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Posts Tagged ‘Paul Herbert’

This is a musical theatre debut by Gus Gowland, who is responsible for the book, music and lyrics. I can’t think of a more auspicious British musical premiere since Howard Goodall’s The Hired Man over thirty years ago.

It’s a very cleverly structured piece which takes you a short while to unravel, juxtaposing a contemporary gay relationship with a wartime one, where one party is the grandson of another. Newly married Edward is conscripted and at the war front fellow serviceman Tom offers to teach him to dance so that he can sweep his wife Anna off her feet on his return home. A seemingly hopeless relationship soon develops.

Many years later, at Edward’s funeral, we meet his only daughter Jane, who disapproves of her son (Edward’s grandson) Ed’s homosexuality and boyfriend Harry. Ed’s younger sister thinks it’s normal, even cool – a change in just one generation. A stranger, Rose, arrives with a box of memories, we learn she is Tom’s sister and the story is pieced together and we understand the significance of the title.

The score is lovely, with delicate solos and duets and more rousing ensemble pieces like Standing in the Shadows, which sees all four men across time in unison and melodies return and interweave. Perhaps because he wrote both, the book and lyrics are seamless, jointly propelling the story. There’s an organic flow between scenes in a very fluid staging by Ryan McBryde, with a cleverly effective design from newcomer Fin Redshaw. Paul Herbert’s ensemble of piano, cello and reeds makes a beautiful, delicate accompaniment.

It’s strongly cast, with Craig Mather & Joel Harper-Jackson as wartime lovers Edward and Tom and Andy Coxon & Gary Wood as contemporary Ed & Harry. Carol Starks brilliantly conveys the cold, emotionless Jane literally in the middle of it all, with Ella Dunlop excellent as Ed’s feisty sister Gemma. I very much liked Lauren Hall, who has to switch from doting newlywed to heartbroken wife, and there’s a lovely cameo from Marilynn Cutts as the older Rose.

I can’t believe for one minute that this premiere production in Colchester will be its last. Gold stars to the Mercury, Perfect Pitch and TBO Productions for developing 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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