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Posts Tagged ‘Miles Western’

This American musical had its first production here in the UK at the Donmar Warehouse in 1997, directed by Sam Mendes no less and starring a then largely unknown John Barrowman. Writers John Dempsey and Dana P Rowe went on to write the stage musical of The Witches of Eastwick three years later, which got a big scale production in the West End under the auspices of Cameron Mackintosh, but have not done a lot in the 12 years since than.

This revival at the Union Theatre has Michael Strassen at the helm; his recent productions of Company, Assassins, The Bakers Wife and Godspell at the same venue have wowed. He has a knack of creating stylish and slick shows with next to no set, relying on costumes lighting and the odd prop or two, as it is here. It looks terrific, but there’s no set – Neil Gordon’s costumes and Steve Miller’s lighting do it all.

Senator Reed Chandler dies on the eve of becoming president and his widow Violet becomes obsessed with the objective of ensuring her son Cal follows in his footsteps and makes it to the White House. She’s helped by her scheming and spinning brother-in-law Grahame, the architect of Reed’s campaign. Cal follows a fast track trajectory from the forces through City Hall to Governor acquiring a loveless marriage (and child), a mistress or two and a cocaine habit along the way. The family’s unsavory Mafia friends become their downfall as history repeats itself.

This production is brilliantly staged and paced; you’re on the edge of your seat for much of the time. The pop rock score sounds great with a (sadly uncredited) five-pice band under MD Simon Lambert in this snug venue, and outstanding unamplified singing from all involved. The three leads are simply extraordinary – Louis Maskell as son Cal has great presence and a fantastic voice, Liz May Brice convey’s Violet’s ambition, determination and passion superbly and Miles Western is terrific as the machiavellian fixer.

A musical I remember to be OK has scrubbed up great. Maybe it’s found its time now that such scheming and manipulation is more commonplace, or maybe its just a fine cast and creative team on top form. Whatever it is, you have to go!

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This was Lynn Ahrens & Stephen Flaherty’s first musical, back in 1988. They went on to write a classic – Ragtime (brilliantly revived here at the Landor last year and included in this years Open Air season) – plus some good but less successful shows like Once on This Island, My Favourite Year and A Man of No Importance.

Based on Michael Butterworth’s book, the show tells the somewhat preposterous story of an English shoe salesman who inherits his American uncle’s fortune – provided he takes his corpse on holiday to Monte Carlo! He’s followed by a dog’s home representative who is checking he meets the conditions in full as otherwise they cop the lot. Of course, its musical comedy (farce) so nothing is as it seems and nothing turns out as planned.

Though it’s an early work, it’s a quirky and funny show with some nice tunes. We move from dull English shop and lodgings to the French Riviera (cue intentionally dodgy French accents and jokes about French stereotypes) as plain Harry wheels uncle around between locations followed by equally plain Annabel from the dogs home and uncle’s more manic ex and her brother. There’s even a dream sequence which includes a tap dance!

All the leads are excellent. James Winter and Abigail Jaye both strike the right note as quiet souls at sea in a strange world. Lucy Williamson is a terrific scorned woman, brash loud and somewhat gothic; a great double-act with Miles Western as her less manic but equally mad brother. The stiff (Mark Hayden?) would win any Best Performance by a Corpse award going – on stage for most of the play, he hardly flinched.

Rob McWhir’s production has a cartoonish quality and great pace. There’s a clever set with eleven doors and a descending bed. At the interval, I was puzzled at the lack of a design credit, but witnessing the interval repairs I was less surprised! The cast dealt with the elongated interval brilliantly by including a lyric referencing the bed in the second act opener – delicious!

Its great fun and you only have two more weeks to catch it.

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