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Posts Tagged ‘Paul Kerryson’

There’s nothing like a bit of child labour & abduction, domestic abuse & murder to lift your New Year spirits! It struck me more than ever on Saturday how dark this show is. Perhaps it’s the passage of time, or perhaps its Paul Kerryson’s very un-twee production. It also struck me how great the score is too; Lionel Bart’s masterpiece.

It would be pointless to relate the story; if you don’t know it, you’ve been hibernating. Here’s it’s performed on a brilliant set by Matt Kinley, which transforms from the streets to interiors, managing to convey a sense of 19th century London yet provide intimacy for ‘smaller’ scenes. I particularly liked the way the cast could come forward, in front of the orchestra pit, for choruses. Andrew Wright’s choreography feels fresh yet faithful to the period. It feels very much like a new production, but it’s hard to pin down exactly why. I liked it a lot.

It’s superbly well cast, with Peter Polycarpou one of the best Fagin’s I’ve seen and Oliver Boot a particularly menacing Sikes. Cat Simmons (now replaced by Laura Pitt-Pulford no less) was an authentic Nancy whose voice did full justice to her lovely songs. In the smaller roles I particularly liked James Gant’s Mr Bumble (a fine voice indeed) and Jenna Boyd’s Widow Corney (whose boobs caused much debate and some nervousness that they might not remain within. 8-year-old Lily called them jelly boobies!). The kids in the workhouse and Fagin’s gang were fantastic.

It might be questionable as seasonal fare and it may not be suitable for young children, but my gang of four generations all enjoyed it.

 

 

 

 

 

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I’ve got a very special relationship with this show, having taken a punt on a preview on Broadway in the summer of 2002. I adored it and couldn’t believe it took five years to get to London, though I made up for that by seeing it three times in the West End. I couldn’t resist a trip to Woking to see the UK tour, and now up to The Curve in Leicester for this new production, which just about tops the lot!

Set in Baltimore in 1962, our heroine Tracy Turnblad’s ambition is to become a regular dancer on the Corny Collins Show, modelled on a very real US show of the time. The show’s producer, the odious Velma von Tussle, can’t see beyond her size and in any event nothing is going to get in the way of her daughter Amber. Amber’s partner, heartthrob Link (Glee’s Matthew Morrison on Broadway) finds himself more attracted to Tracy the nastier Amber gets. The show’s token ‘negro night’ adds a segregation theme, which makes the show more than just 60’s retro pastiche and takes us onto the moral high ground. In this production, the discrimination themes have a touch more edge, with videos of Martin Luther King keeping it real, reminding you of the realities of 60’s racism and segregation.

It’s a high-energy, super-fresh (channeling Will i Am now!) production which sweeps you away from the off. Jerry Mitchell’s original choreography is hard to match, but Lee Proud has done a terrific job, with more emphasis on hand movements. Ben Atkinson’s band sounded great and looked good high up at the back of the stage. The Curve’s homegrown designers Paul Moore and Siobahn Boyd have done a magnificent job on the sets and costumes and I thought the lighting of Philip Gladwell was outstanding.

Rebecca Craven’s was a match for all the other Tracy’s, loveable & naive with great moves. Damian Williams’ Edna and Landor Theatre regular John Barr’s Wilbur had great chemistry, with their relative sizes adding something extra and their duet You’re Timeless to Me benefitting from some unplanned corpsing. It’s a long way from smile-free East Enders hard man to permanent-smile song & dance man, but it’s a journey David Witts makes in style, thanks no doubt in part to his NYMT & NYT background (is this really his professional stage debut?!). It’s musical theatre, so the rule ‘one must have a Strallen’ is observed with a terrific comic turn from Zizi as Tracy’s friend Penny.

It’s just as good in the baddie department with a great Velma from Sophie-Louise Dann, Sorelle Marsh as Penny’s mom and Vicki Led Taylor’s delicious spoilt brat Amber. Claudia Kariuki as Motormouth Maybelle brought a welcome restraint to her big Act I closing number Big Blonde & Beautiful and Tyrone Huntley was terrific as her son Seaweed. The ensemble sparkles, making this a cast any producer would die for.

Director Paul Kerryson always delivers, but he exceeds his own standards here. This production proves that our best regional theatres are more than a match for the West End or Broadway and with best seats plus train ticket coming in at lest than tickets only in the West End, musical theatre lovers would be bonkers to miss this treat.

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It’s amazing how much biography Pam Gems’ play packs into 2.5 hours; so much, in fact, that sometimes you have to catch your breath. Still, it’s a fascinating life and her songs are extraordinary, so it’s a rewarding if speedy ride.

This is the third time I’ve seen this play with music and it varies little by production; whether that’s faithfulness to the script or no room for directorial concept, I don’t know. Paul Kerryson’s seemed a touch faster paced and a bit cruder (but that might have been a reaction to the lady in front of us who was clearly horrified by its rudeness). The design and staging are simple but effective, as they need to be given the number of scenes, and that puts the story centre stage.

We move c.30 years from the young street singer to the international star’s untimely death. In between, her neediness is manifested in drink, drugs and men; her addictive personality means she can’t get enough of any of them and is herself abused in the process. Somehow she manages to, or maybe because of this she does, produce a catalogue of songs with an emotional depth most songwriters would envy, and perform them with a conviction like each was for one time only.

The success of the play does of course depend on the leading lady and Frances Ruffelle is outstanding as Piaf, both dramatically and musically. In this production, the roles of friend Madelein and colleague Marlene seem further to the fore, and this may well be because Tiffany Graves is simply superb as both. The supporting cast of six men and just one woman play all the other people in her life and do so uniformly well; no weak links here.

It was good to see it again, and good to visit Leicester Curve’s studio space for the first time. I hope the lucky people of Leicester know just how lucky they are – West End quality for half the price.

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