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Posts Tagged ‘Peter Stone’

My track record with this Irving Berlin show isn’t great. On Broadway in 1999, Bernadette Peters was too demure and not enough of a tomboy. At the Young Vic in 2009, Richard Jones inventive production, brilliantly re-scored by Jason Carr for four pianos, miscast Jane Horrocks and had dreadful sight lines. In the 2014 touring production, Jason Donovan’s Frank was no match for Emma Williams’ Annie. Well, this revival has none of those problems, and a lot to enjoy.

It’s easy to forget that this is based on the true story of Buffalo Bill’s show which toured, not just in the US but in Europe in the late 19th century, before merging with competitor Pawnee Bill’s show. When we open (with There’s No Business Like Show Business, one of the greatest opening numbers ever), Frank Butler is the show’s star sharpshooter, but young Annie Oakley turns up from nowhere and ends up challenging and usurping him, which rather scuppers their mutual attraction. Annie heads off to Europe, with Chief Sitting Bull now involved with the show, and Frank defects to Pawnee Bill’s show, but when they return triumphant but broke, love eventually wins.

This staging uses Peter Stone’s 1999 revision of Dorothy & Herbert Fields’ original book, making it more politically correct (changing some, but not all, of the racism towards native Americans), adding a romantic sub-plot and a song, but dropping a handful of other songs and making it a play-within-a-play, a feature which I don’t think really works. It was particularly odd when Annie’s brother Jake puts on a headdress and becomes Chief Sitting Bull, initially with script in hand. Kirk Jameson’s production is appropriately costumed, but with limited props, leaving plenty of space for Ste Clough’s excellent choreography. It’s lacks pace occasionally and the band sometimes drown the solos, but otherwise I liked it. The most important thing is that the standard-laden score is very well sung.

I very much liked Gemma Maclean’s Annie, an excellent transition from naïve tomboy to star turn. She’s well matched by Blair Robertson’s Frank, with great presence and great vocals. They are well supported by a cast of thirteen others who shine in the ensembles and choruses.

Good to see it at last without miscast leads and poor sightlines!

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This musical by Maury Yeston & Peter Stone / Thomas Meehan is a 2011 adaptation of a 1924 Italian play which was filmed twice, in 1934 with Fredric March, and in 1998 as Meet Joe Black, starring Brad Pitt. This is its European Premiere, staged by Thom Southerland, who has had great success with Yeston’s Titanic and Grand Hotel.

The Lamberti family have a near miss car accident on the way home from their daughter Grazia’s engagement party. It turns out that Death has prevented Grazia’s demise because he fancies a long weekend in human form, partly to answer the question of why he’s so feared. He takes the form of Russian noble Prince Nikolai Sirki and only Grazia’s dad, the Duke, knows the truth. He falls in love with Grazia and she with him and he’s intent on taking her with him at the end if his holiday, but her dad pleads with him not to, until counter pleas from Grazia.

I struggled to suspend enough disbelief to engage fully with the story, but it’s a gorgeous melodic score. Morgan Large has designed a terrific Italian villa and Jonathan Lipman has created brilliant period costumes. Stylistically, it feels like Sondheim’s A Little Night Music or Passion; very European, very early 20th century. Thom Southerland’s staging is up to his usual impeccable standard, with a forensic attention to detail. The humour surprised but pleased me. Dean Austin’s band sounds as beautiful as the music.

Zoe Doano and Chris Peluso are superb in the leading roles and there’s a fine supporting ensemble. Mark Inscoe has great presence as Duke Lamberti, Ashley Stillburn is excellent as Grazia’s fiancé Corrado, as is James Grant as servant Fidele (who will be promoted to the role of Death / Nikolai during the run!). It’s great to see Gay Soper give such a fine cameo, as Contessa Evangelina Di San Danielli (!), close to her 50th year in musical theatre.

I’m not entirely convinced by the premise and the story, but it’s a lovely lush score, it looks gorgeous and the performances are terrific.

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August is wild west musicals month, though you have to go to the home counties to see them! First up is the Annie Get Your Gun tour in Woking; the principle reason for seeing it being Emma Williams’ Annie Oakley.

Irving Berlin’s most famous show is actually based on the true story of Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show (yes, it was real and it even toured Europe!) and in particular sharpshooter Annie Oakley. Oakley breathes new life into this touring entertainment, though not without ruffling a few feathers, notably erstwhile champion Frank Butler. It may have been the first (and only?) musical to feature an Indian chief (not a native American in 1946). The reason it has survived is a score with one of the best opening numbers ever – There’s No Business Like Show Business – that’s packed full of what are now standards, like The Girl That I Marry, They Say It’s Wonderful and Anything You Can Do.

This is high quality touring fare, directed with great panache by Ian Talbot. Paul Farnsworth’s big top set, with the band onstage, limits the playing space for the 18-strong cast but makes it both more intimate and faster moving, and Lizzi Gee’s inventive choreography turns it into an advantage. I saw the first outing of this version, revised by Peter Shore for Broadway in 1999, with Bernadette Peters (who didn’t really suit the role) and this is a whole lot better.

