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Posts Tagged ‘Philip Whitcomb’

I’m not sure why we haven’t seen many Frank Wildhorn musicals in London, less than a quarter of his output I’d say. Those I’ve seen here – Jeckyl & Hyde and Victor / Victoria – I’ve liked, though I was less enamoured with The Scarlet Pimpernel on a US tour in Seattle. Despite the fact this is the first professional staging of this one, it appears to have a cult following, such was the popularity of the recent concert performances and the fandom on show at the Arts Theatre.

It follows the infamous couple from when they first meet (with some flashbacks to their childhood selves) to their demise. What seems to start as fun develops a more cruel and heartless character, then they begin to enjoy the infamy, appearing in newspapers as folk heroes and signing autographs, as much if not more that the buzz of the crimes themselves. Clyde’s brother Buck gets drawn in, much to the consternation of his wife Blanche. There’s a childlike naivety to them, rather than a blind ruthlessness, though they are of course murderers. It ends as it started, with a very pleasing roundedness.

It’s a hugely impressive eclectic Americana score packed full of superb tunes, and Don Black’s lyrics propel the story forward. Ivan Menchell’s book is a series of very short scenes, but not at the price of storytelling or character development, and with a surprising amount of humour given the subject matter. The pace is facilitated by a design from Philip Whitcomb which relies on minimal props but excellent projections to create locations, featuring iconic period images like petrol pumps and cars. Nick Winston’s direction is slick and highly effective; even though there’s not much ‘movement’ you can see his choreographic background in the staging.

All four leads – Frances Mayli McCann as Bonnie, Jordan Luke Gage as Clyde, Natalie McQueen as Blanche and George Maguire as Buck – are sensational, and very well matched, and the rest of the ensemble are first class. Cleve September plays the sheriff and Bonnie’s old flame very movingly, Ako Mitchell has great presence and a voice to match as the Preacher and the child actors (from a pool of eight) playing Bonnie and Clyde as children are hugely confident with outstanding voices.

For some reason, maybe the hype, I was taken aback by how much I admired and enjoyed this show. The audience reception was even more euphoric than me, and both the atmosphere and the reception seemed to wow the cast as much as they’d wowed us.

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This is the second of three January day-trips to catch musicals that aren’t scheduled to come to London, this time Hope Mill Manchester’s production of Mame visiting Northampton, a show the UK hasn’t seen since it’s premiere here 50 years ago, which is why I’ve never seen Jerry Herman’s iconic Broadway show.

Patrick Dennis’ novel Auntie Mame went from page to stage to screen before this musical adaptation, which was itself later filmed. It revolves around a New York socialite who loves life and likes to party. When her brother dies, her 10-year-old nephew Patrick comes to live with her, and she makes it her job to show him the world, sharing her Bohemian lifestyle. After losing all her money in the Wall Street Crash, she’s lucky enough to meet and fall for rich southerner Beauregard, who marries her and takes her on seemingly endless honeymoon, seeing even more of the world.

Patrick goes to boarding school, where conservative snobbery replaces fun living, and when the honeymoon ends in tragedy, with Beauregard’s death, Mame gets to see how her work has been undone. Patrick is about to marry into the rich but dull & tasteless Upson’s from Connecticut, but she is determined to prevent such a match. The hedonistic first half gives way to a clash of the party animals and the dull New Englanders, providing some sublime comedy.

Herman’s score has some great numbers, with superb orchestrations by Jason Carr, brilliantly played by Alex Parker’s terrific band. His lyrics, and Jerome Lawrence & Robert E Lee’s book, are sharp and witty. It’s scaled down from big Broadway / West End values, but with a cast of eighteen still fills the stage. You can see the dance background in Nick Winston’s slick and stylish direction and Philip Whitcomb’s art deco set and excellent 20’s costumes give it the perfect period feel.

The leading role needs a special actress and Tracie Bennett is perfect for the part, belting out those big numbers and squeezing every ounce of comedy from her dialogue, particularly in her scenes with her best friend, ‘Broadway baby’ Vera, superbly played by Harriett Thorpe. Patrick is a big role for a young actor, but Lochlan White was confident and assured, pulling it off with great aplomb. They are all part of a fine company who do the show proud.

I’ve seen and loved Hello Dolly, La Cage Au Folles and Mack & Mabel, so I’m so glad I finally got to see Herman’s other big show, thanks to Hope Mill, now an important part of the UK’s musical theatre landscape, plus Aria Entertainment and their hosts the Royal & Derngate in Northampton. Next stop Salisbury, then ?????

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