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Posts Tagged ‘Noel Gay’

I criticised the new London production of The King & I for being conservative and overly reverential; like visiting the Museum of Musical Theatre. Well, this show is 14 years older, but that’s the last thing you’d say about this brilliant revival; it feels freshly minted, with an extraordinary sense of fun and its full of joy.

It’s a quintessentially British story. The trustees of the aristocratic Hareford family have been looking for a male heir born to a working class girl and solicitor Parchester thinks she’s found him, cockney lad Bill Snibson. He’s about as interested in joining the nobility as they are in having him, but the Duchess of Dene is determined to gentrify him and get rid of his girlfriend Sally Smith. Fellow trustee Sir John has a different view. Cue lots of lovely class culture clash involving a lot of toffs and pearly kings and queens.

Sally feels she should leave Bill so that he can inherit the title and all that goes with it, but Bill is having none of it. Sir John decides to gentrify Sally instead. Cue references to Pygmalion (if they were in the original) or perhaps My Fair Lady (if they were added by Stephen Fry for the hugely successful 1985 revival). It works, and Bill and Sally are reunited and wed, as are the Duchess and Sir John. Along the way, we get a brilliant scene where they conjure up the ancestors – tap dancing knights in armour! – a great drunken scene which bonds Bill and Sir John, and sensational ensemble set pieces to end Act I and start Act II.

My recollection of the 1985 London revival, with Robert Lindsay and Emma Thompson, which ran twice as long as the original – eight years! – was ‘too twee for me’, but this time it swept me away and my spirits soared. It’s a terrific music hall inspired score by Noel Gay, including the title song, The Sun Has Got His Hat On, Leaning On A Lamppost and of course The Lambeth Walk. The combination of Les Brotherston’s superb design (in particular, his costumes), Alistair David’s light-as-air choreography and Daniel Evans astute direction ensures it sparkles like a diamond, literally some of the time. Gareth Valentine’s arrangements are thrilling and his band sound sensational; he even gets to do a turn at the curtain call.

Matt Lucas is a revelation as Bill. He talent for comedy is well known, but he adds good vocals and sprightly dance to create a classic cheeky cockney. Alex Young is lovely as his intended Sally, whether she’s leading a knees-up or breaking her heart and yours with Once You Lose Your Heart. Caroline Quentin and favourite of mine Clive Rowe are delightful as the Duchess and the Knight. What I love most about this cast is that it’s all shapes, sizes and races whose talent, energy and enthusiasm sweep you away.

I’ve often left Chichester musicals on a high, but this and Half a Sixpence are special because they bring great British shows alive for today. Daniel Evans apparently said he wanted a new lick of paint, well in my book its a thrilling makeover. Don’t even think about not transferring it; London needs it !

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You’d be forgiven for thinking the proscenium arch which helps create the Criterion Theatre in the blitz was a permanent feature of this theatre. This Noel (Me & My Girl) Gay show, set onstage and backstage at a wartime radio show, is so ‘at home’ here in Tom Rogers design.

I was never that keen on Me & My Girl (too twee for my taste) and the most recent outing of this show in the West End was mediocre fare. The Watermill has become such a trusted musicals friend of late, that this didn’t put me off (as it didn’t Copacabana last year) and how right I was. Director Caroline Leslie’s first musical for the Watermill is as good as any that have gone before in their illustrious recent history.

The radio show has a new producer, keen to enforce the rules about what can and can’t be broadcast. The MC / comic / scriptwriter regularly flouts them with his sauciness and double entendres. The ventriloquist doesn’t turn up, which means the producer has to become performer. The guest star is a Hollywood hearthrob, old flame of the MC’s girlfriend, whose arrival threatens that relationship. Oh so simple but with a very funny book by Abi Grant and some fine tunes.

As always here, the actors double-up as musicians, so we get lady saxophonists and an eleven piece ukulele band; the musical standards under MD Paul Herbert are outstanding. The Grosvenor Girls give us those classic forties harmonies and look gorgeous in liberty print frocks and period hairdos and we have Amy the forces sweetheart. There’s a comic number, Ali Baba’s Camel, with everyone dressed in arab robes and fez’s and the song Run Rabbit Run! The smile never left my face.

Many of the lines are corny beyond belief and the double entendres are often familiar, but when they are delivered by Gary Wilmot they are absolutely delicious. He’s the archetypal music hall entertainer who has exceptional comic timing and bucketloads of charm. His hapless sidekick Wilfred is played to perfection by Julian Littman. Andrew C. Wadsworth morphs brilliantly from ‘Can’t Do ‘grump to a stage-struck and unlikely star. Anna-Jane Casey (for it is she!) is of course as fine a romantic lead as you could wish for and her chemistry with Wilmot is key to the show’s success.

This is my ninth Watermill musical and the fifth consecutive one at their lovely home base. It has now become as much of a summer fixture as the Proms, the Globe and the Open Air Theatre. As the show’s best tune says – they’re publishing the sun.

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