came on glammed up for the finale. Steffan Cennydd’s excellent turn as the real Zangler shone in the drunk scene with Bobby’s imposter which was a masterclass of both staging and performance. The class of 2017 is one of the best ensembles ever presented at the Guildhall, and that’s saying something.

Such joy to see such talent. Unmissable.

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The oddest thing about this 1978 Broadway show is its sub-operetta score by Cy (Sweet Charity / Barnum / City of Angels) Coleman. Oh, and the fact it takes place almost entirely on a train. This is my fourth production and the second at GSMD. I rather like it.

The score somehow suits a story about theatre folk. Producer Oscar Jaffee has had a series of flops and he’s on the run from those involved in the last one in Chicago, which closed mid-performance when the last audience member walked out, on the train named the 20th Century bound for New York. He hears that former star of stage, now star of screen, Lily Garland, is going to board the train. An idea for a new show about Mary Magdalene comes to him and a rich religious businesswoman, Letitia Peabody Primrose, falls into his lap and becomes his backer. He then seeks to bag Lily as his leading lady. With a book and lyrics by musical comedy masters Betty Comden & Adolph Green, there’s a lot of fun to be had, particularly in the second half scenes getting the investment and contracting Lily, plus a delightfully politically incorrect song called She’s A Nut and a running joke about everyone writing a play.

Adam Wiltshire’s set and costumes wouldn’t look out of place on a West End stage – two big gilt proscenium arches and a superb period train carriage – and where else would you get a full orchestra of 35 and a cast of 30 these days! There’s excellent choreography by Bill Deamer, especially in the Act II Mayfair party scene. The musical standards under MD Dan Jackson are high, and whereas last time GSMD staged it many of the cast struggled to play older, that is absolutely not the case here. Bessie Carter was particularly good as Letitia and Michael Levi Harris & Carl Stone a terrific double-act as Oscar’s sidekicks. I very much liked Claudia Jolly ‘s Lily and Josh Dylan provided a great cameo as her new love Bruce Granit. The chorus numbers showed off the vocal and dancing talents of a fine ensemble.

It’s another one of those shows where the second half is sharper than the first, and you can see why the original production never made it across the pond like Coleman’s other shows, but Martin Connor’s revival is a great introduction for anyone who hasn’t seen it, or a fresh look for musical theatre buffs like me who can’t get enough of it. 

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I never tire of this show. One of my top ten musicals (maybe top five, maybe 1st – ranking is impossible! ) but definitely the best musical comedy of them all. So my favourite drama school’s end of term production was an absolute must, but it’s a hell if a challenge for students, however good they are.

This show has everything. Set in a quintessential period in New York City as if time came to a standstill in the 50’s, from the moment you meet Rusty Charlie, Benny Southstreet and Nicely-Nicely Johnson (what names!) you’re swept up into Damon Runyon’s world. It has a wonderfully funny book by Jo Swerling and Abe Burrows with gamblers, missionaries, two love stories and a trip to Havana. Everyone’s lovable, even the rogues. Frank Loesser’s score is chock-a-block with wonderful tunes with brilliant lyrics (I’ll Know, If I Were A Bell, I’ve Never Been In Love Before, Luck Be Lady, Sit Down You’re Rockin’ The Boat…..). The guy gets his girl and the girl gets her guy and the mission is saved. Bliss.

The highlights of this particular production are the superb sound of a proper 23-piece orchestra under Michael Haslam, the luxury of extra Hot Box girls, great period costumes and an overture and entr’acte retro curtain light show! Bill Deamer’s choreography for Sit Down, You’re Rockin’ The Boat is sensational and Adelaide and Sarah’s duet, Marry The Man Today, has never been better. Luke Dale had great presence as Sky and Oscar Batterham’s characterisation of Nathan was spot on. Alexander Knox sang Sit Down beautifully (while coping with the energetic choreography) and Edward Sayer was a particularly fine Arvide.

Director Martin Connor has done many great shows here at GSMD and this was amongst his most ambitious. It wasn’t faultless, but it was huge fun and it shone when it mattered. For me, the superb encore could have gone on and on because by then I was in musical theatre heaven.

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Walking into the GSMD’s Silk Street Theatre you could be walking into any West End or Broadway theatre. Morgan Large’s two-story hotel foyer, complete with grand staircase, revolving door and chandelier, is something you don’t expect to see in a drama school production. That’s often the case at GSMD shows, though – productions any West End producer would be proud of at a fraction of the ticket price. I actually enjoyed this more than either the Dominion 1992 or Donmar 2004 productions!

