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Posts Tagged ‘Michael Webborn’

This is the first of three new British musicals in less than a week. They are a rare species, but when they come they’re like buses. This is a great start to the trio, a big show for the fringe, and what impressed me most about it was the exceptional score, with particularly good choruses that are staged as well as they are sung. I suspect this won’t be the last we’ll see of it, but you should check out this first production which is way beyond fringe expectations and a highlight even for the Landor.

It’s an adult fairy tale set in fictitious Spindlewood some time in the past where the clockmaker, a widower, has created a clockwork woman, Constance, as a companion. She learns quickly and soon leaves her maker’s home to taste life in the town, where she sees the ruination of the mayor’s son’s fiancé’s wedding dress and creates a replacement that’s a whole lot better. This brings work, offers of jobs and the disdain of Ma’ Riley, the town’s dressmaker, compounded by the fact her son Will falls for Constance – but he’s not the only one. She’s initially made very welcome, but when her mechanical nature is revealed, the town turns on her and a witch-hunt begins, which brings in a moral theme of accepting difference. It’s cleverly framed by scenes in the present day which give it a pleasing structure.

David Shields’ design and Richard Lambert’s lighting and projections are outstanding and director Robert McWhir marshals his 20 strong cast in the limited Landor space impeccably, with great choreography from regular collaborator Robbie O’Reilly. Michael Webborn’s score really is excellent, with hints of folk and a touch of Irish about it. It’s jam-packed with lovely melodies and lots of uplifting choruses that risk taking the roof off this small theatre. I loved the orchestration for piano, double bass, violin and percussion and Michael and his band play it superbly. It’s another excellent Landor ensemble, with a particularly fine performance from Alan McHale as Constance’s love interest Will and a charming cameo from Max Abraham as Sam.

Most new musicals are chamber pieces, so it’s great to see something on this scale. Yet another feather in the Landor’s cap. Don’t miss.

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Late to the party because of my travels, but oh what a party. The Landor enters its 21st year with a huge hit and one of their very best productions ever.

This show by Pajama Game writers Adler & Ross (and just about the only other show of theirs that’s still produced) is daft but fun. Joe Boyd sells his soul to the devil in exchange for the opportunity to become the much younger Joe Hardy and join his ailing baseball team, the Washington Senators, to rescue them. He’s wise enough to negotiate a get-out clause saving him from hell if he returns by a specific date, but this proves to be before the final game of the season. His wife doesn’t know where he’s gone, but seems confident he’ll return. The team think he’s just a lucky find, an unknown from Hannibal MO. The score is very good and includes the classics  (You gotta have) Heart & Whatever Lola Wants, both of which have had a life outside the show.

We move between the baseball, with the Senators beginning to win again and the end of season pennant looking possible once more, life back at Joe’s family home with his wife Meg and her sister and friends, where his younger alter ego checks in as a lodger (unrecognised), and with Satan (AKA Mr Applegate) and his side-kick Lola and their determination to win his soul. Preposterous maybe, but it’s a set-up which provides the framework for much fun and this is a terrific Robert McWhir production with high energy, brilliant comedy and excellent musical standards. Robbie O’Reilly’s sporty, athletic choreography fills the space and thrills. The solo vocals and exceptional and the choruses rousing under Michael Webborn’s musical direction and fine piano-bass-drums trio.

When you enter a theatre knowing one of the leads is off, you usually groan with disappointment. For some reason I didn’t on this occasion, perhaps because of the front of house staff assurances or maybe more prophetically, because the understudy as Joe Hardy, Barnaby Hughes, was simply sensational. It’s ever so rare to see such faultless cover – word perfect, note perfect, owning the role from the off; a most auspicious professional debut. Jonathan D Ellis is an oily, camp Satan with a brilliant assistant in Poppy Tierney as Lola. His ad libs and audience engagement are a hoot and she sings and moves oozing sex. The supporting cast, most new to the Landor and many recent graduates, are outstanding (that Benjamin Newsome casting, again!).

I can’t praise this show highly enough. A triumph, even on the Landor scale.

 

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It’s clever of the Landor Theatre to programme this at Christmas and, given it’s the UK premiere, a bit of a coup. A 1944 film musical, this stage adaptation didn’t appear until 1989. The timeliness is down to the fact that Christmas is the setting of the second act, it’s the first appearance of ‘Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas’ and it also features a Christmas carol and snatches of Auld Lange Syne.

It’s a fairly simple love story, set at the time of the St. Louis World Fair in 1904. The Smith family are rocked by the decision of dad Alonso to move to New York with his work; no-one else – his wife, grandpa, four daughters and a son – wants to go, particularly daughters Esther & Rose who are both in love with local boys. That’s about it, really, and that’s part of the problem with the show – it relies too much on schmaltz and sentimentality. It’s hard to fault Robert McWhir’s production, though.

