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Posts Tagged ‘New Wimbledon Theatre’

I’ve had a soft spot for this late show by the writers of Cabaret & Chicago since I saw the UK professional premiere at the much missed Landor Theatre in 2012, five years after it first hit Broadway. I’d seen a drama school production at GSMD two years before, when I was somewhat underwhelmed, but at the Landor, in Robert McWhir’s production, it shone, as it does here in Paul Fosters’ touring production on a way bigger scale which has just finished its short unscheduled Christmas visit to the West End and is back on tour in Wimbledon.

The show within the show is a Boston try-out for a musical adaptation of Robin Hood set in Kansas. At the curtain call, the leading lady dies and when Lieutenant Frank Cioffi arrives at the theatre, they learn that it was murder. As he’s concluded the killer must be one of them, everyone involved in the show is confined to the theatre whilst the investigation takes place. They continue to change and rehearse the show ready for Broadway, with the stage struck Lieutenant as involved in this as he is in the murder investigation. Add in a love story, the reunion of an estranged couple, the relationship between a starlet and her mother, a lot about the business of putting on a show and more deaths and you have a musical whodunnit.

I loved the way it moved seamlessly from show to investigation, with John Kandor’s score even better than I remembered, and very sharp and funny lines in Rupert Holmes book and Fred Ebb’s lyrics. It sits well on the huge Wimbledon stage given its a touring production that has to fit theatres of all shapes and sizes – Wimbledon is twice the size of it’s West End home. Alistair David’s choreography and Sarah Travis’ musical arrangements for Alex Beetschen’s excellent nine-piece band play a big part in the success of this production.

It’s superbly cast, led by Jason Manford who really suits the role of the Lieutenant, with the charm to pull off the stagestruck and lovestruck elements, good vocals, and he moves well. Not bad for someone relatively new to musical theatre. I loved Rebecca Lock as theatre producer Carmen Bernstein, clearly relishing her sharp-tongued character, being cruel to be kind to her daughter on the stage, and Samuel Holmes as the British director Christopher Belling whose sarcasm is a match for Carmen’s vitriol; between them they get all the best lines.

Rupert Holmes also wrote the book for The Mystery of Edwin Drood, the only other whodunnit musical I know. This one is much more successful and it’s great to see it 5 miles away from where I last saw it, in a theatre ten times the size. It’s now left London, but continues its tour for three more months. Catch it if you can.

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This wasn’t at all what I was expecting. Even though it features Take That songs sung by a TV cast band, the focus of Tim Frith’s story is the fans – aged 16 in 1993 and now. It took a while before I engaged with it, it was a bit too sentimental, but overall I was glad I caught it at my local theatre (before West End prices!).

We start with five sixteen-year old girls, obsessed with The Band, doing what sixteen-year-old fans do, before we leap forward to the present day, when one of them wins four tickets to see their idols’ reunion tour in Prague and gets in touch with the three remaining friends to join her. When we meet them she, and we, catch up with what they’ve been doing in the last 25 years. That’s about it, really.

Throughout the telling of the story, the five boys of The Band, pop up all over the place, sometimes as characters like airline attendants and cleaners, to sing the hits of Take That. I wasn’t a fan (I was never a sixteen year old girl and when I was sixteen the members of Take That weren’t even born!) but you’d have to have been in hibernation not to have heard their songs, which aren’t bad as pop songs go. Most of the audience clearly identified with the four female leads, so they had a fine time.

The songs were sung well, though the band was a bit rough at the edges and the sound not good enough. Jon Bausor’s designs did the job, given the number and variety of locations, but didn’t take your breath away like they usually do. Kim Gavin’s choreography was a bit stale and unimaginative, but it may have been recreating the original for all I know. His staging, with co-director Jack Ryder, was slick and well paced.

I’m clearly not the target audience, but its a decent touring show. How it will fare in the West End I’m not so sure.

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Will someone move Sheffield nearer to London, please? Sheffield Theatres reputation continues to rise and now they outdo the West End by touring probably the best production of Anything Goes I’ve ever seen. This is unmissable.

