Posts Tagged ‘Racky Plews’

This 2009 musical is an adaptation of 90’s US band Green Day’s 2004 comeback concept album of the same name, a ‘punk rock opera’ along the lines, conceptually, of The Who’s Tommy. I’m not a Green Day fan, but it’s clear you’d be hard pressed to find a better score for a rock musical. The original production, directed by Spring Awakening’s Michael Meyer, ran on Broadway for a year then toured the UK in 2012, ending with a short residency at Hammersmith Apollo, but this is its first proper West End outing.

It tells the story in song of three friends who leave home together. One turns back before the adventure has started when his girlfriend announces she’s pregnant. Another is seduced by the military en route and is soon heading for Iraq. Johnny continues his drug-fuelled adventure under the influence of St. Jimmy, falling in love with a girl called Whatshername. There’s next to no dialogue and the sound doesn’t allow all of the lyrics to get through, so if you’re unfamiliar with the music you struggle to fully comprehend the narrative, but it’s clearly an examination of the plight of the American youth post-09/11.

I thought The Arts Theatre might be too small for it, but it isn’t. Sara Perks grungy design, with excellent rock show lighting from Tim Deiling, makes great use of the space. This is a big gig for director / choreographer Racky Plews (who I will forever be grateful to for her wonderful Guys & Dolls Upstairs at the Gatehouse) and she does a terrific job. The four male leads are all great. Aaron Sidwell has huge charisma as Johnny. Alexis Gerred’s journey from punk to GI injured in war is very well played. Steve Rushton has the less ‘sexy’ role of stay-at-home Will, in which he acquits himself well. Lucas Rush plays the faustian St. Jimmy with just the right combination of danger and dark humour. Much has been made of the casting of X-Factor’s Amelia Lily, but it’s not a big role (particularly in the vocal department), though she performs it very well. There’s a great ensemble and a crack 4-piece band on the upper level.

I’m not a Green Day fan, but I was impressed by this. They need to work on the sound before opening night to make it less muddy and to make all of the lyrics fully audible. That done, I think this will be a hit and may well transfer after its three months at the Arts. Next month provides an opportunity to re-visit Tommy, the first rock opera, in Greenwich. I can’t wait.


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Well, you have to admire Phil Willmott’s ambition. The starting points for this musical are that the young soldiers in the trenches would have been brought up on Peter Pan and one of them was its creator J M Barrie’s adopted son George (who may have had a copy with him). Though set in the trenches, the show is in reality one long dream sequence involving Peter Pan and other characters from the book. Over-ambitious, perhaps?

There are some excellent songs and for me this is its greatest strength. They are, intentionally, in lots of styles, which didn’t really work for me as it made the show seem a bit of a musical ragbag. The dream includes Music Hall, Parisian clubs and a song about Jungian psychology of dreams (!) and though each were good on their own, they don’t make a cohesive whole. The choruses are particularly good, with the Act One closer a real high.

I liked the look of Philip Lindley’s set, with a Victorian wrought iron colonnade at the back and impressionistic trenches behind, but with this and the band on the left of the stage, it doesn’t leave much room for excellent choreographer Racky Plews to work with. The Finborough has looked less cramped before with more than twelve on stage. I suspect it will open out when it gets to Charing Cross Theatre.

There are some very good performances, most notably Joanna Woodward as Tinker Bell, though some of the less experienced cast members struggled a bit with the big demands of some of Willmott’s songs. I liked the keyboard / cello / clarinet arrangements and the three-piece band were well balanced with the cast.

Even though it was the night after press night it was only the fourth performance and it did feel like work-in-progress. At almost 2.5 hours, it doesn’t really sustain its length. It isn’t always a good idea for a writer to direct his own work; another director might have added some much needed criticality. It will no doubt improve and for once I think Charing Cross Theatre, though less intimate, may prove a better home for it. It’s probably too late to change much during this incarnation, but a rewrite might well bring out a very good musical that I felt was itself lost inside this.

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This is one of my Top Ten musicals and quite possibly the greatest musical comedy ever written, so I take every opportunity to see it. I think I’ve seen every London production in the last 30 years, some of them on multiple occasions. I was a little hesitant about this first(?) fringe outing though, as it’s a big show. I thought staging it Upstairs at the Gatehouse, though bigger than many fringe venues, was somewhat challenging. In the end I couldn’t resist and boy am I glad I didn’t!

What director Racky Plews, choreographer Lee Proud and designer Martin Thomas have done in this small space with a cast of 13, a 5-piece band and the budget of a small unfunded theatre is nothing short of miraculous. I have never enjoyed the show more and left the theatre on an extraordinary high. It came alive in the opening scene and never let go until we were shouting and cheering at the end (though we were also cheering during!).

Writers Jo Swerling and Abe Burrows were lucky enough to have Damon Runyon’s wonderful tales as a starting point. This world of loveable rogues & showgirls juxtaposed with the Salvation Army is made for musical comedy. The show links the stories of  naive showgirl Adelaide & marriage shy Nathan and gambler Sky & missionary Sarah. Nathan has to find a venue for his floating crap game and continue to avoid marriage to Adelaide (who’s told her mother they’ve been married for 12 years and have 5 children!) whilst Sky has to get a Salvation Army officer to dinner in Cuba to win a bet, then deliver 12 sinners to her mission to avoid its closure and win his girl.