Based on the 1929 Austrian novel & play rather than the 1932 film (with Greta Garbo, Joan Crawford & John Barrymore) the musical first appeared in 1958 but had a troubled life and it wasn’t until the equally troubled 1989 Broadway production, which transferred to the Dominion, that it truly arrived. Set in 1928 in Berlin, the coolest city of the time (Brecht & Weill, Marlene Dietrich, Josephine Baker & Louis Armstrong, Kandinsky & the Bauhaus, Fritz Lang & Billy Wilder!), it weaves together the stories of a bankrupt baron thief, a fast fading Russian ballerina, a man whose business is about to go down the pan, a junkie doctor with a death wish, a dying book-keeper wanting to experience life before he goes and a stagestruck secretary intent on Hollywood. Add in their assistants, the hotel staff and some entertainers and all life is here.

The score is better than I remembered it and here it is played by a full 27-piece orchestra under Steven Edis and it sounds glorious. The choreographer is Bill Deamer no less and the quality of dancing is another of its high spots, including a pair of professional dancers a match for any Strictly professionals. Director Martin Connor succeeds in the difficult task of staging the overlapping stories played by 32 actors. The overlapping makes it very fast moving, but you’ve got to keep your wits about you as there’s a lot going on. It’s often dark, sometimes surprisingly, but always captivating. Forthcoming events in Berlin are hinted at, which makes the ending a bit chilling and in truth a bit sudden.

I’m a regular at GSMD and other drama schools and though the hit rate is high, it’s rare you see a revival this good. Combining a premiere league creative team with bags of fresh talent can give you something very special indeed, and just about the best theatrical value for money you’ll find anywhere!

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This 1986 musical with a book by Joseph (Fiddler on the Roof) Stein, lyrics by Stephen (Godspell) Schwartz & music by Charles (Annie) Strouse is a lot better than its post-opening 4-day Broadway run suggests. It provides a drama school like GSMD with 30 roles, lots of different locations to set and a score suitable for a substantial orchestra. That’s a double-edged sword, of course, as that means ambition and challenge, but GSMD pull it off.

The show starts on board a ship full of Russian Jewish refugees bound for New York. Rebecca’s husband, now in New York for five years, has sent for her but fails to meet her at the port. Bella Cohen, who she as befriended on board, and her father Avram vouch for her, enabling her and her son David to enter the US. She lives with the Cohen’s, works in a sweat shop and gets involved with union man Saul. When she eventually finds Nathan some time later, he isn’t the man he was; he’s now one of the oppressors making life hell for sewing machinists like her.

There’s a sub-plot where orthodox Avram seeks to thwart the relationship between Bella and Ben, a romance which started on board ship, and lots of insight into the plight of these poor immigrants. Some funny scenes lighten the mood, notably a Jewish Hamlet, and its at its best in the big numbers which allow the terrific ensemble and orchestra under Stephen Eadis to shine. With a team as good as Martin Connor (director) & Bill Deamer (choreographer), the staging is of course excellent – flowing smoothly from ship to port to tenement to sweat shop to street with a simple but clever two-tier design.

Amongst the individual performances, those that have to play older or younger fare particularly well. Christopher Currie plays old Akram well (despite the dodgy beard!), as does Eva Feiler as Rachel, who befriends him with a view to marriage. Rhys Isaac-Jones does equally well in reverse as young David. Nathan is an unsympathetic character which Alex Large turns you against, as he should, in the same way that Maximilien Seweryn gets all of your empathy as Ben.

A rare chance to see a big Broadway show with the big numbers delivered to thrilling effect.

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Presenting the London premiere of this show by Americans Ernest Kinoy, Lee Goldsmith & Roger Anderson may be considered a coup for the Guildhall School of Music & Drama. Thirty years ago, the Broadway production was cancelled just before the first rehearsal when financing fell through after another show about Chaplin was being prepared. Sadly, it proves a bit of a disappointment.

The show (somewhat pretentiously sub-titled A Memory as Entertainment) concentrates on Chaplin’s early life, up to his departure from Keystone films when he was just 26. It’s a fascinating life and reading Eliot Shrimpton’s excellent programme notes before the start heightens the anticipation.

The fatal flaw of the show proves to be the long first half (despite the fact it appears to have lost 15-20 mins in the last few days!) when a fascinating life is presented very slowly and made dull. The music, newly orchestrated by prolific MD Steven Edis, is unremarkable and the book rather clunky. It was all a bit Oliver! without any of the sparkle. Things improve in the second half, which starts on the ship to the US and zips through the five years that took Chaplin to stardom, but its a bit late.

