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Posts Tagged ‘Michael Xavier’

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 was seriously over-excited about this evening. I was convinced that a show and a theatre had never been so well matched. I’d booked for the final performance and as it approached I began to get worried that if it was rained off I’d never see it, so I accepted a free ticket for a matinée on a sunny day last week as an insurance policy – the Open Air Theatre is not a daytime venue, but I was thinking ‘better than nothing’. In the end, there was just the tiniest sprinkle towards the end of Act I which, if I believed in god, I would consider his little joke.

Well, I’m thrilled to report that it exceeded expectations. It’s a wonderful reinterpretation of one of Sondheim’s cleverest shows. In the first half, the tales of Cinderella, Jack & the Beanstalk, Little Red Riding Hood and Rapunzel are woven together with the tale of a baker and his wife desperate for a child. It all ends happily at the interval, then the giantess decides to get her own back.

Designer Soutra Gilmour has created a multi-level set of walkways with lots of entrances by stairs and ladders which gives the show a terrific pace (even if your eyes are darting everywhere). Director Timothy Sheader’s idea of making the narrator a child – the baker’s child, in fact – makes so much sense and gives the darker second half so much more emotional impact.

They’ve assembled a great cast. Hannah Waddingham is unrecognisable as the witch – even when she turns back into a woman, because of the jet black hair; she sang Last Midnight like it was the last time ever (maybe it was, but lets hope not). I absolutely loved the way Beverly Rudd turned Little Red Ridinghood into a cheeky tomboy excited by the wolf’s sexual magnetism. As always, Jenna Russell sings beautifully and balances her character’s determination and sadness with ease. I loved the Russel Brand style princes of Michael Xavier and Simon Thomas whose trademark synchronised entrance and exit prances make you smile every time. Mark Hadfield is a weaker singer than the rest of the leads, but he makes up for this with a passionate acting performance as the baker.

When everything comes right (as it so often has here) there is nothing more magical than a musical at The Open Air Theatre and this really was the show that had to be seen here. Now they’ve stopped A Midsummer Night’s Dream as an annual outing, maybe we can have Into The Woods annually for a while. Please!

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A day trip to sunny Chichester. Laughter and tears – the perfect combination. Bliss!

Yes, Prime Minister has been updated – VERY updated, with references to coalitions and hung parliaments – by writers Anthony Jay and Jonathan Lynn (who also directs), but retains much of what made the TV series one of the very best comedies ever to grace our screens. The references may now be climate change, economic crises and the euro, but the intrigue and manipulations are just the same and Sir Humphrey’s soliloquies are masterpieces of verbose obfuscation!

Britain holds the presidency of the EU during a climate change summit and is close to brokering a deal when the Kumranistan foreign secretary makes personal demands that are morally difficult for the British to concede. On stage it’s rather broader and closer to farce than the knowingness and subtlety on TV, probably because the medium (and particularly a big theatre) requires this. However, it survives and provides lots of politically incorrect laughs.

David Haig, Henry Goodman and Jonathan Slinger make the characters of PM Jim Hacker, Sir Humphrey and Bernard their own. The ‘Special Advisor’ is more prominent (as she should be in 2010) and the appearance of the BBC DG facilitates a whole bucketful of cheeky satirical swipes at the organisation which gave us the TV series in the first place. 

I’ll be surprised if this isn’t in the West End before the summer’s out. Great fun!

I must be one of the few people who never saw the film (or read the book) of Love Story but it seems to me it could have originated as a musical, so comfortable is the story framed in this new show from Howard Goodall and Stephen Clark . Goodall’s music is simply gorgeous, his best score since The Hired Man, and Clark’s book and lyrics convey the all too short love with an intensity and humour that moved me from laughter to tears but ultimately left me uplifted. Goodall’s own orchestrations for piano, acoustic guitar and string quintet are beautiful and singing is crystal clear.

Rachel Kavanaugh directs with a deftness and elegance on a simple white set. With the audience on three sides, there are occasions when your sight lines and audibility are challenged, but not enough to damage your enjoyment.

Emma Williams and Michel Xavier are excellent as the young couple. Williams, in particular, delivers her self-deprecating New York humour wittily and believably. The rest of the small cast of ten give very good support in a variety of roles and as a chorus.

This was a glorious 100 minutes. I can’t wait to hear the music again. If there’s any justice, it won’t end its life in Chichester and wherever it goes, I’ll be following.

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