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Posts Tagged ‘Paul Taylor-Mills’

When I left the first outing of this show, in Stratford 27 years ago, I had two questions – ‘What on earth were they thinking of, turning this into a musical?’ and ‘Why did the RSC get involved?’ I think my companions’ question was ‘Why the hell did he bring is to this?’

Some hot-shot American producer had persuaded the RSC to première a musical of Stephen King’s first novel (horror, obviously) with a book by the man for whom the screenplay for the film of the book was his debut and music and lyrics by people who’d never done a stage musical before (though they had written for Alan Parker’s film Fame). It was directed by Terry Hands, whose only previous musical was Pete Nichols brilliant satirical panto Poppy. They’d even persuaded Barbara Cook to come over (though she tried to exit after almost being decapitated on opening night with a close encounter with a piece of the set). Despite the poor critical reception, they still showered it with millions of dollars and took it to Broadway, where it closed three days later and went down in history as one of the greatest flops of all time. I never expected to see it again.

I don’t know whether it’s the passage of time, the subsequent cult success of the teen horror genre, re-working of the show or just a bloody good production and cast, but it’s a whole lot better in this Southwark Theatre revival. It’s still a bit incongruous, the music is fairly formulaic pop-rock and the production may be papering over the cracks in the story, but I think its well worth catching. It starts in the school showers as naive Carrie is shocked by the onset of her first period, leading to humiliation by her fellow students and ongoing bullying. Her bible-bashing mother knows she’s an ‘odd’ / ‘special’ girl and tries to prevent her socialising, but fellow student Sue, full of remorse for the humiliation, decides to make amends by loaning her boyfriend as her partner for the school prom, an offer she can’t refuse. Sadly, some of the other girls are determined to continue the humiliation at the prom, which unleashes Carrie’s considerable powers for revenge. Cue blood and carnage.

This is all very well staged by Gary Lloyd, with a very good design from Tim McQuillen-Wright and excellent special effects by Jeremy Chernick. The musical standards are high, with a great six-piece band under MD Mark Crossland. The young cast is outstanding, with fine leading performances from Evelyn Hoskins as Carrie, Greg Miller-Burns as Tommy and Sarah McNicholas as Sue and Gabriella Wiliams and Dex Lee as the baddies. Kim Criswell and Jodie Jacobs are both excellent in the adult roles of mother and teacher respectively.

It’s not a great show, but it is a fine production and producer Paul Taylor-Mills should be congratulated for giving it another chance, as he did recently with that other flop Batboy. Two more weeks to catch it, and you should. Oh, and the writer Lawrence D Cohen is writing a book about his Carrie experience and it’s going to be called ‘ What Were They Thinking?’!

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This cult musical, which takes a real life event as its starting point, itself started life on the fringe in late 90’s LA. It ran 8 months Off-Broadway 4 years later and had its UK première at West Yorkshire Playhouse 3 years after that. Then they transferred it to the Shaftesbury Theatre, about the best place in the world to kill a show like this! So here it is ten years on in the much more suitable Southwark Playhouse in a new B-movie interpretation, the fourth show by the inventive Morphic Graffiti, in a co-production with Paul Taylor-Mills.

Three teenage friends stumble across Bat Boy in a local cave. He’s virtually naked, with pointed ears and fangs, and moves like an animal. They take him to the Sheriff who in turn takes him to the local vet. He’s not at home, but his wife Meredith takes him in, renames him Edgar and soon takes him under her wings, taming, civilising and mothering him. Her husband, Dr Parker, and the rest of the small-town community of Hope Falls, West Virginia, are less welcoming, not helped by the fact Bat Boy had attacked Ruthie and is now rumoured to have slaughtered a whole herd of cattle. What follows is the battle of the outsider, with the Parker’s leading the opposing sides.

The pop-rock score is a bit inconsistent, veering to more pompous pop-opera as the show progresses, but there are some good songs and a terrific opening sequence to the second half at an evangelical rally, where they attempt to save Bat Boy’s soul. It’s over-long at 2.5 hours, particularly after ‘the big reveal’ when even the most inventive staging can’t cover up the laboured conclusion. The whole thing does however have an appealing tongue-in-cheek quirkiness which saves the day.

Director Luke Fredericks and designer Stewart Charlesworth’s cartoonish production is packed with creativity, with excellent integration of projections (Benjamin Walden) and a huge selection of deliberately dodgy wigs! A couple of short scenes are given over to puppet dolls and the B-movie style is taken to its logical conclusion at the denouement. Clever stuff, with appropriately lo-tech production values. I thought it was too loud a lot of the time, and again at Southwark there were glitches in the sound.

