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Posts Tagged ‘Michael Matus’

I’ve seen some amazing actors play Lear, seven of them knights of the realm, but this is the first time I’ve seen the same actor play him twice, only ten years apart (though I’ve seen five more Lear’s since the last time, not counting the one from Belarus and the one with sheep!). With Ian McKellen in his eightieth year, he’s the oldest, and the closest to the character’s age. I regret not booking to see this in Chichester. My thinking was that I’d seen McKellen’s Lear. I suspect it would have been better (and cheaper!), but it’s still a must-see in the West End, and I now realise how flawed my thinking had been.

They’ve put a platform through the centre of the stalls, leading to an entrance / exit at the rear, losing a handful of rows and quite a few other seats in the process. They also use the side aisles as entrances / exits. I don’t know the impact of this in the upper tiers, but it made the stalls space more intimate. On stage there’s floor-to-ceiling wood panelling with doors and entrances within it. The floor covering changes with the location, starting as red carpet as the royal family enter for Lear’s announcement that he is to divide the country between his daughters. I thought Paul Wills design was excellent.

Though it’s something like my 14th Lear, there were things about this one that changed my response to the story. I still think there’s more than a touch of implausibility in him falling for the sycophancy of two daughters rather than the sincerity of the third, but here there’s an ageism in Goneril and Regan, in addition to to my normal feelings of spoilt children and inheritance ruins, and Regan in particular becomes completely self-obsessed and self-centred. The Duke of Kent has become the Countess of Kent, and this subtly changes, softens, the character. Edmund seems more machiavellian in contrast to an even more empathetic Edgar. Lear’s madness at first seems eccentricity, before it becomes tragic. I thought Jonathan Munby’s production was very fresh and intelligent.

From the original Chichester cast, Sinead Cusak and Danny Webb are both excellent as Kent and Gloucester respectively, and Kirsty Bushell is simply terrific as Regan. Michael Matus makes much more of the role of Oswald. There are some great performances from new cast members too, not least a superb Edgar from Luke Thompson and an outstanding Edmund in James Corrigan. Lloyd Hutchison is a particularly good Fool. I felt privileged to be seeing Ian McKellen in this role again, a gentler, sadder reading. At the curtain call, memories of more than twenty earlier performances by this fine actor swept over me as I rose to my feet in tribute.

The programme is way better than normal flimsy West End fare and in one of its four essay’s, historian David Starkey suggests that Shakespeare may have been having a dialogue with his patron, King James, even sending him messages about the consequences of dividing a kingdom. Four hundred years later, it’s sending messages still, and I suspect will continue to do so for a long time to come.

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A musical based on a 2500-year-old Greek play featuring Shakespeare and G B Shaw as characters to be staged in a swimming pool. Well, you have to admire the ambition of Bert Shevelove and Stephen Sondheim. This later version was meant for theatres and here we are getting the UK professional premiere at Jermyn Street Theatre more than twenty years after Broadway and more than forty years after the Yale original.

Sondheim appears to have only contributed choruses to the Yale show, perhaps as a favour for Shevelove as by now he’d had success with Company, Follies and A Little Night Music, but wrote extra songs for Nathan Lane’s revision. The Yale original is now probably just as famous for featuring actresses Meryl Streep & Sigourney Weaver and playwright Christopher Durang in the cast.

It’s faithful to Aristophanes in that Dionysos, the god of drama, decides that there’s a desperate need for good dramatists and heads off to Hades to bring back George Bernard Shaw. He meets Shakespeare there too and decides to stage a contest to choose between them (Euripides and Aeschylus in the original). Unsurprisingly, Shakespeare beats the old windbag (Aeschylus wins in the original) and returns with Dionysos. A simple story, but with a timeless theme of the importance of the arts.

Lane’s version is a bit of a romp and, though far from Sondheim’s best score, there are some nice tunes and witty lyrics to propel the story, with cheeky contemporary references which delight. It’s well staged by Grace Wessels, with great use of Jermyn Street’s tiny space and nifty movement from Tim McArthur. The fun that the cast of just nine, let by Michael Matus as Dionysos and George Rae as his sidekick Xanthias, are clearly having is infectious and the musical standards under MD Tim Sutton were particularly high.

An unmissable opportunity for Sondheim fans. 

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Though I’ve seen most of Pedro Almodovar’s later films, I haven’t seen the one on which this musical is based, so I came to it cold. Sadly, I left it a bit cold too.