It’s a good score, with a high ‘standard’ count, including the title song (reprised twice), The Boy Next Door (reprised once) and that well-known Christmas number. It’s all beautifully played by Michael Webborn’s quartet and the singing is lovely. Georgia Permutt is superb as daughter Esther, an auspicious professional debut if ever I saw one, and there’s a delightful performance as young Tootie by Rebecca Barry; a rather big part for a child actor.

It’s a little too sweet for my more savoury tastes, but it has to be seen and it’s the season for it!

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The Landor’s 2013 hat-trick of hits is about to become a quartet. Jeff Bowen & Hunter Bell were writing a last-minute entry for the 2000 New York Musical Theatre Festival, but without a subject, concept or even an idea, they ended up writing a show about writing a show and named it after the appropriate section on the application form. The big surprise is that it makes a delightful, funny, feelgood show.

It’s staged in a rehearsal room with just four chairs, but complete with notice board and coffee table. In a series of short scenes, phone conversations and messages, they recruit actor friends Heidi & Susan and try out their songs and scenes as, well, songs and scenes, and we watch the show evolve. The dialogue is very sharp, the lyrics very witty and the songs very chirpy! After they submit the show and get invited to produce it, it continues to evolve as it moves off-Broadway and on to Broadway. You might expect this to be a bit glib and cheesy, but it isn’t; it has so much charm and the smile hardly ever left my face.

The faultless quintet of performers (the Landor’s regular MD & pianist Michael Webborn gets his big acting break!) are terrific. Scott Garnham & Simon Bailey have great chemistry as the writing partners (played by the writers themselves in NYC), playing off each other brilliantly. Sophia Ragavelas & Sarah Galbraith provide the perfect foils and with the boys make a great foursome. Mr Webborn’s occasional interjections are a hoot. Director Robert McWhir and choreographer Robbie O’Reilly stage this so slickly you believe it’s all being made up before your eyes.

Just when you thought you’d tired of American four-hander chamber musicals, along comes this unmissable treat!

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There seems to be an endless supply of contemporary American four-hander chamber musicals. They often feel more like song cycles. They usually feature people in their 20’s & 30’s with complicated relationships. They’re sometimes a bit too slick and sentimental. What makes this one a cut above is the quality of the music, lyrics, story and characterisation.

Waverley works in a bar but she wants to be an actress. Her boyfriend Darren works in an office but wants to be a writer. Waverley’s colleague Lisa has come to New York to get a girl and take her to California. Darren’s workmate Luke’s dad is a literary agent and Luke gets him to read Darren’s play. When Waverley & Darren break up she begins a relationship with Luke, but neither she nor Darren nor Luke know the connections. They’re all trying to find themselves and make their way in the world.

It’s a simple little story, but the characterisations are good and the book and lyrics are sharp. I loved the songs, which really do propel the story. The cast of four – Jennifer Potts, Bart Edwards, Amelia Cormack & Aaron Lee Lambert, all new to me – are all excellent and well matched (and sound great when harmonising). Michael Webborn’s acoustic band is lovely and subtle amplification ensures a good balance. Anna Michaels set is dominated by a superbly realistic NYC bar where much of the action takes place. Robert McWhir’s staging is up to his usual high standards.

Somehow I missed Joshua Salzman & Ryan Cunningham’s other show I Love You Because, which I’ll hopefully have a chance to catch up with at some point. It’s only May, but this makes a 2013 hatrick of hit musicals for the Landor already.

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The Landor Theatre continues its roll with this revival of the American updating of one of Gilbert & Sullivan’s most poplar operettas. It’s a pretty bonkers idea really, but in this production it works, largely because the stage is teeming with talent, energy and enthusiasm that just sweeps you away.

The only previous production I’ve seen was the Watermill actor-musician touring version at Kingston three years ago – I blogged at the time that I found it pointless and it left me cold (https://garethjames.wordpress.com/2009/09/27/hot-mikado) so Robert McWhir’s production has really turned me around. He’s staged it as a 30’s(ish) US radio show, though in the second half this is more in the background. The story is intact, it’s still set in Japan, but the dialogue is modern and the music is adapted to a range of contemporary styles like swing and be-bop.

Robbie O’Reilly’s choreography makes good use of the small space and Richard Lambert’s lighting turns a simple design into something elegant and period perfect. The musical standards are what make this production shine, though. Michael Webborn has a trio rather than a big band but they know how to swing. There are some excellent vocals in both choruses and solos. Mark Daley and Victoria Farley are lovely as romantic leads Nanki-Poo and Yum-Yum, Nathanial Morrison is an excellent Poo-Bah (chief high everything) and Ian Mowatt provided much of the comedy as Ko-Ko the hapless executioner. Piers Bate, who impressed me as Leo Bloom at Arts Ed earlier in the year (https://garethjames.wordpress.com/1012/01/30/the-producers) stood out in the smaller roles. It is an exceptional ensemble who sing and dance their hearts out.

You’re unlikely to see a better production and you have two more weeks to find out why!

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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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