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Posts Tagged ‘Poppy Tierney’

Late to the party because of my travels, but oh what a party. The Landor enters its 21st year with a huge hit and one of their very best productions ever.

This show by Pajama Game writers Adler & Ross (and just about the only other show of theirs that’s still produced) is daft but fun. Joe Boyd sells his soul to the devil in exchange for the opportunity to become the much younger Joe Hardy and join his ailing baseball team, the Washington Senators, to rescue them. He’s wise enough to negotiate a get-out clause saving him from hell if he returns by a specific date, but this proves to be before the final game of the season. His wife doesn’t know where he’s gone, but seems confident he’ll return. The team think he’s just a lucky find, an unknown from Hannibal MO. The score is very good and includes the classics  (You gotta have) Heart & Whatever Lola Wants, both of which have had a life outside the show.

We move between the baseball, with the Senators beginning to win again and the end of season pennant looking possible once more, life back at Joe’s family home with his wife Meg and her sister and friends, where his younger alter ego checks in as a lodger (unrecognised), and with Satan (AKA Mr Applegate) and his side-kick Lola and their determination to win his soul. Preposterous maybe, but it’s a set-up which provides the framework for much fun and this is a terrific Robert McWhir production with high energy, brilliant comedy and excellent musical standards. Robbie O’Reilly’s sporty, athletic choreography fills the space and thrills. The solo vocals and exceptional and the choruses rousing under Michael Webborn’s musical direction and fine piano-bass-drums trio.

When you enter a theatre knowing one of the leads is off, you usually groan with disappointment. For some reason I didn’t on this occasion, perhaps because of the front of house staff assurances or maybe more prophetically, because the understudy as Joe Hardy, Barnaby Hughes, was simply sensational. It’s ever so rare to see such faultless cover – word perfect, note perfect, owning the role from the off; a most auspicious professional debut. Jonathan D Ellis is an oily, camp Satan with a brilliant assistant in Poppy Tierney as Lola. His ad libs and audience engagement are a hoot and she sings and moves oozing sex. The supporting cast, most new to the Landor and many recent graduates, are outstanding (that Benjamin Newsome casting, again!).

I can’t praise this show highly enough. A triumph, even on the Landor scale.

 

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The premiere of this musical in 2000 was a high-profile affair for a relatively unknown American musicals team, Dana P Rowe & John Dempsey – the Theatre Royal Drury Lane no less (they had Cameron Mackintosh as godfather). It wasn’t a bad show, but the theatre was way too big for it. It moved to the Prince of Wales, but didn’t survive the tumultuous summer of 2001. This revival is at the opposite end of the scale, in a theatre about 10% of the size (in truth, a bit too small now) but its good to take a second look and it scrubs up well.

The first adaptation of John Updike’s novel was the stellar cast film with Jack Nicholson, Susan Sarandon, Michelle Pfeiffer & Cher. It works as well as a musical, though the first half is a touch too long. Bored housewives Alexandra, Jane & Sukie get more than they bargained for when devil-like Daryl Van Horne arrives in suburban New England to spice up their lives and wreak havoc on the conservative community. Local do-gooder Felicia and her sometime philandering husband Clyde become casualties, leaving daughter Jennifer (Alexandra’s son Michael’s estranged girlfriend) exposed to the advances of Daryl now that he’s bored with the trio he’s been bedding.

It’s done in the now customary Watermill actor-musician style and it’s exceptionally well cast. Poppy Tierney, Joanna Hickman and Tiffany Graves are a fine trio of ‘witches’ and Alex Bourne makes a great ‘devil’. Rosemary Ashe reprises her world premiere role as Felicia and though her singing is sometimes too ‘operatic’, her ability to regurgitate anything and everything is impressive! Tom Rogers’ design takes your breath away; he brings American suburbia to a converted 19th century Berkshire mill with a grey clapboard house and beds and bars that emerge from nowhere.

This is Craig Revel Horwood’s sixth Watermill show and his staging and choreography is as witty and playful as ever. I felt it was a bit crowded and loud (with inaudible lyrics) occasionally, and there’s so much going on it takes a while to settle, but by the second half its steaming (in more ways than one). There aren’t that many musical black comedies, and it’s well adapted for the form, even if it isn’t that memorable a score. Still, a good enough reason for the annual pilgrimage to Newbury and to be recommended.

 

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