The story revolves around serial lover Ivan, his most recent Pepa, his ex Lucia and his new flame Paulina. Lucia is still pursuing him through the courts almost twenty years on and Paulina is her lawyer. Pepa is obtaining advice from Paulina for her neurotic model friend Candella who has come under the spell of terrorist Malik. Ivan & Lucia’s son Carlos is engaged to Marisa but takes a shine to Candella (like father, like son). It’s a quirky black comedy.

Most of David Yazbek’s songs have a Spanish flavour. They’re OK, but the score isn’t really good enough for a full-blown West End show. The narrative moves along apace and there are a fair few laughs, but it doesn’t fizz and sparkle. The biggest question for me is what is the point of a musical adaptation in the first place? It doesn’t seem to add or illuminate anything. It all seemed to be a bit flat and even though its in previews and beset by cast illness, it’s hard to see what could be done to breathe life into it. It flopped on Broadway four years ago, so what made them think they could turn that around here?

Both Tamsin Greig (Pepa) and Willemjin Verkaik (Paulina) were ill on the night I went, but their covers, Rebecca McKinnis and Holly James respectively, acquitted themselves well, so I don’t think that contributed to my disappointment. I was impressed most by Anna Skellern as Candella and Ricardo Afonso as Taxi Driver, a sort of narrator, and I liked Haydn Gwynne as Lucia. Michael Matus, a fine musical performer, is wasted in his small roles. Anthony Ward’s day glo two-tier set is fun and facilities speedy changes of location.

I didn’t dislike it, I wasn’t bored by it, but it didn’t capture my imagination and I left feeling indifferent I’m afraid.

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Still unsure that this rare Bernstein revival will find its way into the West End, off I went to Woking to be sure not to miss it. Yet another very good decision!

I don’t think there’s been a production here since 1986, when Maureen took the role now taken by Connie Fisher. It does require a cast of 24 and a decent sized orchestra , but that isn’t a good enough reason for a 25-year hiatus. This touring version of Wonderful Town started out as a joint venture between two Manchester institutions, the Royal Exchange Theatre and the Halle Orchestra.

Bernstein had such range, writing symphonies, an operetta, chamber operas, ballets, film scores, choral works, song cycles, chamber pieces and a mass for 200 performers (getting a rare outing at the Proms this year) as well as his musicals, to which he brought a classical sensibility and blended it with jazz, swing, ragtime and ‘pop’. 

Wonderful Town (NYC, of course) tells a simple story of  Ohio sisters Ruth and Eileen coming to New York City – the former trying to make her name as a writer and the latter in showbiz – and their adventures as they meet exploitive landlord Mr Appopolous (before he became the owner of the Walford launderette, obviously), neighbour Helen & her giant baseball player boyfriend Wreck, nerdy Walgreen manager Frank, seedy newspaper owner Chick, sleazy club owner Speedy, editor and love interest Bob, Brazilian sailors and a lot of  policemen, all Irish! Having such a diverse range of characters facilitates a whole load of musical comedy set pieces on streets, at the port and in apartments, clubs and police stations. Comden & Green’s lyrics are witty and the score is even better than I remembered.

Simon Higlett’s simple uncluttered but colourful design enables this to flow seamlessly. Braham Murray, not particularly known for musicals, and choreographer Andrew Wright make a great job of the staging and dancing, which is fresh and uplifting. There are so many highlights, from the opening street scene (very Guys & Dolls) through a port-side conga, Irish dancing in the police station (with a nod to Riverdance) and a modern ballet to some excellent club numbers. We no longer have the Halle in the pit, but the 17-piece band is a cut above, somewhat refreshingly without a synthesiser in sight.

It would be hard to imagine a better cast show. Every single role is brilliantly played. I was one of those who thought Connie Fisher was a major new talent and its great to report that she’s put her vocal troubles behind her, dropped an octave or two, turned into a redhead and revealed a natural talent for comedy to add to her natural charm and vocal prowess. Lucy van Gasse is just as good as her more dipsy blonde sister and Michael Xavier again shows us how good he is at these romantic lead roles. There’s a handful of lovely performances in smaller roles – Tiffany Graves and Nic Greenshields are great as the neighbours and Sevan Stephan,  Joseph Alessi and Michael Matus are a fine comic trio as landlord / artist, newspaper baron and club owner respectively.

This really ought to come into town and if it does, I’ll be back. A real treat.

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I’ve waited over 21 years for a revival of this show, which was a critical success but a commercial flop in the West End in 1989, but Michael Strassen’s production at the Union Theatre was worth the wait. This bumper year of small-scale musical revivals and of the Union Theatre’s pre-eminence continues.