Cole Porter’s classic musical comedy is 80 years old now, but here it’s fresh and sparkles like new. The score is littered with classics like I Get a Kick Out of You, You’re the Top, It’s De-Lovely, Blow Gabriel Blow and of course the title song, with witty lyrics by Porter and a very funny book, originally by P G Wodehouse & Guy Bolton but revised twice so I’m not sure whose is in use now. Still, who cares, its fun aboard a liner crossing the Atlantic with gangsters disguised as evangelists, evangelists who’ve become nightclub singers, Wall Street businessmen, an American heiress and a British Lord. Singer Reno loves stockbroker Billy, who loves heiress Hope, who’s engaged to nobleman Evelyn but they all get their man / woman in the end, but not until we’ve had a lot of fun aboard ship.

Daniel Evans production has a lovely art deco set by Richard Kent, with the ship’s deck rising up to form the backdrop as well as the stage, and great period costumes. Choreographer Alistair David doesn’t have a lot of space, but works wonders with what he has. There’s a zippiness about the whole thing that lifts you up and sweeps you along. The 9-piece band sounds terrific, and a lot more than nine. Debbie Kurup is sensational as Reno Sweeney, the complete package of great dancer, beautiful singer and comic actress and Stephen Matthews is wonderful as Lord Evelyn Oakleigh, a clumsy but lovable toff. In addition to these star performances, there’s great work from Matt Rawle as Billy, Zoe Rainey as Hope, Hugh Sachs as Moonface Martin, Alex Young as Erma, Simon Rouse as Whitney and the lovely Jane Wymark as Hope’s mum. A fine ensemble of 18 ensure the set pieces sparkle.

The New Wimbledon Theatre isn’t the most suitable (vast) or welcoming (shameful latecomers policy and noisy audience), but with work this good, you’ve got to go where you can, though with hindsight I wish I’d gone to Sheffield, where it appears they outdo the West End regularly. Unmissable indeed.

 

 

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I’ve seen most of Dame Edna’s London shows in the last 30 years and despite the disaster of the second and latest ‘Last Night of the Poms’, I couldn’t resist her panto debut – as fairy, rather than Dame! Unfortunately, I’d forgotten how cynical and exploitive commercial panto has become (and how they deteriorate during the run as everyone gets tired and fed up) having only visited panto heaven in Hackney & Stratford in recent years.

This was like a ‘mash-up’ of a bad Dame Edna show and a bad panto competing for which was worst. The panto won, but only just. Dame Edna’s fluffed lines and stumbling delivery suggest she’s probably past it, so maybe the Last Night of the Poms wasn’t a one-off after all. She did her usual ritual humiliation of an audience member and a smattering of risqué jokes and references but the attempts to integrate her into the show were limited and what we got was inferior Edna.

One-man panto production line Eric Potts (Diggory in Corrie!) wrote, directed and played Dame, so much of the blame must rest with him. It was apparently Dick Whittington, but you’d be forgiven for not realising this as there wasn’t much emphasis on story or plot. With the notable exception of Kev Orkian as Idle Jack, who was outstanding and the only one who seemed to be trying or even caring, the cast were irrelevant when Dame Edna was on and pretty dreadful when she wasn’t.

There were colourful sets and good costumes (well, for the panto Dame – Edna seemed to be recycling her old ones) but absolutely no true panto spirit (Idle Jack excepted). The songs were the usual current pop fare, there were nods to TV shows, lame local references and a 3D sequence (effective, but why include it?).  The romantic leads didn’t charm you (Sam Attwater and Anna Williamson – both awful), the baddie didn’t scare you (Richard Calkin – boo!), there weren’t enough ‘he’s behind you’s and no song sheet (though in the programme it says Scene 14: The Song Sheet’). It went on and on for 2 hours and 40 minutes, but felt longer.

In commercial pantos they rehash a story, borrow someone else’s tunes, find a few soap has-beens and b-list celebs and throw them together with little rehearsal. If you want to see a real panto, head east to Stratford or Hackney. Sorry, Wimbledon, you are about as far away from my view of ‘The Home of London Pantomime’ (their words) as it’s possible to be. Shameful.

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