Emma Williams is simply superb as Annie, making the transition from unknown tomboy to famous entertainer, singing these lovely songs beautifully. She must be the finest West End leading lady without the hit show she so richly deserves – she’s had artistic successes, notably the wonderful Howard Goodall musical Love Story, but she’s never had an artistic AND commercial hit. Someone correct that soon, please. Jason Donovan was either seriously under the weather, which I suspect, or he’s seriously undercast. He seemed to be going through the motions, totally lacking the sparkle of his co-star and singing poorly. To be frank, l was disappointed they didn’t send on his understudy in the second half.

This is West End ready, but somehow I don’t think, in the present climate, it will get the transfer it deserves.

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Yet another very good reason to head to the Landor Theatre in Clapham. I think this is the first professional UK production of Kander & Ebb’s last show; they were responsible for Cabaret & Chicago (and Flora The Red Menace, which transferred here from Walthamstow last month – a show which couldn’t be more different if it tried). When I saw it at the Guildhall School of Music & Drama two years ago (https://garethjames.wordpress.com/2010/07/08/curtains) I thought it was fun, but not a lot more. In Robert McWhir’s superb production, it proves to be a huge treat.

Before the show has even started, you’re admiring Martin Thomas’ ingenious design. He’s managed to create the proscenium, stage and backstage of a Boston theatre in this tiny space! We’re at a pre-Broadway run of a musical of Robin Hood (set in the wild west, obviously). The leading lady dies at the curtain call; enter stage-struck Lieutenant Cioffi, the centre of our musical comedy whodunnit (hot on the heels of The Mystery of Edwin Drood here a few months back, for which Rupert Holmes also wrote the book, but this is in another league altogether).

We learn why many of the cast are reluctant participants and the spotlight moves from suspect to suspect in proper whodunnit tradition. The Lieutenant pays as much attention to improving the show as he does to finding the murderer and falls in love with a cast member along the way. We get an insight into production, investment and staging of a musical with no stereotype left unturned, as well as a classic whodunnit that keeps the surprise right until the end. There’s even a programme within the programme a la Noises Off.

Buster Skeggs (a lady!)  is great as the producer whose many highlights include a quartet about critics with her investor and writers called What Kind of Man? and Its a Business, which just about sums up commercial theatre in three minutes. Leo Andrew also shines as the composer and, like The Producers, there’s a camp (though less outrageously so) British director, excellently played by Bryan Kennedy. Bronwyn Andrews (from Ireland, not Wales!) is a lovely romantic lead, but the star of the show is Jeremy Legat who is simply terrific as the Lieutenant, in fine voice with an excellent American accent.

What I like most about Kander and Ebb is that every show is completely different. Fred Ebb died before this was completed (as did original book writer Peter Stone – a bit spooky for a murder mystery!) but the book and lyrics are sharp and funny with many laugh-out-loud moments. The score is so much better than I remembered it with some real showstoppers like the opening Wide Open Spaces (even funnier in this space!) ans Show People and solos like the Lieutenant’s Coffee Shop Nights.

It’s hard to believe this show has taken six years to get here, but the Landor have done it proud. A truimph of Olympian proportions for which the creative team, the whole cast of 20 and Michael Webborn’s 5-piece band all deserve a medal! A transfer would be richly deserved, but it’ll probably never be better than it is here, at a third of the price of the West End. Stop reading, start booking!

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Sugar is the 1972 stage musical adaptation of the 1959 film ‘Some Like It Hot’ – if you haven’t seen the film, your life is incomplete so you’d better get the DVD sharpish! It didn’t get its UK stage premiere until 1992 and I don’t think it has been seen since. It takes the enterprising and unfunded Pimlico Opera, whose work with prisoners is now in its 11th year, to present us with the opportunity to see what its like on stage.

This was my fifth time in prison – twice before with Pimlico opera in Wandsworth prison for Guys & Dolls and Carmen – but the first in a women’s prison. On this occasion, the chorus of c.20 and some of the backstage staff are prisoners; the four leads and two male dancers are professionals. Reading the self-written biographies breaks your heart and the prisoner thank you speech at the end brings you to tears. This is much more than a worthy project, it shines a light into broken lives, bringing just a glimmer of hope for a few weeks.

Peter Stone’s book, based on Billy Wilder & I.A.L Diamond’s screenplay, is faithful to the film and very funny. Jules Styne’s score and Bob Merrill’s lyrics aren’t great, which is presumably why it isn’t often revived, but its good enough. The story of course is of a couple of musicians who innocently witness a Chicago gangster crime and go on the run to escape their elimination. Disguised as women, they join an all-girl big band on tour. One falls for the singer and one bags a millionaire and it all ends happily (if somewhat bizarrely). Delightfully preposterous! The traverse staging has the band at one end and the beach at the other with other scenes played in-between.

It must be hard to step into the shoes of Marilyn Monroe, Tony Curtis and Jack Lemon, but Victoria Ward, Duncan Patrick and Rob Gildon do it very well indeed. Deryck Hamon is also good as Sir Osgood Fielding. The prisoners play all of the other roles – male and female – and do so with considerable enthusiasm and energy; I was particularly impressed by the confidence and stage presence of Gaillene Young (AKA Ella!) as band-leader Sweet Sue, who stood in at short notice when the original Sweet Sue was released! The 17-piece professional big band under Toby Purser make a glorious sound.

Any thought that you were in a real theatre was dispelled at the curtain call with the announcement ‘please stay in your seats whilst we check we’ve got all the cast back’!

It’s running again next weekend if you fancy a spell in prison (and if there are tickets left – http://www.grangeparkopera.co.uk) – go on, it’s fun!

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