Stephen (Godspell) Schwartz’s show is based on the Marcel Pagnol / Jean Giono film La Femme du Boulanger and it’s the best score he wrote. Here it’s beautifully sung, unamplified, with just piano and cello (and occasional acoustic guitar) under MD Chris Mundy. It so suits the story – delightful, funny, charming & wistful.

A French village is incomplete without its baker (I think there is still a law in France that actually prevents this) and this village has been without one for seven weeks, so withdrawal symptoms are rampant and the inhabitants seriously over-excited when the new baker arrives with his beautiful new young wife. It doesn’t take long before a dashing young man whisks her away and the baker is distraught and unable to  bake. Of course, it all ends happily ever after. It is indeed a slight tale, but frankly it doesn’t really matter.

Michael Matus brilliantly captures the lovestruck naivety of the baker (appropriately named Aimable) and Lisa Stokke the struggle between loyalty and temptation. Matthew Goodgame is as dashing as you’d wish for a lover and there is a terrific partnership from Ian Mowat and Ricky Butt as the bickering cafe owner and his wife and a fine Marquis / Mayor (with three ‘nieces’ in tow!) from Mark Turnbull. There isn’t a weak link in the ensemble; a superb supporting cast of twelve.

Though I didn’t really like the painted backdrop, which seemed to me more Munch’s The Scream than the presumably intended Chagall, there is an authentic French village feel created by a handful of props and good costumes but more than anything else by good, somewhat tongue-in-cheek acting. I loved the opening in French, before the cafe owner’s wife as narrator is reminded where she is – it lasted just long enough for panic to set in with some audience members! The staging is excellent – with particularly fluid ensemble movement.

Yet another fine production at the Union. Next stop Texas for The Best Little Whorehouse!

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Minutes into the frenetic first scene of this musical farce, memories of seeing the Ken Ludwig play on which it is based 25 years ago in the same theatre came flooding back and the thought ‘what am I doing here?’ went round and round in my head. I hated the play; what made me think it might make a good musical?! Gaudy sets and costumes (a mauve and gold colour scheme! – designer Paul Farnsworth) with flats that wobble and shimmer unintentionally (?), OTT performances, Italian stereotypes with shaddap you face accents, dodgy wigs, mistaken identities and more slamming doors than you’ve seen since the last farce you went to. Yet, somehow I succumbed to its old-fashioned innocent charms and found myself smiling, then giggling, then belly laughing. It turned into a guilty pleasure.

We’re in Cleveland in 1934 awaiting the arrival of Italian superstar tenor Tito Merelli, whose one-night-only performance will rescue the opera house…..provided nothing goes wrong. Of course, it does – he’s late, he’s sick, he likes a drink and forever rows with his wife. The Opera House owner’s daughter is besotted with him, as are his three ex-wives who run the opera guild, the soprano singing Desdemona to his Otello and most of the chorus. Oh, and the shrimps for the post-performance reception are on the turn!

Of course, he can’t perform and prompter Max (the opera house manager’s daughter’s suitor!) pretends to be him. As broad musical comedy morphs into farce in the second act, we get three Otello’s in costume entering and exiting the six doors as is both customary and mandatory in farce. Impersonating the tenor as Otello, manager Henry ends up with the soprano and Max with his daughter. Tito’s wife returns and the denouement unfolds…..

The real reason for seeing this is a full set of fine musical comedy performances and the slickness of the comedy timing. Sophie-Louise Dann makes a terrific American broad / diva and her opera greatest hits ‘mash-up’ is a highlight of the evening. Damian Humbley and Michael Matus are excellent as Max and Tito respectively, with voices good enough to get away with the pseudo operatic demands. It’s great to see fringe favourite Cassidy Janson get a shot at a big role and she doesn’t disappoint as Maggie. Matthew Kelly presides over this as an old pro totally in command of his material. Joanna Riding’s undoubted talents are a bit wasted in the smallish part of the tenor’s wife (for the second time this year in this very theatre, having been wasted in The Umbrellas of Cherbourg immediately before this). Amongst the supporting cast, it’s great to see Gay Soper again.

The only other  musical farce I can recall is Sondheim’s A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum. It doesn’t have a score that good, but Brad Carroll’s music is decent enough, Peter Sham’s book & lyrics are good and the 24 strong cast and 15 piece band get the best out of them. Ian Talbot’s experience as a director and actor with both musicals and comedy means it runs like a well oiled machine and the cast’s enthusiasm is infectious.

It won’t change your life, it’s unlikely to be your highlight of the year, but there are a whole lot of less enjoyable evenings in the West End and for me this one was a pleasant surprise.

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