Mark Bailey’s design is outstanding. There is a giant gold picture frame at the back, with projections onto its canvas, red velvet curtains descend for the music hall scenes and the costumes are excellent. The opening of Act II on a liner heading for NYC with the projection of the sea, a large smoking funnel and a pair of handrails looks brilliant. Bill Deamer, who has done such good work at the Open Air Theatre, choreographs well. In fact there’s nothing much wrong with Martin Connor’s staging other than its pacing.

The acting is better than the singing. Though the musical standards in the pit are good, the singing onstage is (unusually for GSMD) often ropey with far too many off-key moments. The most impressive performances come from Tim Bowie as elder brother Sydney (though he looks four years younger rather than four years older), Sion Alun Davies as Keystone films supremo Mack Sennett, Katherine Rose Morley as his Mabel and Rose Reynolds as the Lily Chaplin marries.

In the 20 or so years I’ve been going to the GSMD end-of-year musicals, I’m not sure I’ve ever left as disappointed as I did last night. Most of their previous shows have been revivals of tested material. This just shows that however good the talent, if the material isn’t good enough, you’re bound to end up with a dud.

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I’d almost forgotten what a great show this is. It’s packed full of standards (Wunderbar, So In Love, Always True To You In My Fashion, From This Moment On…..), has cracking openers to both acts (Another Op’nin, Another Show and Too Darn Hot), a superb comedy number in Brush Up Your Shakespeare and some of the best lyrics Cole Porter ever wrote.

We’re in Baltimore where a theatre company is about to open Taming of the Shrew, improved by a team of six new writers! The on-off relationship of producer / director / actor Fred and Hollywood star and leading lady Lilli mirrors Petruchio & Katherine in Shakespeare’s play. Add to this the fact that someone has posed as Fred, resulting in him being chased by a pair of gangsters, and Lilli is being courted by a General close to the president and you have a terrific set up for musical comedy.

I first saw the show when the RSC did it at the Old Vic 24 years ago and I think the only other time was a Broadway transfer to London ten years ago. I won’t easily forget the RSC production as I was on the Laurence Olivier Awards panel that year and had to bully the Society of West End Theatre (as it was then called) to get an extra statuette made so that we could give the Best Supporting Actor in a Musical award to both John Barton and Emil Wolk as we weren’t prepared to choose one over the other! Another memory is of taking a bunch of Commonwealth colleagues to see it and hearing one of them say it brought back fond memories of seeing Shakespeare in Rawalpindi! To say that this stands up well against both these productions is indeed a compliment.

Martin Connor has done some excellent work at GSMD and this is amongst his best. He has assembled one of the finest casts I’ve ever seen here. Leading man Alex Knox is outstanding, with particularly good vocals; he makes a great job of Where Is The Life That Late I Led. He is well matched by Alex Clatworthy as Lilli / Katherine. Kae Alexander is a superb Lois / Bianca, handling Always True To You In My Fashion brilliantly. The comic honours are shared between Lewis Goody & Stephen Wilson as the gangsters (who give us a fine music hall-style turn in Brush Up Your Shakespeare) and Kingsley Ben-Adir as the General. It was great to hear an orchestra of 27 play this lovely score (MD Steven Edis). Joseph Pitcher’s excellent choreography shines in Too Darn Hot.

Another big Broadway show, South Pacific, will be opening next door at the Barbican Theatre in a few weeks. It will cost you over five times to see it, but I bet it won’t be anywhere near five times better. This is an excellent production of a great show with added youthful enthusiasm and another big hit for GSMD.

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This was Kander & Ebb’s (Cabaret, Chicago…..) last show; in fact, Ebb ebbed away and died during (but not because of) it! It was nominated for eight Tony’s when it was produced on Broadway in 2007, and won David Hyde Pierce his Tony – rather spookily he was across town making his UK debut in La Bete on the same evening! I think this Guildhall School of Music & Drama production might be its UK premiere.

It’s a comedy whodunnit which takes place on stage and backstage at an out-of-town opening of a Broadway-bound musical in Boston. The inspector who calls turns out to be a musicals fan and there are three murders to solve and a show to put on.

It’s not a great show, but it’s fun. The book and music are just OK but the lyrics are good and it gets a spirited production by Martin Connor. It’s not the best GSMD cast I’ve seen, but there are excellent performances from Fred Lancaster as the cop, Paloma Oakenfold as the producer and Patrick Osborne as the British director.

Well worth catching if you’re interested in musical theatre and guaranteed to put a smile on your face.

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