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Posts Tagged ‘Randy Smartnick’

This is the 50th anniversary of the British premiere of this Broadway show by the team more famous for the longest running musical ever, The Fantasticks (42 years, 17,000 performances, I’ve never seen it!), Harvey Schmidt and Tom Jones (no relation!), with N Richard Nash adapting his own play. I don’t think it’s been seen here since, so another gold star to the Walthamstow team for the opportunity.

Set in the 30’s in South West USA, they’re desperate for rain. The Curry family is at the heart of the piece and they’re desperate for a man for plain Lizzie, in danger of remaining on the shelf. A chancer arrives claiming to be a rainmaker and Pa Curry gives him $100 to make it rain. Lizzie has returned from a trip where she failed to bag a man and her Pa and brothers Noah and Jimmy now set about matchmaking with their eyes on Sheriff File. The rainmaker needs no encouragement and woos Lizzie, which boosts her confidence and makes Fine realise what he’s missing, leaving Lizzie with a choice to make.

In the first half it’s a bit too light and a bit too sweet, but it gets more substantial after the interval, when Lizzie’s predicament is handled more seriously and sensitively, and ends well. Whatever you think of the show, though, it’s another fine production from the Walthamstow team. Joana Dias’ simple but evocative design comprises painted screens and a backdrop, with very good costumes. Randy Smartnick’s staging and Kate McPhee’s choreography use the space very well.

I liked all of the six leads. Christopher Lyne is the father who wants the best for his kids, David West the elder brother who’s a bit of a bully and Julian Quijano is simple Jimmy, who has no problem getting his girl Snookie, a lovely cameo from Rebecca Withers. Daniel Urch as rainmaker Starbuck (!) and Nick Wyschna are excellent as Lizzie’s love interest, but it’s Laurel Dougall’s show, with a pitch perfect Lizzie.

It isn’t a classic, and I can see why it isn’t revived, but there are some nice songs and this production does it proud, with limited resources on a small scale, and I’m very glad I got a chance to see it.

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There’s great fun to be had in Walthamstow again with this London premiere of a neglected 1950 Cole Porter show with a great score.

You can see why its neglected – it’s a bit of a daft story, based on a 2200 year old play by Roman playwright Plautus. Greek gods Jupiter and his son Mercury are intent on having fun at the expense of a newly married mortal couple. Mercury is sent to whisk Helen & Art away under the guise of a story for journo Art to pursue in Greece and get a honeymoon out of it. Jupiter just wants to bed Helen and his wife Juno wants to make mischief in cahoots with Niki Skolianos, the criminal subject of Art’s story. It might be preposterous, but it does provide the setting for a lot of fun, togas and sex romps!

It might not have Cole Porter standards in it – well, apart from From This Moment On, which was removed before the original (unsuccessful) Broadway run but has returned for subsequent productions – but it really is a very good score with very good lyrics, and the vocal standards here are outstanding. Cameron Bernard Jones has a rich operatic baritone as Jupiter. Hugo Joss Catton has great presence and cheekiness as Mercury to go with his fine vocals. Rhiannon Moushall is feisty as well as vocally assured. Ruth Betterbridge as Helen and Megan Gilmartin as Chloe both sing beautifully. Aaron Clingham’s four-piece again provide great accompaniment.

Designer Andrew Yon’s clever set includes some Corinthian columns, a pediment, balustrade and dais, but also manages to allow enough space for Kate McPhee and Katie Deacon’s excellent choreography. The former also designed the bright, colourful costumes. Randy Smartnick’s production has the same infectious sense of fun that his Superman had at the same venue.

The only other production in the UK I’m aware of was Martin Duncan’s in Chichester 12 years ago. It was good (with Anne Reid, no less, as Juno) but this is better sung, so a must for musical theatre lovers.

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This was the third musical comedy I’d seen in London in eight days. Top price tickets for the other two, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels and I Can’t Sing in the West End, are five times as much and though I enjoyed the other two, I can honestly say this was just as much fun. The belated UK premiere of Charles Strouse’s 1966 Broadway show (11 years before he wrote his big hit Annie) is a coup for Ye Olde Rose & Crown Theatre in Walthamstow, and yet another reason to justify this venue’s candidature for musical theatre indispensability.

