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Posts Tagged ‘Robbie O’Reilly’

This is the first of three new British musicals in less than a week. They are a rare species, but when they come they’re like buses. This is a great start to the trio, a big show for the fringe, and what impressed me most about it was the exceptional score, with particularly good choruses that are staged as well as they are sung. I suspect this won’t be the last we’ll see of it, but you should check out this first production which is way beyond fringe expectations and a highlight even for the Landor.

It’s an adult fairy tale set in fictitious Spindlewood some time in the past where the clockmaker, a widower, has created a clockwork woman, Constance, as a companion. She learns quickly and soon leaves her maker’s home to taste life in the town, where she sees the ruination of the mayor’s son’s fiancé’s wedding dress and creates a replacement that’s a whole lot better. This brings work, offers of jobs and the disdain of Ma’ Riley, the town’s dressmaker, compounded by the fact her son Will falls for Constance – but he’s not the only one. She’s initially made very welcome, but when her mechanical nature is revealed, the town turns on her and a witch-hunt begins, which brings in a moral theme of accepting difference. It’s cleverly framed by scenes in the present day which give it a pleasing structure.

David Shields’ design and Richard Lambert’s lighting and projections are outstanding and director Robert McWhir marshals his 20 strong cast in the limited Landor space impeccably, with great choreography from regular collaborator Robbie O’Reilly. Michael Webborn’s score really is excellent, with hints of folk and a touch of Irish about it. It’s jam-packed with lovely melodies and lots of uplifting choruses that risk taking the roof off this small theatre. I loved the orchestration for piano, double bass, violin and percussion and Michael and his band play it superbly. It’s another excellent Landor ensemble, with a particularly fine performance from Alan McHale as Constance’s love interest Will and a charming cameo from Max Abraham as Sam.

Most new musicals are chamber pieces, so it’s great to see something on this scale. Yet another feather in the Landor’s cap. Don’t miss.

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In a famous ‘life imitates art’ moment, the leading lady and leading man of the 1994 West End production of this romantic comedy – Ruthie Henshall & John Gordon Sinclair – became an item during its run. I was a bit underwhelmed by the show then and it wasn’t until last night that I realised why. It’s really a chamber piece that’s so much more at home in the Landor than the Savoy, and here it gets a charming, sweet production.

Before its stage musical adaptation in 1963, Hungarian Miklos Laszio’s play had two film adaptations, one with music, and had another – You’ve Got Mail – 35 years after that. Jerry Bock, who wrote the music, and Sheldon Harnick, the lyricist, had done three shows together, but this was the one that made them. One year later they wrote Fiddler On the Roof, and never topped that again. It’s a love story about a shop manager and one of his staff who don’t realise they are pen pals, spending their days sniping at one another and their evenings pouring their hearts out in writing to their ‘Dear friend’. The show is filled out with the story of the shop owner and his wife’s affairs, the playboy shop assistant and his flings, the teenage delivery boy’s ambitions and other shop assistant’s family life and love life.

Designer David Shields has created a lovely 30’s Budapest parfumerie, with excellent period costumes. It fits the Landor like a glove and you feel like you’re in the shop. The leading roles are brilliantly cast (that man Newsome again). Charlotte Jaconelli has a very strong voice (and manages to sing well whilst being carried on another character’s shoulders!) and there’s real chemistry with the excellent John Sandberg as Georg (life imitates art again?!). Matthew Wellman and Emily Lynne, both new to me,  were very strong as Kodaly and Ilona, the former in fine voice, with the right measure of sleaze, and the latter providing one of the second act’s highlights with A Trip to the Library. I very much liked David Herzog’s interpretation of Sipos, an important but somewhat underwritten role. Joshua LeClair is an extraordinarily believable delivery boy, with bucketloads of charm. At the other end of the scale, it’s good to see Landor regular Ian Dring with a great characterisation of Maraczek the shop owner. Director Robert McWhir and his regular choreographer Robbie O’Reilly deliver the Landor’s usual fine staging, with a particularly masterly staging of Twelve Days of Christmas.

The show isn’t a classic, the first half is a bit long, and it’s a touch too sweet for my taste, but this delightful production in an intimate space is just about as good as it could get and shouldn’t be missed…..and it’s Valentines Day!

 

 

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Late to the party because of my travels, but oh what a party. The Landor enters its 21st year with a huge hit and one of their very best productions ever.

This show by Pajama Game writers Adler & Ross (and just about the only other show of theirs that’s still produced) is daft but fun. Joe Boyd sells his soul to the devil in exchange for the opportunity to become the much younger Joe Hardy and join his ailing baseball team, the Washington Senators, to rescue them. He’s wise enough to negotiate a get-out clause saving him from hell if he returns by a specific date, but this proves to be before the final game of the season. His wife doesn’t know where he’s gone, but seems confident he’ll return. The team think he’s just a lucky find, an unknown from Hannibal MO. The score is very good and includes the classics  (You gotta have) Heart & Whatever Lola Wants, both of which have had a life outside the show.

We move between the baseball, with the Senators beginning to win again and the end of season pennant looking possible once more, life back at Joe’s family home with his wife Meg and her sister and friends, where his younger alter ego checks in as a lodger (unrecognised), and with Satan (AKA Mr Applegate) and his side-kick Lola and their determination to win his soul. Preposterous maybe, but it’s a set-up which provides the framework for much fun and this is a terrific Robert McWhir production with high energy, brilliant comedy and excellent musical standards. Robbie O’Reilly’s sporty, athletic choreography fills the space and thrills. The solo vocals and exceptional and the choruses rousing under Michael Webborn’s musical direction and fine piano-bass-drums trio.

