Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘Once on this Island’

It’s only three months since I saw newcomer Sam Tutty in the British Theatre Academy’s production of Once On This Island at Southwark Playhouse (co-incidentally, Benj Pasak & Justin Paul’s other stage show Dogfight was in the same season) and here he is starring in this enthralling Broadway transfer of a musical with the unlikley themes of teenage anxiety & depression, parenting and the irony that social media has made us more connected but lonlier. Both he and the show are extraordinary.

Evan Hansen is a troubled teenager. His parents split up when he was seven and he lives with his mum, who spends most of her time working and studying to improve her and Evan’s lives. He suffers from anxiety for which he has medication and a therapist, who has set him the task of writing letters to himself to build his confidence and self-esteem. Fellow student Connor, himself a troubled teen who uses drugs to deal with his depression, bullies Evan, stealing one of these letters. When Connor commits suicide, his parents find and misinterpret this letter, which sets Evan on a series of lies that gets out of control.

He effectively invents a friendship with Connor, and initially this has positive impact on his confidence, proving to be better therapy than therapy, and brings comfort to Connor’s parents. Even his fantasy of a relationship with Connor’s sister Zoe becomes a reality. At school it’s more surreal as a grief bandwagon begins to roll, with people who hardly knew Connor inventing friendships. It goes viral with its own hashtag #youwillbefound and Evan becomes the de facto leader, spurred on by colleagues Alana and Jared, though the latter for more cynical reasons. Throughout all of this, his mother is oblivious. Then the truth comes out…….

You rarely see an actor invest so much into a role, but Sam Tutty’s neurotic, vulnerable, emotionally raw, authentic performance captures just about every heart in the theatre. There’s another auspicious professional debut from Lucy Anderson as Zoe, a much cooler, guarded, suspicious character. Jack Loxton is great as the more worldly wise Jared who can hardly believe all this emotional stuff, Nicole Raquel Dennis delightful as Alana, fully wrapped up in it, and a fine performance from Doug Colling as Connor, who we see briefly alive, but also in Evan’s head. The parents – Lauren Ward, Rebecca McKinnis & Rupert Young – are all excellent, each having their own revelatory journey.

The design, which relies heavily on projections, is simple, facilitating an organic flow for Michael Greif’s impeccable staging. The musical theatre form suits the story because musicals are good at conveying the emotional and Steven Levenson’s book and Pasek & Paul’s music and lyrics are seamlessly conjoined and produce something even deeper, addressing serious themes delicately but with humour and heart, leading to a hopeful conclusion. I loved every moment of it and left the theatre emotionally drained but exhilarated.

Read Full Post »

This was Lynn Ahrens & Stephen Flaherty’s first musical, back in 1988. They went on to write a classic – Ragtime (brilliantly revived here at the Landor last year and included in this years Open Air season) – plus some good but less successful shows like Once on This Island, My Favourite Year and A Man of No Importance.

Based on Michael Butterworth’s book, the show tells the somewhat preposterous story of an English shoe salesman who inherits his American uncle’s fortune – provided he takes his corpse on holiday to Monte Carlo! He’s followed by a dog’s home representative who is checking he meets the conditions in full as otherwise they cop the lot. Of course, its musical comedy (farce) so nothing is as it seems and nothing turns out as planned.

Though it’s an early work, it’s a quirky and funny show with some nice tunes. We move from dull English shop and lodgings to the French Riviera (cue intentionally dodgy French accents and jokes about French stereotypes) as plain Harry wheels uncle around between locations followed by equally plain Annabel from the dogs home and uncle’s more manic ex and her brother. There’s even a dream sequence which includes a tap dance!

All the leads are excellent. James Winter and Abigail Jaye both strike the right note as quiet souls at sea in a strange world. Lucy Williamson is a terrific scorned woman, brash loud and somewhat gothic; a great double-act with Miles Western as her less manic but equally mad brother. The stiff (Mark Hayden?) would win any Best Performance by a Corpse award going – on stage for most of the play, he hardly flinched.

Rob McWhir’s production has a cartoonish quality and great pace. There’s a clever set with eleven doors and a descending bed. At the interval, I was puzzled at the lack of a design credit, but witnessing the interval repairs I was less surprised! The cast dealt with the elongated interval brilliantly by including a lyric referencing the bed in the second act opener – delicious!

Its great fun and you only have two more weeks to catch it.

Read Full Post »