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Posts Tagged ‘Martin Thomas’

Perhaps I shouldn’t have seen this straight after a run of four musical comedies. It might be only 75 minutes, but it’s a dark affair. Unlike the Wildhorn-Bricusse Jekyll & Hyde musical, this is a three-hander chamber piece that’s less gothic and more introspective.

In seventeen scenes and eighteen songs we follow Jekyll, his fiancée Katherine, good-time girl Lizzie and of course Hyde from being booed by his peers to murder and consequential incarceration. With a book by Gary Young, the scenes and songs seem to change before they’ve been fully developed, leaving you with the impression of work-in-progress. It’s virtually sung through with a sub-operatic score by Tony Rees that left me a bit cold.

One can’t fault Robert McWhir’s production, though. Designer Martin Thomas has created a simple period feel with excellent lighting from Richard Lambert. With just cello for company, MD Matheson Bayley plays the score on piano from memory! The performances are all good – Dave Willetts no less as Jekyll / Hyde, Alexandra Fisher as Katherine & Jessie Lilley as Lizzie.

It was all a bit melodramatic and earnest for me, but maybe that’s because I was by now programmed to laugh!

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There have been more operatic adaptations of Shakespeare’s plays (most by Verdi) than there have musicals and they haven’t been as faithful to the bard as this Howard Goodall show (he also produced a musical version of A Midsummer Night’s Dream). It has none of the verse but every bit of the essence and the story. Add to this a beautiful score, wonderful performances and a brilliant production by Andrew Keates and you have another triumph at the Landor Theatre.

The two halves are very different. In the first it’s tragic – Sicilian King Leontes’ obsessive jealousy leads to the death of his wife, illness of his son, banishment of his baby daughter and loss of his best friend, Bohemian King Polixines, and loyal aide Camillo. It lightens in the second half as Polixines’ son Florizel falls for Perdita, daughter of a mere shepherd. We get a jolly sheep-shearing festival (I will reluctantly forgive the Welsh accents!) gatecrashed by an outraged King determined to prevent the marriage of his son to Perdita. They flee to Sicily where the truth emerges and it all ends happily (this is musical theatre, after all).

There’s a lot of story for a musical but the book by Nick Stimson and Andrew Keates delivers it with complete clarity (it has to be said – much more than the play!). I’d know a Goodall score if I heard just a few bars because his music is distinctive and unique with lush, sweeping melodies and glorious harmonies that are simply uplifting, and this is one of his best scores. The unamplified voices deliver it beautifully with just two keyboards and cello accompanying them. I’m not sure I heard one dud note last night.

As they did with the Hired Man, director Andrew Keates and choreographer Cressida Carre have made great use of the Landor space which doesn’t feel small even with 18 people on it! The production values are outstanding – Martin Thomas’ design is elegant, with a simple but brilliant transformation between locations, Philippa Batt’s costumes are terrific and Howard Hudson’s lighting bathes the space in warmth.

For once, I am not going to single out one performance in this faultless cast of 18; no-one stands out because everyone stands out. They were clearly loving this show as much as I was. From professional debuts to musical veterans, this is a company any producer would consider a privilege to have.

As a huge Goodall fan, I’ve been a bit over-excited about this premiere, so there was a risk I’d be disappointed. In the end, it delivered way beyond my expectations and I’ve already booked to go again. Howard Goodall is Britain’s greatest composer of musicals and here he’s got a production this wonderful show deserves. I’ve run out of superlatives……..you should know by now what you have to do…..

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This show started life as a film, made by Blake (Pink Panther) Edwards as a vehicle for his wife Julie Andrews some 30 years ago. It got to Broadway 13 years later but took another 9 years to get to London; a fringe production by Phil Wilmott at the then home of fringe musicals, The Bridewell Theatre. It’s only taken 8 more years for its second London outing (I think), this time at one of our now multiple fringe musical homes, Southwark Playhouse, in a production by the talented and prolific Thom Sutherland.

It owes a lot to Cabaret. English girl abroad. Decadent nightclubs. Cross-dressing. It’s the story of Victoria Grant who after a failed audition as a club singer is persuaded by new friend Toddy to pose as Polish Victor playing a woman – a woman playing a man playing a woman; very Shakespearian.

She falls for visiting American nightclub owner King Marchand (and he for him/her in a nice touch of confused sexuality) but is rumbled by competing club owner Henri Labisse for whom she originally auditioned.  All is revealed so that she can get her man (and his sidekick can get his man i.e Toddy!). It’s a bit of a slight story and the score isn’t much more than OK, but it scrubs up well in this excellent production.

It’s a traverse staging with a (rather too noisy) entrance and stairway at one end and an (underused) staircase and eight club tables with table-top lights (occupied by audience members) at the other end. A few tables and chairs constitute the minimal props but its an effective design by Martin Thomas, well lit by Howard Hudson.

