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Posts Tagged ‘Rebecca Caine’

American writer / composer Dave Malloy is rather prolific – sixteen shows in the last sixteen years – though I think this is the first we’ve seen here in London; not even his multiple Tony award winning Natasha, Pierre & the Great Comet of 1812 has crossed the Atlantic yet. This original and inventive work is subtitled A Musical Fantasia Set In The Hypnotised Mind Of Sergei Rachmaninoff, which seems like a good opener for a review!

It takes place towards the end of the three year period of depression which followed the negative reaction to Rachmaninoff’s first symphony in 1897, when he was just 24. He’s visited hypnotherapist Dahl throughout and the show uses these sessions as a starting point for tangential leaps into scenes with his wife Natalya, opera singer friend Chaliapin and a host of famous Russians including Chekhov, Tchaikovsky, Tolstoy, Glazunov and Czar Nicholas II.

I liked the idea of having two Rachmaninoff’s, one sitting at the piano playing his music and the other wild and boyish, a bit like Mozart in Amadeus, flitting between scenes expressing what’s inside his head; inner and outer characters. There are original songs, Rachmaninov pieces and hybrids. Even though it’s set in 1900, there are modern references and language which I didn’t think worked particularly well. I did like the idea of having the two keyboard players onstage, Billy Bullivant and MD Jordan Li-Smith, who sounded great.

It’s a rather surreal cocktail which by the interval hadn’t convinced me. The first half closing song, Natalya, and the second half opener, Loop, lifted it, and from then on it was a lot better, and it is a unique piece. Though I have reservations about the material, particularly its structure and unevenness, I have none about Alex Sutton’s excellent production. The design team have done a particularly fine job – Rebecca Brower’s set & costumes, Christopher Nairne’s lighting and Andrew Johnson’s sound – and Ste Clough’s choreography is great.

Tom Noyes as Rachmaninoff the pianist makes a sensational professional debut, playing brilliantly throughout, and singing beautifully in the closing number. Keith Ramsey is terrific as Rach, athletic and manic, on stage for most of the show. They have superb support from Rebecca Caine as Dahl, Georgia Louise as Natalya, Norton James as Chaliapan and Steven Serlin as The Master, the Russian famous five.

It’s whetted my appetite to see more of Malloy’s work, which won’t take long as, like the proverbial bus, another one comes along next month when Ghost Quartet opens the new Boulevard Theatre.

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The 1971 film was a flop, as was the 1980 English language stage adaptation, though the film went on to become a cult hit and turned a profit twelve years later. There was also a French TV adaptation, which itself was adapted for the stage in Canada. It’s been described as a romantic black comedy, the romance being between an eighteen year old boy, with a bit of an obsession about death, and an eccentric 79-year-old woman.

Harold lives with his widowed mother in middle-class American suburbia. She’s a social climber who is set on finding Harold a wife using computer dating. He stages fake suicides and attends real funerals where he meets Maude, an Austrian Countess who lives a Bohemian lifestyle seemingly without money. Cautious at first, Harold is drawn in by her infectious love of life and they become good friends. After rejecting the three suitors his mother introduces, he realises Maude is the love of his life and plans to propose at the 80th birthday party he is planning for her, but she has other plans.

Michael Bruce has added musical accompaniment which the actors play live on instruments including double -bass, cello and accordion, in character, just like those actor-musician musicals, though it isn’t a musical. It gives it the feel of one of those charming French films. Francis O’Conner’s set has an equally lovely other-worldly quality and Jonathan Lipman’s costumes are a delight, Harold in seventies style, Maude in Bohemiana and Harold’s mother power dressed.

Sheila Hancock is perfectly cast as Maude, a beautifully judged, delicate performance, as light as air. Bill Milner’s transition from existential angst to love-struck teen is navigated superbly, with real chemistry with Hancock. Rebecca Caine is excellent as the controlling mother and Joanna Hickman is a delight as all three suitors. in an outstanding supporting cast, Samuel Townsend makes a great seal, as well as a cop.

Thom Southerland’s production is as quirky as the material, which is a touch absurd, a bit surreal, but rather captivating. I wasn’t entirely sold on the story but it’s hard to imagine a better production or better performances. Well worth a visit.

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The history of this 45-year old show is fascinating. Written by Jules Styne no less, based on an Arnold Bennett book and with Vincent Price & Patricia Routledge leading the original cast, it lost three directors and five librettists en route to Broadway. It closed after a month, though it won a ‘posthumous’ Tony for Routledge.

In this British premiere at the enterprising Union Theatre, it proves to be deeply old-fashioned, but I did succumb to its charms and the opportunity to see it is very welcome. Despite being a big musicals ‘name’, this was one of a lot of Styne shows this musicals lover had never even heard of – some 80% of what he actually wrote!

When a valet dies, the doctor certifying his death thinks he’s Priam Farll, his famous artist employer. At first protesting, Farll soon sees this as a welcome opportunity for anonymity. He marries the valet’s intended (Alice Challice!) and settles in Putney, a part of London seemingly inhabited by chirpy cockneys (!), which is maybe why I kept comparing it with Me & My Girl. Art dealer Clive Oxford and art collector Lady Vale continue to exploit Farll, whose value soars as he is buried in Westminster Abbey and posthumously knighted.

It’s all rather daft, with a somewhat preposterous relationship between Priam & Alice sitting alongside a more plausible satire on the art world. Even The King makes an appearance! The music is a bit sweet for a contemporary audience, though its amusing lyrically (who can resist rhyming museum with dream and lucky with duckie!). Yet, somehow it does win you over – perhaps because Paul Foster’s production has its tongue in its cheek and the cast clearly having a lot of fun is rather infectious.

The two leading ladies, Katy Secombe and Rebecca Caine, are in fine voice. The leading men, James Dinsmore and Michael Hobbs, less so – but it doesn’t really matter. The ensemble is excellent, which makes both the choruses and Matt Flint’s sprightly dances great. In addition to two Secombe’s (brother Andy plays a handful of key roles, including the deceased), there’s a dead ringer for Robbie Williams – Will Keith.

In the first few minutes, I wasn’t convinced I’d make it to the end, but it did win me over. I suspect it might be another 45 years before London sees it again, but I’m glad I did. Now I’m wondering what the other 20 I’ve never heard of are like!

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