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Posts Tagged ‘Richard Baker’

Not to be confused with the film of the same name, this 2004 Broadway musical has a heart-warming pedigree; it was written by Barri McPherson after she reconnected and took in Mark Schoenfeld, an old friend she found sleeping rough. Unsurprisingly, its love story is framed and told by a group of homeless street musicians.

American musician Taylor falls in love with Faith when in Paris, but returns to the US, leaving behind half a tune and a pregnant lover. When Faith dies her daughter, named Brooklyn after her dad’s home, goes to an orphanage where she learns to sing. Years later, a hugely successful star, she uses a visit to NYC to try and find her father, armed with the half tune.

The street setting and pop-rock score contrasts with a somewhat schmaltzy fairytale story; in this way it reminded me of Rent. Justin Williams’ urban wasteland design serves it well. I like the songs, played superbly by Richard Baker’s band, but more vocal restraint and less volume would have served the lyrics better. They were sung well, but more as pop songs than musical theatre numbers there to tell the story. That said, the five performers are all excellent.

It was a bit overblown for me. I think the material would have benefitted from more subtlety, though there was enough to enjoy and admire to reward the trip to Greenwich.

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If there was an award for the silliest plot of a musical, this would definitely be on the shortlist. Lynn Ahrens & Stephen Flaherty’s first show is about an English shoe salesman called Harry who will inherit $6m from his Uncle Tony as long as he takes his corpse on a holiday to Monte Carlo. As you can imagine, it’s a musical comedy, well musical farce, or perhaps farcical musical. Bonkers but fun.

It’s a bit more complicated because the inheritance is in diamonds and it has been stolen from his casino owner employer, in cahoots with the employer’s wife Rita, who is herself determined to get her hands on it. Oh, and there’s a dogs home representative watching carefully because if he doesn’t stick to every detail of the instructions, they cop the lot. Harry heads to Monte Carlo with the corpse, where he encounters Rita, accompanied by her optometrist brother Vincent, and Annabel from the dogs home who he falls for, and her him.

The chief strength if this production is the choruses, both in their singing and their staging; they are like quick-fire cartoon sequences and they take your breath away. Tom Elliot Reade is excellent as Harry, well paired with Natasha Hoeberigs as the equally meek Annabel. Natalie Moore-Williams makes a terrific job of Rita and Ian McCurrach gives a more playful take on the corpse than the first time I saw the show five years ago at the Landor (https://garethjames.wordpress.com/2012/02/12/lucky-stiff).

It’s actor Paul Callen’s first stab at directing, though he’s cut his teeth assisting, and a fine job he makes of it too. For once at the Union, there was a good balance between Richard Baker’s duo and the solo vocals, perhaps because they appear to have lost the bass player! Good fun, though the run is now over.

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This latest (last?) Stephen Sondheim musical has had a tortuous journey since it was first workshopped by Sam Mendes in New York City in 1999. First produced in Washington and Chicago (where I first saw it) in 2003, it re-appeared Off-Broadway in 2008 but never made The Great White Way. It started as Wise Guys before it became Gold!, Bounce and eventually Road Show. It’s not even five years since it’s UK premiere at The Menier Chocolate Factory (https://garethjames.wordpress.com/2011/07/15/road-show), but it’s good to see it again in this revival by Phil Willmott at the Union Theatre.

The show presents the story of the real life Mizner brothers. Younger brother Wilson was a serial entrepreneur / chancer / con-man and Addison a self-trained architect. Their adventures started with the Klondike Gold Rush in 1897, moved to New York City in its hey-day and ended with ground-breaking property development in Florida. In between, Wilson gambles, runs a saloon, becomes a boxing manager, writes plays, sells Latin American furniture, becomes a hotelier and marries a very rich widow. Addison’s journey was less colourful! In truth, in the show their story isn’t anywhere near as exciting and doesn’t make as good source material as any other Sondheim show, but compared to mere mortals it ain’t half bad. The score has too few proper songs and a bit too much ensemble sung dialogue / story, with a lot of melodies that seem familiar from other Sondheim shows.

Phil Willmott’s production is very effective, probably more so that the Menier’s traverse staging. The big two-way mirror at the back works really well and full use is made of the space, making it seem bigger than usual. I particularly liked Thomas Michal Voss’ choreography and Richard Baker’s trio does full justice to the complex, difficult score. The casting of the brothers is crucial to the success of this show and this is its trump card. Howard Jenkins and Andre Refig, both recent RAM graduates with fine vocal and acting skills, are terrific, conveying the completely different personalities, yet totally believable as brothers. The other three leads and ensemble of ten are all very good, but they carry the show.

I wasn’t sure we’d ever see this flawed but fascinating show again and I worried it might be soon to return to it, but I’m very glad I did.

 

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