The key to its success is a star turn from the wonderful Anna Francolini who is perfectly cast and believable as both Victor and Victoria. Richard Demsey is good as Toddy, as is Matthew Cutts as King. Mark Curry had real presence as the club owner / manager and Kate Nelson did a lovely job as King’s dumb blonde Norma. In the supporting cast, Jean Perkins gave a fine set of cameos, including a warm-up magic act!

The show was still in preview and it didn’t seem quite ready; in particular there was some ragged playing from the eight piece band under Joseph Atkins. I suspect it will settle and improve as the run continues, but in any event it’s well worth a visit.

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Yet another very good reason to head to the Landor Theatre in Clapham. I think this is the first professional UK production of Kander & Ebb’s last show; they were responsible for Cabaret & Chicago (and Flora The Red Menace, which transferred here from Walthamstow last month – a show which couldn’t be more different if it tried). When I saw it at the Guildhall School of Music & Drama two years ago (https://garethjames.wordpress.com/2010/07/08/curtains) I thought it was fun, but not a lot more. In Robert McWhir’s superb production, it proves to be a huge treat.

Before the show has even started, you’re admiring Martin Thomas’ ingenious design. He’s managed to create the proscenium, stage and backstage of a Boston theatre in this tiny space! We’re at a pre-Broadway run of a musical of Robin Hood (set in the wild west, obviously). The leading lady dies at the curtain call; enter stage-struck Lieutenant Cioffi, the centre of our musical comedy whodunnit (hot on the heels of The Mystery of Edwin Drood here a few months back, for which Rupert Holmes also wrote the book, but this is in another league altogether).

We learn why many of the cast are reluctant participants and the spotlight moves from suspect to suspect in proper whodunnit tradition. The Lieutenant pays as much attention to improving the show as he does to finding the murderer and falls in love with a cast member along the way. We get an insight into production, investment and staging of a musical with no stereotype left unturned, as well as a classic whodunnit that keeps the surprise right until the end. There’s even a programme within the programme a la Noises Off.

Buster Skeggs (a lady!)  is great as the producer whose many highlights include a quartet about critics with her investor and writers called What Kind of Man? and Its a Business, which just about sums up commercial theatre in three minutes. Leo Andrew also shines as the composer and, like The Producers, there’s a camp (though less outrageously so) British director, excellently played by Bryan Kennedy. Bronwyn Andrews (from Ireland, not Wales!) is a lovely romantic lead, but the star of the show is Jeremy Legat who is simply terrific as the Lieutenant, in fine voice with an excellent American accent.

What I like most about Kander and Ebb is that every show is completely different. Fred Ebb died before this was completed (as did original book writer Peter Stone – a bit spooky for a murder mystery!) but the book and lyrics are sharp and funny with many laugh-out-loud moments. The score is so much better than I remembered it with some real showstoppers like the opening Wide Open Spaces (even funnier in this space!) ans Show People and solos like the Lieutenant’s Coffee Shop Nights.

It’s hard to believe this show has taken six years to get here, but the Landor have done it proud. A truimph of Olympian proportions for which the creative team, the whole cast of 20 and Michael Webborn’s 5-piece band all deserve a medal! A transfer would be richly deserved, but it’ll probably never be better than it is here, at a third of the price of the West End. Stop reading, start booking!

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This chamber musical is a new spin on the love triangle. When advertising executive Tom and his wife Lucy, both unfaithful, split over Lucy’s affair with a bohemian artist things take an extraordinary turn. Tom at first stalks the artist, then becomes his flat-mate, then his friend. To say more would be to spoil the fun; suffice to say it turns full circle in a rather satisfying if implausible way – well, it is a musical, after all.

Jimmy Roberts’ score is somewhat Sondheimesque and for me (this may sound odd) has a little too much music, which makes it feel a bit ‘stuffed’; this isn’t at the expense of narrative or character development though and there are some nice songs. The good book and sharp witty lyrics are by Joe DiPietro, who wrote the very funny book for Nice Work If You Can Get It, which I saw last month in new York. It’s perhaps overly slick in that way American shows often can be to British sensibilities, but even so there’s a satisfying roundness to it all.

Andrew Keates excellent staging, on a functional but elegant set by Martin Thomas, has its tongue in its cheek. It zips along and characters sometimes appear to come from nowhere. The chorus of two, who play all 24 other roles, is a great device and in the hands of Steven Webb and Lucyelle Cliffe, is far from a supporting feature. Webb in particular relishes every cameo and many of these were the highlight of the evening, most particularly his one-man double-act as both the French maitre ‘d and American server in a poncy restaurant.

Peter Gerald is very good as an arrogant philandering ad man who becomes more humble, even nice,  as the story unfolds. Kate Graham was in particularly fine voice as lovestruck but-not-as-innocent-as-she-seems Lucy. John Addison’s opposite journey from laid back bohemian to sold-out for love was well played. There’s a lovely three-piece band (piano, cello and reeds) who’s gentle playing enable you to hear every word without the harshness of amplification.

