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Posts Tagged ‘Maury Yeston’

This musical by Maury Yeston & Peter Stone / Thomas Meehan is a 2011 adaptation of a 1924 Italian play which was filmed twice, in 1934 with Fredric March, and in 1998 as Meet Joe Black, starring Brad Pitt. This is its European Premiere, staged by Thom Southerland, who has had great success with Yeston’s Titanic and Grand Hotel.

The Lamberti family have a near miss car accident on the way home from their daughter Grazia’s engagement party. It turns out that Death has prevented Grazia’s demise because he fancies a long weekend in human form, partly to answer the question of why he’s so feared. He takes the form of Russian noble Prince Nikolai Sirki and only Grazia’s dad, the Duke, knows the truth. He falls in love with Grazia and she with him and he’s intent on taking her with him at the end if his holiday, but her dad pleads with him not to, until counter pleas from Grazia.

I struggled to suspend enough disbelief to engage fully with the story, but it’s a gorgeous melodic score. Morgan Large has designed a terrific Italian villa and Jonathan Lipman has created brilliant period costumes. Stylistically, it feels like Sondheim’s A Little Night Music or Passion; very European, very early 20th century. Thom Southerland’s staging is up to his usual impeccable standard, with a forensic attention to detail. The humour surprised but pleased me. Dean Austin’s band sounds as beautiful as the music.

Zoe Doano and Chris Peluso are superb in the leading roles and there’s a fine supporting ensemble. Mark Inscoe has great presence as Duke Lamberti, Ashley Stillburn is excellent as Grazia’s fiancé Corrado, as is James Grant as servant Fidele (who will be promoted to the role of Death / Nikolai during the run!). It’s great to see Gay Soper give such a fine cameo, as Contessa Evangelina Di San Danielli (!), close to her 50th year in musical theatre.

I’m not entirely convinced by the premise and the story, but it’s a lovely lush score, it looks gorgeous and the performances are terrific.

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I find it astonishing that the story of the Titanic has such a high-profile, now more than 100 years after its fateful maiden voyage. It’s equally astonishing that it has taken 16 years for this Maury Yeston musical to get a London production (sorry, Bromley, but you are in Kent!). It turns out that, in telling the tragic story, this musical is way better than the somewhat pompous and overblown film and this showcase is long overdue.

It tells the story of the tragedy very well, bringing out the conflict between the owner, the shipbuilder, the captain and other crew members, but it’s even better bringing out the personal stories of the passengers and crew through the ship’s own class system. Third class is full of hopeful immigrants, second class has social-climbing holidaymakers and the rich and famous occupy first class.

Thom Sutherland & Cressida Carre’s staging is simple but clever. I particularly liked the owner’s relentless pressure for speed staged as a series of dinners; the conflict between owner, builder & captain trading blame-laden one liners; the choreographed transfer of ladies into lifeboats and the eventual tilting of the ship. David Woodhead has designed an elevated ship’s deck in front of a metal wall, some movable steps and a handful of props which do everything that’s needed.

Yeston’s score is excellent, especially in the company numbers. It has a pleasingly unBroadway, somewhat British sound and the string-heavy band under Mark Aspinall played gloriously. Andrew Johnson’s sound is amongst the best I’ve ever experienced in musical theatre. Danielle Tarento’s casting is again outstanding and it would be invidious to single anyone out as there are so many fine performances and an ensemble that shines.

When will a commercial producer give Thom Southerland a big West End musical? As this shows, he’s as good as any – and Southwark Playhouse continues its indispensable contribution as a bigger-than-most fringe musical venue.

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This was written after Ken Hill’s Stratford East original but before Lloyd-Webber’s show, which sadly scuppered its Broadway intentions and quite possibly changed history. Even so, it’s had over 1000 productions worldwide but, astonishingly, this is its London professional premiere – and Maury (Nine, Grand Hotel & Titanic) Yeston & Arthur (Nine) Kopit’s show is rather good.

Of course, it shares the same source in Gaston Leroux’s book, but we get more of the phantom (Eric!)’s history / back story and the music is a nod to French operetta (somewhat appropriately for its late 19th century Parisian setting) rather than ripped off from an obscure Puccini opera set in the wild west! It’s a whole lot less pompous that Lloyd-Webber’s, with some nice tongue-in-cheek touches (this could be the production rather than the show, of course).

This is a room above a pub in Walthamstow, so there’s no multicoloured masquerade, boats sailing on dry ice lakes or falling chandeliers – indeed,the entire budget is probably less than the other one’s chandelier cleaning bill – but it’s a terrific production. This is largely due, as before at Ye Olde Rose & Crown, to sky-high musical standards plus, on this occasion, excellent casting by Ben Newsome (also responsible for One Touch of Venus here last year plus more recently A Class Act & Sleeping Arrangements at the Landor and Rooms at the Finborough).

Kieran Brown is outstanding as the phantom and Aussie Kira Morsley (her UK professional debut?) is a fantastic Christine, with the perfect voice for the part. I loved Pippa Winslow’s Carlotta and there are other fine performances from Andrew Rivera as her husband, Sean Paul Jenkinson as the count also in love with Christine and Tom Murphy as outgoing theatre manager Carriere. They are all supported by a fine ensemble.

I adored MD Aaron Clingham’s arrangements for piano, woodwind and strings and the idea of atmospheric ‘incidental’ music is a very good one. American Dawn Kalani Cowle (it’s a proper United Nations up there in Walthamstow) does a fine job of staging this in such a small space, with clever use of a red curtain across the whole space.

I thought One Touch of Venus was a turning point for this venue, and I think this proves it. Anyone interested in musical theatre should be heading to Walthamstow right now. No excuses.

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