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Posts Tagged ‘Natalie Titchener’

In less than four years, Joseph Pitcher has made The Mill at Sonning an essential seasonal visit with sparkling productions of classic musicals – High Society, My Fair Lady, Guys & Dolls and now Singing in the Rain, which scales new heights, beating the West End at its own game in a 200 seat theatre.

This show started as a film in 1952 and didn’t reach the stage until 1983, in London first, with Tommy Steele. We’ve has two memorable productions since – a terrific West Yorkshire Playhouse production transferred to the Olivier stage almost 20 years ago, and a great Chichester transfer around ten years after that. They don’t come along often, though there’s another one due at Sadler’s Wells next year.

It’s set in 1927 as silent movies are about to give way to talkies, with all the ramifications that brings, particularly for silent movie stars whose voices may not suit. The star partnership of Don Lockwood & Lina Lamont is likely to be be a casualty because Lina squeaks and drawls rather than speaks and the elocution lessons are getting nowhere. She doesn’t of course see that, as she doesn’t see that her love for Don is unrequited; he has become besotted with budding actress Kathy Seldon. The studio decides to remake their recent film as a musical with Lina secretly dubbed by Kathy, but when Lina finds out she turns nasty and seeks revenge.

The score is packed full of great tunes, now standards, including All I do is dream of you, Make ‘em laugh, You are my lucky star, You were meant for me, Good mornin’ and of course the title song. The period means a gorgeous design aesthetic, with particularly fine costumes from Natalie Titchener, and there’s great use of projection. Ashley Nottingham’s choreography is as light as air, with some fantastic tap routines. You struggle to believe MD Francis Goodhand’s band is only a five-piece, as they do full justice to the score. Amongst the many staging highlights, we have a brilliant elocution lesson scene, a stylish Broadway Melody and a sexy duet between Don & Kathy. The title song is superbly done, with a lot of rain on a special stage, teasing the audience as they get sprinkled on, enough but not too much. It’s encore after the curtain call, with the whole company, ends the show on a huge fun high to send you home, in our case into the rain.

Philip Bertioli is superb as Don, great vocals, light on his feet and bucketloads of charm. He creates real empathy with the audience as he plays with them cheekily in the rain. Rebecca Jayne-Davies has a beautiful voice and just as much charm as Kathy, also moving with great grace. Sammy Kelly as Lina is very funny, delivering the squeaky voice and off-key vocals, but with a great transition to manipulator too. Brendan Cull is slick, funny and vocally very strong as Don’s sidekick Cosmo. I loved Russell Wilcox’s studio head R F Simpson, looking every inch the boss with what we now see as some rather unacceptable me too behaviour. They are supported by nine others in a faultless cast.

A delightful evening, a joy from beginning to end. I can’t wait for next year.

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Productions of this show don’t come around that often. I can only remember one in London in more than thirty years, at the NT / West End in 2001. This is on a much smaller scale – twelve actors and four musicians – but it’s an absolute delight.

Lerner & Loewe’s adaptation of G B Shaw’s play about turning a Covent Garden flower seller into a society lady by making her talk proper is packed full of songs you know so well, including Wouldn’t It Be Loverly, With A Little Bit Of Luck, I Could Have Danced All Night, On The Street Where You Live and Get Me To The Church On Time, but what really struck me about this revival was how Shaw’s satire on class and attitudes to women shines through all this jollity. Higgins may be a clever man, an expert linguist, but he’s also a misogynist and a bully, treating Eliza as a pawn in his game.

On this scale the story and musical spectacle are more balanced and the production values and performances do more than full justice to the material. The set design is simple but flexible, and Natalie Titchener’s costumes are gorgeous, sometimes taking your breath away, especially when we first see Eliza’s ball gown. The four-piece band sounds lovely, with the fine violin of David Larkin standing out. There’s a lot of dance and movement in director Joseph Pitcher’s background, which shows with some fine choreography and musical staging. A terrific production all round.

The two leads are both excellent – Bethan Nash making a superb transition from flower seller to society lady and on to assertive woman and Martin Fisher as a naive academic with zero emotional intelligence who comes over as a patronising pratt, until Eliza finally puts him in his place. They’ve got fantastic support from Phil Snowden as Eliza’s cheeky and sprightly dad Alfred and Eric Carte as Colonel Pickering, a benign but charming presence. The superb ensemble play multiple roles, often with swift, slick changes, showing off their versatility without interfering with fine vocal performances.

I think this is only the second seasonal musical at Sonning, but I’m banking on it becoming a tradition already. A great revival, on an intimate scale that magnifies and illuminates the story.

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It’s a while since I’ve been to The Mill at Sunning dinner theatre – their programming of whodunit’s alternating with farce’s isn’t really to my taste – but I couldn’t resist ‘big’ musical High Society in this intimate space, even though it’s less than eighteen months since I saw it in a big space, or perhaps because I had…….

It’s set in the elegant thirties amongst the rich socialites of Long Island. Tracey is about to marry ever-so-dull George, but not before she has an elongated drunken flirt with tabloid photographer spy Mike and has been visited by her ex (and true love) Dexter. Her feisty teenage sister Dinah is determined to reignite her relationship with Dexter and spike the wedding. Her mum is rather pre-occupied with reigniting her relationship with her own ex Seth, a bit of a philanderer, and Uncle Willie chases any woman in sight, but particularly tabloid journalist spy Liz, who’s love for colleague Mike is unrequited. Liz and Mike have been promised the wedding story in exchange for burying the story of Seth’s fling with a dancer. Still with me?

It’s based on the 1939 Hollywood film The Philadelphia Story and started out as a film musical in 1956 before making it to the stage in 1987 in London in a Richard Eyre adaptation (nine years before another stage version on Broadway). The Broadway version had a very successful Ian Talbot production at the Open Air Theatre in 2003, which toured before transferring to the West End, where it only lasted a few months. The latest incarnation was Maria Friedman’s sensational in-the-round production at the Old Vic in 2015. The show’s trump card is Cole Porter’s score-to-die-for with more standards than just about any other show.

Scaled down for a cast of eleven and a three-piece band, it works superbly on this scale. Though it’s occasionally unclear which location we’re in, it’s a simple elegant design by Ryan Light (with great costumes by Natalie Titchener) which enables fast-moving action and scene changes, leaving enough space for director / choreographer Joseph Pitcher’s nifty staging and movement. The musical standards under MD Charlie Ingles are excellent. There isn’t a fault in the casting, with a lovely leading lady in Bethan Nash, a great comic turn from David Delve as Uncle Willie and Kirsty Ingrams’ spirited Dinah.

I love musicals on this scale and this was certainly a treat, and where else can you see a quality musical with a decent two-course meal, coffee and a programme for not much more than £50! On this form, a deserved winner of the 2016 UK Theatre Most Welcoming Theatre Award.

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