This is a fun evening – a clever show expertly staged and performed; something we’re getting used to at the Landor.

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This is the third Flaherty & Ahrens musical here at the Landor in six months, and this time a European premiere of their latest (2007) show. There was a wonderful revival of Ragtime back in September and Lucky Stiff  just last month was great fun.

You have to admire this pair for the range of their subjects; this time its 16th century Italian Commedia dell’Arte! We follow a troop of street players as they enact scenes and their relationships are revealed. It’s somewhat broad and crude, in keeping with the style it pays homage to (and suggests is the origin of much modern comedy) and there are some nice songs, particularly those of Columbina and Armanda at the start of the second half, which are beautifully sung by Kate Brennan and Jodie Beth Meyer.

Robert McWhir’s staging is excellent, with a lovely period design from Martin Thomas and (yet again) great lighting by Howard Hudson. The opening and closing scenes, with the players behind gauze, are particularly effective. The string / woodwind / piano quintet under Joanna Cichonska, playing new orchestrations by Niall Bailey, produce a sound which is simply gorgeous. I applaud the lack of amplification, but the sound is probably better balanced further away from the band. I’m afraid I thought Mike Christie’s Flaminio was a weak link in the casting, which was otherwise very good, and its a crucial role.

The problem with the evening is the structure of the show – it’s just a series of scenes which hang loosely together, leaving you wanting more of a narrative. It’s the weakest of the six musicals I’ve seen from this pair, but it’s a good production and still worth catching if you’re a musical junkie like me!

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This is one of my Top Ten musicals and quite possibly the greatest musical comedy ever written, so I take every opportunity to see it. I think I’ve seen every London production in the last 30 years, some of them on multiple occasions. I was a little hesitant about this first(?) fringe outing though, as it’s a big show. I thought staging it Upstairs at the Gatehouse, though bigger than many fringe venues, was somewhat challenging. In the end I couldn’t resist and boy am I glad I didn’t!

What director Racky Plews, choreographer Lee Proud and designer Martin Thomas have done in this small space with a cast of 13, a 5-piece band and the budget of a small unfunded theatre is nothing short of miraculous. I have never enjoyed the show more and left the theatre on an extraordinary high. It came alive in the opening scene and never let go until we were shouting and cheering at the end (though we were also cheering during!).

Writers Jo Swerling and Abe Burrows were lucky enough to have Damon Runyon’s wonderful tales as a starting point. This world of loveable rogues & showgirls juxtaposed with the Salvation Army is made for musical comedy. The show links the stories of  naive showgirl Adelaide & marriage shy Nathan and gambler Sky & missionary Sarah. Nathan has to find a venue for his floating crap game and continue to avoid marriage to Adelaide (who’s told her mother they’ve been married for 12 years and have 5 children!) whilst Sky has to get a Salvation Army officer to dinner in Cuba to win a bet, then deliver 12 sinners to her mission to avoid its closure and win his girl.

Frank Loesser’s lyrics are sharp and funny and his score littered with so many classic songs. Some are showstoppers, notably Luck be a Lady and Sit Down, You’re Rocking the Boat  (when I went to a 1990 charity performance of Richard Eyre’s NT production, they had to sing this six times before the audience would stop applauding and cheering!) but here even lesser numbers become showstoppers such that you’re on a rollercoaster of fun that just doesn’t stop from start to finish.

The four leads are all superb and really well matched. Amy Bailey makes earnest Sarah’s transition to lovestruck believable and seemless. It doesn’t take long before you’ve fallen for Rebecca Sutherland’s squeaky Adelaide and her numbers with the Hot Box girls are delicious. Jamie Sampson has the right mix of cheeky swagger and charm as Sky and you know you’d have such fun if James Kermack’s hapless Nathan was your friend. They all sing and dance brilliantly.

In a faultless supporting cast, Jos Slovik (who’s been one-to-watch since Spring Awakening) is great as Benny and his duet with Patrick Rufey’s terrific Nicely Nicely in the title song has never been better in my experience. Connor Dowling gives Officer Brannigan a clever, more manic interpretation. Many of the cast double-up so well that I couldn”t always work out which ones were which. Time for another nod to a casting director – a gold star to Ri McDaid-Wren!

They’ve had to be very inventive to stage this so well in a small space with a small cast. The staging of the phone conversations is a hoot and the solution to the problem of delivering 12 souls to the mission (given that 4 of the cast of 13 are ‘missionaries’!) is inspired. There may not be much of an ‘ensemble’ for the Broadway and Havana scenes, but they still thrilled. We move from streets to clubs to missions to sewers swiftly, with some of the scene changes themselves choreographed.

This musical heaven cost 10p a minute – less than a quarter of a West End show and at least 4 times as good as most! There was a spring in my step and a smile on my face all the way down Highgate Hill. If I have a more enjoyable evening of musical theatre this year I shall be a lucky boy indeed.

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