The casting is terrific. Rob Compton is superb as Bat Boy, particularly in the physical stuff when he is discovered. Lauren Ward and Matthew White are outstanding as the Parkers, with particularly fine vocals from both. Simon Bailey excels in multiple roles, bringing the house down as Reverend Hightower in yellow suit and gold collar and shoes! I also loved Andy Rees characterisation of teenage Rick and there’s a brilliant turn from Nolan Frederick as mother nature in a hysterical ‘dream sequence’.

It’s a good rather than great piece, but there’s a lot to enjoy in this revival. A few cuts and a bit of a tone down would make it even better, but it’s the sort of production the show needed and on a much more appropriate scale. Well worth catching.

 

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Yet another Broadway flop becomes a London fringe hit – at the Union Theatre, where this time the capacity audience is just twice the size of the cast and band. Yet another minor Kander & Ebb – the third this year after Flora the Red Menace and Curtains; this one’s a European Premiere too.

They’re in They Shoot Horses, Don’t They territory here – the world of dance marathons. They could go on for weeks, despite the fact they only got 15 minutes break every hour. They were the X-Factor of their day – people desperate for fame, dancing for money, sponsorship and showcases. Along the way, they picked up coins thrown by spectators (as we did last night!) before they became exhausted, some also hallucinating.

This particular story sees MC Mick Hamilton colluding with his (secret) wife Rita Racine to not just win but also get precious exposure with a fake wedding. With no partner minutes before the start, she ends up with airman Bill Kelly. The trouble is she falls for him, Mick pushes her too far and, oh yes, he’s actually dead. I’m not sure if I was supposed to know he was in limbo from the start, but I only got it at the end and that’s where the show failed for me – a daft idea that just doesn’t work. It’s a fairly pedestrian score too, so on the whole not great material for a hit show.

The traverse staging with ballroom stage at one end makes for a lot of poor sight lines (those four pillars all getting in the way this time) but despite this David Shields art deco design with swing doors at the opposite end of the silver draped stage (and art deco touches to the pillars) is superb. There’s too little space for a show that’s all about dance, but despite this Richard Jones’ choreography is sensational. MD Angharad Sanders only has a five-piece band but despite this they make a terrific sound.

Above all, though, it’s the outstanding ensemble that take this unpromising material and make it something special. The four leads are excellent (three real Americans amongst them!) with Ian Knaur as lying cheating bullying Mick, Sarah Galbraith as his put-upon wife, Jay Rincon as her (sadly dead) love interest and most of all Aimie Atkinson’s Shelby Stevens, who brings the house down with her showstopper Everybody’s Girl.

I’m beginning to think that in the right space with a crack creative team and a premiere league cast and band, you can turn just about anything into a hit. Producer and director Paul Taylor-Mills certainly has with this one.

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The mediocrity of the reviews and the indifference of the bloggers meant I wasn’t really looking forward to this, which might have contributed to how much I enjoyed it!

It’s true that it’s not a great show – with an undistinguished score and a particularly disappointing downbeat ending – but I thought Paul Taylor-Mills production was terrific,  making the most of the material with bucket loads of energy and an infectious enthusiasm. I smiled and laughed an awful lot.

The story of how the ‘chicken ranch’ is hounded out of business by a hypocritical alliance of church, media and politicians (nothing changes!) is well-known and of course the ladies are the sympathetic characters and the politicians and media the baddies.

Kingsley Hall’s simple set of American flag painted walls (with band costumes to match) and a trio of beds is effective enough, but it’s his excellent costumes which make the show look so good. Richard Jones’ choreography sparkles with wit and invention and the set pieces  are electrifying.

I thought Sarah Lark would be too young and too sweet for Miss Mona, but that’s not so – she’s very good indeed, particularly in the singing department. There’s a brilliantly funny sheriff from James Parkes and an outrageous (though in truth a bit over-the-top) turn from Leon Craig as the TV man who leads the pack of persecutors. I also much enjoyed Lindsay Scigliano as Doatsey Mae and Jodie Lee Wilde as Dawn. In fact, the whole cast (including the now mandatory Strallen!) is terrific, with the ensemble numbers the high spots of the show.

Maybe it’s improved during the run, but for me it was about as much fun as you can have on a Sunday evening with your cloths on. Only one week left to see for yourself.

 

 

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