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Posts Tagged ‘Rebecca McKinnis’

It’s only three months since I saw newcomer Sam Tutty in the British Theatre Academy’s production of Once On This Island at Southwark Playhouse (co-incidentally, Benj Pasak & Justin Paul’s other stage show Dogfight was in the same season) and here he is starring in this enthralling Broadway transfer of a musical with the unlikley themes of teenage anxiety & depression, parenting and the irony that social media has made us more connected but lonlier. Both he and the show are extraordinary.

Evan Hansen is a troubled teenager. His parents split up when he was seven and he lives with his mum, who spends most of her time working and studying to improve her and Evan’s lives. He suffers from anxiety for which he has medication and a therapist, who has set him the task of writing letters to himself to build his confidence and self-esteem. Fellow student Connor, himself a troubled teen who uses drugs to deal with his depression, bullies Evan, stealing one of these letters. When Connor commits suicide, his parents find and misinterpret this letter, which sets Evan on a series of lies that gets out of control.

He effectively invents a friendship with Connor, and initially this has positive impact on his confidence, proving to be better therapy than therapy, and brings comfort to Connor’s parents. Even his fantasy of a relationship with Connor’s sister Zoe becomes a reality. At school it’s more surreal as a grief bandwagon begins to roll, with people who hardly knew Connor inventing friendships. It goes viral with its own hashtag #youwillbefound and Evan becomes the de facto leader, spurred on by colleagues Alana and Jared, though the latter for more cynical reasons. Throughout all of this, his mother is oblivious. Then the truth comes out…….

You rarely see an actor invest so much into a role, but Sam Tutty’s neurotic, vulnerable, emotionally raw, authentic performance captures just about every heart in the theatre. There’s another auspicious professional debut from Lucy Anderson as Zoe, a much cooler, guarded, suspicious character. Jack Loxton is great as the more worldly wise Jared who can hardly believe all this emotional stuff, Nicole Raquel Dennis delightful as Alana, fully wrapped up in it, and a fine performance from Doug Colling as Connor, who we see briefly alive, but also in Evan’s head. The parents – Lauren Ward, Rebecca McKinnis & Rupert Young – are all excellent, each having their own revelatory journey.

The design, which relies heavily on projections, is simple, facilitating an organic flow for Michael Greif’s impeccable staging. The musical theatre form suits the story because musicals are good at conveying the emotional and Steven Levenson’s book and Pasek & Paul’s music and lyrics are seamlessly conjoined and produce something even deeper, addressing serious themes delicately but with humour and heart, leading to a hopeful conclusion. I loved every moment of it and left the theatre emotionally drained but exhilarated.

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Though I’ve seen most of Pedro Almodovar’s later films, I haven’t seen the one on which this musical is based, so I came to it cold. Sadly, I left it a bit cold too.

The story revolves around serial lover Ivan, his most recent Pepa, his ex Lucia and his new flame Paulina. Lucia is still pursuing him through the courts almost twenty years on and Paulina is her lawyer. Pepa is obtaining advice from Paulina for her neurotic model friend Candella who has come under the spell of terrorist Malik. Ivan & Lucia’s son Carlos is engaged to Marisa but takes a shine to Candella (like father, like son). It’s a quirky black comedy.

Most of David Yazbek’s songs have a Spanish flavour. They’re OK, but the score isn’t really good enough for a full-blown West End show. The narrative moves along apace and there are a fair few laughs, but it doesn’t fizz and sparkle. The biggest question for me is what is the point of a musical adaptation in the first place? It doesn’t seem to add or illuminate anything. It all seemed to be a bit flat and even though its in previews and beset by cast illness, it’s hard to see what could be done to breathe life into it. It flopped on Broadway four years ago, so what made them think they could turn that around here?

Both Tamsin Greig (Pepa) and Willemjin Verkaik (Paulina) were ill on the night I went, but their covers, Rebecca McKinnis and Holly James respectively, acquitted themselves well, so I don’t think that contributed to my disappointment. I was impressed most by Anna Skellern as Candella and Ricardo Afonso as Taxi Driver, a sort of narrator, and I liked Haydn Gwynne as Lucia. Michael Matus, a fine musical performer, is wasted in his small roles. Anthony Ward’s day glo two-tier set is fun and facilities speedy changes of location.

I didn’t dislike it, I wasn’t bored by it, but it didn’t capture my imagination and I left feeling indifferent I’m afraid.

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