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In a famous ‘life imitates art’ moment, the leading lady and leading man of the 1994 West End production of this romantic comedy – Ruthie Henshall & John Gordon Sinclair – became an item during its run. I was a bit underwhelmed by the show then and it wasn’t until last night that I realised why. It’s really a chamber piece that’s so much more at home in the Landor than the Savoy, and here it gets a charming, sweet production.

Before its stage musical adaptation in 1963, Hungarian Miklos Laszio’s play had two film adaptations, one with music, and had another – You’ve Got Mail – 35 years after that. Jerry Bock, who wrote the music, and Sheldon Harnick, the lyricist, had done three shows together, but this was the one that made them. One year later they wrote Fiddler On the Roof, and never topped that again. It’s a love story about a shop manager and one of his staff who don’t realise they are pen pals, spending their days sniping at one another and their evenings pouring their hearts out in writing to their ‘Dear friend’. The show is filled out with the story of the shop owner and his wife’s affairs, the playboy shop assistant and his flings, the teenage delivery boy’s ambitions and other shop assistant’s family life and love life.

Designer David Shields has created a lovely 30’s Budapest parfumerie, with excellent period costumes. It fits the Landor like a glove and you feel like you’re in the shop. The leading roles are brilliantly cast (that man Newsome again). Charlotte Jaconelli has a very strong voice (and manages to sing well whilst being carried on another character’s shoulders!) and there’s real chemistry with the excellent John Sandberg as Georg (life imitates art again?!). Matthew Wellman and Emily Lynne, both new to me,  were very strong as Kodaly and Ilona, the former in fine voice, with the right measure of sleaze, and the latter providing one of the second act’s highlights with A Trip to the Library. I very much liked David Herzog’s interpretation of Sipos, an important but somewhat underwritten role. Joshua LeClair is an extraordinarily believable delivery boy, with bucketloads of charm. At the other end of the scale, it’s good to see Landor regular Ian Dring with a great characterisation of Maraczek the shop owner. Director Robert McWhir and his regular choreographer Robbie O’Reilly deliver the Landor’s usual fine staging, with a particularly masterly staging of Twelve Days of Christmas.

The show isn’t a classic, the first half is a bit long, and it’s a touch too sweet for my taste, but this delightful production in an intimate space is just about as good as it could get and shouldn’t be missed…..and it’s Valentines Day!

 

 

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