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Posts Tagged ‘Natasha J Barnes’

In 1987, a quirky and, at that time, highly original little one act musical called March of the Falsettos turned up in the West End for a few weeks. It was the second part of a trilogy but we never saw In Trousers, the first part, or Falsettoland, the third, here in the UK. This is the second and third part together, and its taken 27 years to get here, hot on the heels of a successful Broadway revival three years ago. It’s writer William Finn went on to give us The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, Little Miss Sunshine and the song cycle Elegies, and there are a handful of other shows that never made the crossing. His book co-writer James Lapine is better known as Stephen Sondheim’s collaborator on three of his shows between 1984 and 1994.

The story revolves around Marvin, Jewish New Yorker, married to Trina, son Jason. He leaves Trina for a man, Whizzer. Trina goes to Marvin’s shrink Mendel to help her come to terms with it. She gets Mendel to see her son Jason at home, though he might be the most balanced of them all. She ends up marrying Mendel. Marvin and Whizzer bicker, as do Marvin and Trina. He seems to want it all. Marvin and Whizzer split. In the second part we meet the lesbians, Marvin’s neighbours, and he is reconciled with Whizzer. The family rows turn to Jason’s bar mitzvah and the spectre of AIDS appears. The story is told almost entirely in song, thirty-five of them in fact. They are expertly crafted, catchy tunes with sharp, witty lyrics that really do propel and animate the story. Each part starts lightly, but gets serious, and both dare to end sadly. It struck me how ground-breaking it must have been and how much it was ahead of its time. With the exception of the fatality of HIV, it seems more a story of now than then.

This appears to be a big gig for Director / Choreographer Tara Overfield-Wilkinson and she’s done a great job. The real strength of the production is its faultless casting; I loved every one of them. Daniel Boys as Marvin and Oliver Saville as Whizzer excel in both acting and singing and the combination of their voices is beautiful. Laura Pitt-Pulford shines as always as Trina and I loved Joel Montague’s characterisation of Mendel, both also in fine voice. Natasha J Barnes and Gemma Knight-Jones make great contributions in the second past as the lesbians, with great big vocal performances. Young George Kennedy gives an incredibly assured performance as Jason; a most auspicious professional debut indeed.

In the last six months the producers Selladoor have given us Amelie at the Watermill and on tour and Finn’s Little Miss Sunshine at the Arcola and on tour. Long may they continue to deliver such high quality productions like this. Don’t miss it!

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In the US, this audacious 2006 musical by Steven Slater & Duncan Sheik, based on Frank Wedekind’s 1891 play, was both a critical and commercial success, running for two years on Broadway. The West End run was as much of a critical success but not a commercial one. It ran for just two months, though it launched the careers of Aneurin Bernard, Charlotte Wakefield, Iwan Rheon, Natasha J Barnes & Lucy May Barker and won four Olivier awards including Beat New Musical and gongs for Bernard and Rheon. It made tens of millions in New York and lost a wardrobe full of shirts in the West End. One of them was mine.

Though a late 19th Century story and rock music shouldn’t really go together, it somehow works, though quite where they got the idea from is beyond me. It’s a story of sexual awakening by repressed teenagers in a strict school with strict parents. It features onstage sex, masturbation and gay kissing (all tastefully done!) and themes including teenage pregnancy, suicide, homosexuality and abortion. While events are staged, feelings are sung, as they take microphones from pockets to belt out a tune. It’s a great score.

LAMDA have been faithful to the original production and the creative inputs are excellent – staging, design and especially choreography and lighting, though I felt the band was underpowered (you need a rock band for a rock musical); this lost it a bit of edge. It’s an excellent ensemble, with a fine Wendla from Katharine Orchard and passionate performances by Colson Dorafshar and Isaiah Ellis as Moritz and Melchior respectively. 

Good to remind myself how good it is and good to see such talent ready to launch their careers like the original cast.

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I revisited this 1986 show a couple of years ago when Craig Revel Horwood, who had by then taken over John Doyle’s mantle as the master of actor-musician musicals at the Watermill Newbury, directed a touring version. This is what I thought of it https://garethjames.wordpress.com/2011/03/13/chess  – more like a staged concert and a bit X-Factor. Still not sure whether it was the production or the show, I couldn’t resist seeing it at fave haunt The Union Theatre where it appears to be their hottest ticket ever as it sold out before opening (the show clearly has its fan base, as the 2008 Royal Albert hall concert showed). 

Almost everything that was wrong about the touring production is right about this production. The design is a simple, elegant and effective and the sound is great. The production values are as good as they’ve ever been at the Union with more lights than you’d need for the average rock concert. It is mostly performed in a square space in front of an audience on three sides and a raised platform on the fourth above and to the side of which we have floating chess squares. It does look a bit cramped when all 16 performers occupy the square, but the space is nevertheless used well.

The ladies fare better than the men. I loved both Sarah Galbraith’s Florence and Natasha J Barnes’ Svetlana (though she was prone to the occasional screech) and Gillian Kilpatrick’s sinister Molokova is excellent. Nadim Naaman is very good as Anatoly, but I’m afraid Tim Oxbrow’s Freddie was vocally harsh and Craig Rhys Barlow’s voice too weak for The Arbiter.

As to the show, well I’m afraid I feel the same as I did last time. The story didn’t engage me emotionally or intellectually, the music’s OK but only OK and at 2h40 mins it outstays its welcome by at least 20 minutes. So, an impressive production by a team new to the Union, but a show that hasn’t passed the test of time and now needs to be packed in the ‘old musicals’ box and returned to the attic.

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