Frank Loesser’s lyrics are sharp and funny and his score littered with so many classic songs. Some are showstoppers, notably Luck be a Lady and Sit Down, You’re Rocking the Boat  (when I went to a 1990 charity performance of Richard Eyre’s NT production, they had to sing this six times before the audience would stop applauding and cheering!) but here even lesser numbers become showstoppers such that you’re on a rollercoaster of fun that just doesn’t stop from start to finish.

The four leads are all superb and really well matched. Amy Bailey makes earnest Sarah’s transition to lovestruck believable and seemless. It doesn’t take long before you’ve fallen for Rebecca Sutherland’s squeaky Adelaide and her numbers with the Hot Box girls are delicious. Jamie Sampson has the right mix of cheeky swagger and charm as Sky and you know you’d have such fun if James Kermack’s hapless Nathan was your friend. They all sing and dance brilliantly.

In a faultless supporting cast, Jos Slovik (who’s been one-to-watch since Spring Awakening) is great as Benny and his duet with Patrick Rufey’s terrific Nicely Nicely in the title song has never been better in my experience. Connor Dowling gives Officer Brannigan a clever, more manic interpretation. Many of the cast double-up so well that I couldn”t always work out which ones were which. Time for another nod to a casting director – a gold star to Ri McDaid-Wren!

They’ve had to be very inventive to stage this so well in a small space with a small cast. The staging of the phone conversations is a hoot and the solution to the problem of delivering 12 souls to the mission (given that 4 of the cast of 13 are ‘missionaries’!) is inspired. There may not be much of an ‘ensemble’ for the Broadway and Havana scenes, but they still thrilled. We move from streets to clubs to missions to sewers swiftly, with some of the scene changes themselves choreographed.

This musical heaven cost 10p a minute – less than a quarter of a West End show and at least 4 times as good as most! There was a spring in my step and a smile on my face all the way down Highgate Hill. If I have a more enjoyable evening of musical theatre this year I shall be a lucky boy indeed.

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A musical based on Lorca’s intense and very Spanish tragedy was an enticing prospect. Michael John LaChiusa has created a 90 minute one-acter that’s every bit as intense as the play.

We’re in the home of Bernarda, her mother, five daughters and three servants shortly after the death of her husband. Three of the daughters are in love with offstage Pepe – one is betrothed to him, one is having an affair with him and the third just secretly in love with him. The problem with the show (and the play, if I remember correctly) is that it takes 80% of the time to set the scene and just 20% for the tragedy to unfold. There’s a lot of female latin emotion before you get to any action!

Hilary Statts has provided a highly effective design that looks and feels very much 30’s Spain. There’s a superb central performance from Beverley Klein as haridan Bernarda and a fine ensemble in which I was particularly impressed by Ellen O’Grady as housekeeper Poncia, Sophie Juge’s Augustias and Amelia Adams-Pearce as Adela. There’s some excellent choreography from Racky Plews and Katherine Hare’s staging is fine. The band, hidden behind a bank of seats, sounded as if they were in the room next door and much of the subtlety of the strings, guitar and mandolin was lost.

The problem is, I didn’t like the music and I didn’t really like the show! I found myself admiring the production, the acting and the singing, but I wasn’t at all involved with the story. It seems to me that if create a musical from a play, it must be for a reason; frankly, I find this adaptation a bit pointless. We have survived and could continue to survive perfectly well without a musical of Bernarda Alba and that’s the crux of it. I so wish they had found a better show to display such talent.

Of course, it could be another Parade (https://garethjames.wordpress.com/2011/09/05/parade), in which case I might be contradicting myself in 4 years time. Watch this space!

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Another impulsive evening which paid off; I’d hesitated about schlepping across London for something I thought might have dated – but how can a 21-year-old show set 25 years before that be dated? If anything, the mid-60’s are even cooler today than they were in the late 80’s when this show was first seen; maybe even cooler than the 60’s themselves!

The Heather Brothers musical has 29 short songs and a fairly flimsy story, but it’s what it says on the can – a slice of…. I wouldn’t want to defend them in a plagiarism action, as there are many very recognisable melodies, riffs and even whole songs, though I think this is intentional.

We’re in the Club-a-Go-Go, with a band at one end and a bar at the other. A revolve enables us to move to both the ladies and the gents where some of the funniest scenes are played out. Four boys (Rossano Canzio, Jon Hawkins, Adam Welsh and Robin Rayner) and four girls (Stephanie Ticknell-Smith, Nicola McQuillan, Lea Bourne and Natasha Barnes – another one from Spring Awakening popping up) on a Saturday night out are doing what boys and girls did on a Saturday night then as now – drinking, dancing, flirting and chatting up. Bar owner Eric (Jason Griffiths) presides over affairs.

Though I wasn’t entirely convinced that traverse staging was best, John Plews production is very good and Racky Plews choreography absolutely superb. The performances from a (mostly) young cast are uniformly excellent (four of them also taking turns to play in the band) and I find myself crediting a casting director for the second time this month – Amy O’Neill hasn’t put a foot wrong.

This is a delightful, nostalgic and charming show which lifted my day and sent me home smiling. Upstairs at the Gatehouse is a well run unsubsidised family theatre. Quite how they can stage work of this quality when a week of full houses probably brings in the same as 25% of one full house of a West End musical is beyond me, but long may they continue.

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