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Posts Tagged ‘Nicholas Skilbeck’

Musical theatre lovers are very precious about this show. Many consider it the greatest Broadway has seen, but I wouldn’t agree with that (Guys & Dolls and West Side Story, to name but two, would be ahead of it in my list). The only other time I saw it, on Broadway with Bernadette Peters as Mamma Rose 10 years ago, right in the middle of the show a huge man stood up, said ‘well, she ain’t no Ethel Merman’ and stomped out of the theatre. It’s forever associated with Merman and Angela Lansbury, who was London’s first Mamma Rose, and any actress attempting it is very brave indeed.

It’s the archetypal showbiz show and Rose is the archetypal stage mom, pushing her daughters forward relentlessly, regardless of their own wishes. She keeps their kids act way beyond its sell-by date, recycling it with variations on a theme. She loses her youngest and favourite June, who escapes and elopes, only to turn her attention to the elder Louise who she had hitherto virtually ignored. The declining standards of the act and the demise of vaudeville happen simultaneously and they find themselves in burlesque, providing cover for the racier stuff. In her final act of self obsessed determination, she puts Louise on stage as a stripper, renamed Gypsy Rose Lee, the real life person on whose memoirs it’s based.

It’s got a very good score by Jules Styne, with a high quota of standards, a book by Arthur Laurents and terrific lyrics by Stephen Sondheim no less. A bit of a dream team, I’d say. Chichester has matched it with their own creative dream team – director Jonathan Kent (responsible for their stunning Sweeney Todd just three years ago), inventive choreographer Stephen Mear and Designer Anthony Ward (who co-incidentally designed my only other Gypsy – which was itself directed by Sam Mendes!). The band under Nicholas Skilbeck make a thrilling sound; I can still hear that wonderful brass.

Louise Gold, Anita Louise Combe and Julie Legrand brought the house down as strippers who Gotta Get A Gimmick, Lara Pulver plays the transition from second string daughter Louise to star Gypsy Rose Lee superbly and Gemma Sutton is great as favourite daughter June growing up before your very eyes. I was surprised to see Kevin Whately cast as Herbie, but he pulled it off. What can you say about Imelda Staunton? Following a definitive Mrs Lovett with a brilliant down-on-her-luck Boston woman in Good People to this truly commanding performance. I knew she’d act it well, but the vocals were a revelation. She started with a great Some People, ended the first act with a stunning Everything’s Coming Up Roses and ended the show with a deeply emotional Rose’s Turn. She inhabits this single-minded woman, combining humour with an extraordinary range of emotions – whilst singing and dancing! You don’t see many performances that good in a lifetime of theatre-going; thrilling stuff.

London producers are now spoilt for choice – should they transfer Guys & Dolls or this or both? I’d put my money on this for sure – London has to see Dame Imelda’s finest hour.

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This is my tenth Sweeney Todd, but I don’t think I’ve laughed or squirmed so much at any of the others. This is very dark but often very funny, which makes it a great Sweeney.

I’d always thought Imelda Staunton was born to play Mrs Lovett, but boy did she exceed my expectations. She starts as a bit of a naive chancer but soon matches Sweeney’s blood thirstiness as she becomes more and more besotted with him. The real revelation though is Michael Ball’s Sweeney, whose transition from revenger to serial murderer is brilliantly played. Together they are extraordinary.

Jonathan Kent’s production is as dark as they come. I had to turn my head quite often as the blood flowed and the bodies piled up. The black comedy is not lost though; indeed it’s heightened. The duet where Sweeney and Mrs Lovett discuss who might end up in their pies is as good as it gets. Anthony Ward has created a seedy Dickensian London with fencing and caging, a central two-story platform for the barber shop, an elevated gallery and a rather large oven!

All of the supporting roles are well cast. Spring Awakening’s Lucy May Barker continues her impressive stage career with a fine Joanna, Luke Brady is a passionate Anthony and James McConville is the best Tobias I’ve ever seen. John Bowe and Peter Polycarpou both relish their roles as baddies Judge Turpin and Beadle Bamford respectively. The musical standards under MD Nicholas Skilbeck are very high, with an excellent 15-piece band and a superb 16-piece ensemble doing full justice to Sondheim’s wonderful score.

This is as fine a Sweeney as you’ll ever see and if it doesn’t end up in the West End before Christmas I shall be very surprised indeed.

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