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Posts Tagged ‘Michael Hobbs’

The adaptation of British feel-good films as stage musical continues. This is the third in the last twelve months, following Made in Dagenham and Bend It Like Beckham, and in my book it’s another successful transition. This time, like The Full Monty before it, it came via Broadway, but thankfully without being relocated to an American town. It suffers from a dose of typically American sentimentality in the second half, but that can be forgiven for the pleasures elsewhere.

Northampton shoe factory Price & Son is struggling when Mr Price dies suddenly and son Charlie becomes the reluctant heir. The family loyalty to their employees means it has been on its uppers for some time and Charlie isn’t initially well disposed to flog a dead horse. A chance encounter with a drag queen gives him the idea of transforming it into a niche supplier of, well, kinky boots, and drag queen Lola becomes his unlikely business partner.

You can see why they had the idea of turning it into a musical and it works well. Though it’s ten years since I saw the film, Harvey Fierstein’s adaptation seems faithful to Geoff Deane & Tim Firth’s screenplay (apparently based on a true story). Cyndi Lauper might seem an odd choice for the music and lyrics but I thought her score suited the subject matter and period. It could do with toning down a bit (a bit too brash for Northampton!) but there are some very good solos and choruses. 

The clever design by David Rockwell facilitates speedy transition from a dull factory to the brash colourful world of drag, and ultimately a Milan catwalk, and Gregg Barnes costumes (presumably including footwear) are delightfully eye-popping. Jerry Mitchell is the perfect choice as director / choreographer; his irreverent sense of fun proven by Hairspray, Legally Blonde and Dirty Rotten Scoundrels. I thought the sound was too loud, losing some of the lyrics – this is unforgivable for a show four or five months into its run.

In his last two shows, The Commitments and Memphis, Killian Donnelly has shone vocally and here he adds acting honours, investing the role of Charlie with great passion yet every bit the boy next door. Matt Henry is terrific as Lola, again with exceptional vocals and very good acting, though I’m not sure how he can even move in those dresses and boots. There is a lovely performance from Amy Lennox as Lauren and excellent turns from Jamie Baugh as Lola’s nemesis Don and Michael Hobbs as factory foreman George.

An excellent, uplifting evening which I’m glad I caught up with at last and will no doubt re-visit.

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The history of this 45-year old show is fascinating. Written by Jules Styne no less, based on an Arnold Bennett book and with Vincent Price & Patricia Routledge leading the original cast, it lost three directors and five librettists en route to Broadway. It closed after a month, though it won a ‘posthumous’ Tony for Routledge.

In this British premiere at the enterprising Union Theatre, it proves to be deeply old-fashioned, but I did succumb to its charms and the opportunity to see it is very welcome. Despite being a big musicals ‘name’, this was one of a lot of Styne shows this musicals lover had never even heard of – some 80% of what he actually wrote!

When a valet dies, the doctor certifying his death thinks he’s Priam Farll, his famous artist employer. At first protesting, Farll soon sees this as a welcome opportunity for anonymity. He marries the valet’s intended (Alice Challice!) and settles in Putney, a part of London seemingly inhabited by chirpy cockneys (!), which is maybe why I kept comparing it with Me & My Girl. Art dealer Clive Oxford and art collector Lady Vale continue to exploit Farll, whose value soars as he is buried in Westminster Abbey and posthumously knighted.

It’s all rather daft, with a somewhat preposterous relationship between Priam & Alice sitting alongside a more plausible satire on the art world. Even The King makes an appearance! The music is a bit sweet for a contemporary audience, though its amusing lyrically (who can resist rhyming museum with dream and lucky with duckie!). Yet, somehow it does win you over – perhaps because Paul Foster’s production has its tongue in its cheek and the cast clearly having a lot of fun is rather infectious.

The two leading ladies, Katy Secombe and Rebecca Caine, are in fine voice. The leading men, James Dinsmore and Michael Hobbs, less so – but it doesn’t really matter. The ensemble is excellent, which makes both the choruses and Matt Flint’s sprightly dances great. In addition to two Secombe’s (brother Andy plays a handful of key roles, including the deceased), there’s a dead ringer for Robbie Williams – Will Keith.

In the first few minutes, I wasn’t convinced I’d make it to the end, but it did win me over. I suspect it might be another 45 years before London sees it again, but I’m glad I did. Now I’m wondering what the other 20 I’ve never heard of are like!

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