The baddies in this particular Superman tale are atomic scientist Dr Abner Sedgwick, determined to destroy the world’s iconic goodie in revenge for the lack of respect of other scientists, and Max Mencken, a challenger for the affections of Lois. We also have five acrobatic Ling’s – Fan Po, Tai, Ding Ming Foo and father Ling! – brilliantly choreographed by Kate McPhee, when she wasn’t designing the costumes. Randy Smartnick, when he wasn’t directing, designed an inventive ‘cardboard cut-out’ set of panels that change to become the Daily Planet offices, Sedgwick’s laboratory and all other locations, with an air blower and a doll on a wire giving us flying sequences. The low budget is turned to an advantage by giving us production values to match the tongue-in-cheek tone of the parody.

It’a got some great songs and they are sung really well, accompanied by Aaron Clingham’s excellent quintet behind the stage. Craig Berry as Superman has a commanding presence, a kiss curl, an earnest look and a booming baritone voice. Matthew Ibbotson is a suitably manic baddie (and a dead ringer for The Book of Mormon’s Elder Cunningham, Jared Gertner) and Michelle LaFortune is a lovely Lois. Sarah Kennedy almost steals the show with a terrific performance as put-upon Sydney. There’s great energy and enthusiasm in the whole ensemble which was infectious.

Sadly the run is now over but if there’s any justice it’ll be back. Huge fun on a shoestring.

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I failed to get to Walthamstow for the first run of this All Star Productions show, so I was delighted when Walthamstow came to me – well, the Landor Theatre in Clapham, anyway. It’s 17 years since we last saw it in London, in a lovely production at the Orange Tree Theatre in Richmond, so it’s a great opportunity to take another look – and in a recession too; a time when it might resonate even more.

Kander and Ebb have of course two iconic shows in their back-catalogue – Cabaret and Chicago. This pre-dates both, a commercial flop when it opened on Broadway in 1965, though it did win a young Lisa Minnelli a Tony award. Not surprising in my book – a Broadway show about workers struggles and the communist party! This revised version hails from 1987. I’m not sure how much it changed, but it did get ‘framed’ by scenes of a workers theatre troupe putting on a show. Since I saw it last, I’ve seen Pins & Needles (revived at the now defunct Cock Tavern a couple of years ago) which I suspect is the only other Broadway show anything like it.

Flora is the catalyst in a co-operative / commune of struggling artists and crafts people in New York City. There’s a jeweller, a dressmaker, a pair of dancers and Harry, like Flora a textile designer. Harry wins the heart of Flora and also wins her for the Communist Party. When she gets a job in a big department store, she starts recruiting behind the backs of the management. Fellow party activist Charlotte seeks to lure Flora away from Harry and persuades the party to protest outside her employer’s store. The lives of 32 of Flora’s co-workers are jeopardized.

Kander and Ebb did select some unusual and brave themes for their shows and this is no exception, but it’s extraordinary that it got to Broadway as they weren’t established names at this point. It’s not a great show, but it is fascinating and there’s some great music and staging possibilities which director Randy Smartnick and choreographer Kate McPhee (doubling as costume designer) fully exploit. They’ve found lots of fun in the story without losing its sociopolitical essence.

There are great set pieces as Charlotte addresses the party, the dancers rehearse for their audition, the workers protest outside the store and a delightful Busby Berkley number to end the first act! Aaron Clingham’s musical direction is outstanding, as always, this time with just piano and double bass. The standard of singing is exceptional.

Heading a fine cast, Katy Baker is superb as Flora – feisty and passionate, yet lovable. This is her first musical; if she’s not in leading roles in the West End soon, I shall be very surprised – one of the most promising musical theatre debuts I’ve ever seen. Ellen Verenieks is excellent as Charlotte, as is Steven Sparling as a stuttering Harry. There wasn’t a fault in the supporting cast and they played to a sparce Sunday matinee audience as if it was opening night.

The Landor should be packed to the rafters, with queues for returns, for important musical theatre work of this quality. You have two more weeks to find out if you agree with me!

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