When you enter a theatre knowing one of the leads is off, you usually groan with disappointment. For some reason I didn’t on this occasion, perhaps because of the front of house staff assurances or maybe more prophetically, because the understudy as Joe Hardy, Barnaby Hughes, was simply sensational. It’s ever so rare to see such faultless cover – word perfect, note perfect, owning the role from the off; a most auspicious professional debut. Jonathan D Ellis is an oily, camp Satan with a brilliant assistant in Poppy Tierney as Lola. His ad libs and audience engagement are a hoot and she sings and moves oozing sex. The supporting cast, most new to the Landor and many recent graduates, are outstanding (that Benjamin Newsome casting, again!).

I can’t praise this show highly enough. A triumph, even on the Landor scale.

 

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The Landor’s 2013 hat-trick of hits is about to become a quartet. Jeff Bowen & Hunter Bell were writing a last-minute entry for the 2000 New York Musical Theatre Festival, but without a subject, concept or even an idea, they ended up writing a show about writing a show and named it after the appropriate section on the application form. The big surprise is that it makes a delightful, funny, feelgood show.

It’s staged in a rehearsal room with just four chairs, but complete with notice board and coffee table. In a series of short scenes, phone conversations and messages, they recruit actor friends Heidi & Susan and try out their songs and scenes as, well, songs and scenes, and we watch the show evolve. The dialogue is very sharp, the lyrics very witty and the songs very chirpy! After they submit the show and get invited to produce it, it continues to evolve as it moves off-Broadway and on to Broadway. You might expect this to be a bit glib and cheesy, but it isn’t; it has so much charm and the smile hardly ever left my face.

The faultless quintet of performers (the Landor’s regular MD & pianist Michael Webborn gets his big acting break!) are terrific. Scott Garnham & Simon Bailey have great chemistry as the writing partners (played by the writers themselves in NYC), playing off each other brilliantly. Sophia Ragavelas & Sarah Galbraith provide the perfect foils and with the boys make a great foursome. Mr Webborn’s occasional interjections are a hoot. Director Robert McWhir and choreographer Robbie O’Reilly stage this so slickly you believe it’s all being made up before your eyes.

Just when you thought you’d tired of American four-hander chamber musicals, along comes this unmissable treat!

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This is the second time The Landor have staged this unique show about American songwriter Ed Kleban. I’m not sure any other theatre in the UK has staged it even once. Given Kleban was the lyricist of A Chorus Line, which has just been revived at The Palladium, the Landor’s timing is impeccable. Frankly, I think it’s a much better show!

The deceased Kleban arrives at the Schubert Theatre in New York, where A Chorus Line is still running, for his own memorial (brilliant entrance!). The eulogies of his friends take us in flashback to various periods of his life from a mental institution in his late teens to his songwriting classes to Columbia Records, where he was a producer, to the rehearsal room of the only show that he would be remembered for. It’s a life full of anxiety and low self-confidence. The characters are real life people like Marvin Hamlish and Michael Bennett, composer and director respectively of A Chorus Line, and Lehman Engel, the leader of the songwriting workshop.

When he died of cancer, he willed his songs to his friends and fourteen years later they were incorporated into this show about his life. When you hear them, you cannot understand why he hadn’t had a string of hit shows. They are particularly strong lyrically, sharp and witty and in some ways Sondheimesque. When you hear his story though, you can see why he didn’t succeed – his insecurity and fragility getting in the way. It’s a bitter-sweet show which captivated me.

Director Robert McWhir has again assembled a fine cast led by a hugely impressive performance as Kleban by John Barr. McWhir’s staging and Robbie O’Reilly’s nimble choreography are outstanding. James Cleeve’s band play the score beautifully. It gets a touch too sentimental in the end, as American musicals have a habit of doing, but it’s absolutely not to be  missed.

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The Landor Theatre continues its roll with this revival of the American updating of one of Gilbert & Sullivan’s most poplar operettas. It’s a pretty bonkers idea really, but in this production it works, largely because the stage is teeming with talent, energy and enthusiasm that just sweeps you away.

The only previous production I’ve seen was the Watermill actor-musician touring version at Kingston three years ago – I blogged at the time that I found it pointless and it left me cold (https://garethjames.wordpress.com/2009/09/27/hot-mikado) so Robert McWhir’s production has really turned me around. He’s staged it as a 30’s(ish) US radio show, though in the second half this is more in the background. The story is intact, it’s still set in Japan, but the dialogue is modern and the music is adapted to a range of contemporary styles like swing and be-bop.

Robbie O’Reilly’s choreography makes good use of the small space and Richard Lambert’s lighting turns a simple design into something elegant and period perfect. The musical standards are what make this production shine, though. Michael Webborn has a trio rather than a big band but they know how to swing. There are some excellent vocals in both choruses and solos. Mark Daley and Victoria Farley are lovely as romantic leads Nanki-Poo and Yum-Yum, Nathanial Morrison is an excellent Poo-Bah (chief high everything) and Ian Mowatt provided much of the comedy as Ko-Ko the hapless executioner. Piers Bate, who impressed me as Leo Bloom at Arts Ed earlier in the year (https://garethjames.wordpress.com/1012/01/30/the-producers) stood out in the smaller roles. It is an exceptional ensemble who sing and dance their hearts out.

You’re unlikely to see a better production and you have two more weeks to find out why!

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