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Posts Tagged ‘Robert McWhir’

I’ve had a soft spot for this late show by the writers of Cabaret & Chicago since I saw the UK professional premiere at the much missed Landor Theatre in 2012, five years after it first hit Broadway. I’d seen a drama school production at GSMD two years before, when I was somewhat underwhelmed, but at the Landor, in Robert McWhir’s production, it shone, as it does here in Paul Fosters’ touring production on a way bigger scale which has just finished its short unscheduled Christmas visit to the West End and is back on tour in Wimbledon.

The show within the show is a Boston try-out for a musical adaptation of Robin Hood set in Kansas. At the curtain call, the leading lady dies and when Lieutenant Frank Cioffi arrives at the theatre, they learn that it was murder. As he’s concluded the killer must be one of them, everyone involved in the show is confined to the theatre whilst the investigation takes place. They continue to change and rehearse the show ready for Broadway, with the stage struck Lieutenant as involved in this as he is in the murder investigation. Add in a love story, the reunion of an estranged couple, the relationship between a starlet and her mother, a lot about the business of putting on a show and more deaths and you have a musical whodunnit.

I loved the way it moved seamlessly from show to investigation, with John Kandor’s score even better than I remembered, and very sharp and funny lines in Rupert Holmes book and Fred Ebb’s lyrics. It sits well on the huge Wimbledon stage given its a touring production that has to fit theatres of all shapes and sizes – Wimbledon is twice the size of it’s West End home. Alistair David’s choreography and Sarah Travis’ musical arrangements for Alex Beetschen’s excellent nine-piece band play a big part in the success of this production.

It’s superbly cast, led by Jason Manford who really suits the role of the Lieutenant, with the charm to pull off the stagestruck and lovestruck elements, good vocals, and he moves well. Not bad for someone relatively new to musical theatre. I loved Rebecca Lock as theatre producer Carmen Bernstein, clearly relishing her sharp-tongued character, being cruel to be kind to her daughter on the stage, and Samuel Holmes as the British director Christopher Belling whose sarcasm is a match for Carmen’s vitriol; between them they get all the best lines.

Rupert Holmes also wrote the book for The Mystery of Edwin Drood, the only other whodunnit musical I know. This one is much more successful and it’s great to see it 5 miles away from where I last saw it, in a theatre ten times the size. It’s now left London, but continues its tour for three more months. Catch it if you can.

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I didn’t see Jon Bradfield & Martin Hooper’s first show at the same venue last year, but this second musical comedy proves to be huge, infectious fun. It’s the story of a gay football team entering an international gay soccer tournament. As the title and subtitle, a musical with balls, suggest, it’s a gay romp.

New boy Joe, moving to London from the North West and leaving his boyfriend Charlie behind, joins the team of his Brazilian work colleague Will; their company are the team’s sponsors – one of their CSR initiatives. The other members are gentle giant Pete, their coach and former semi-professional player, Dom, Frazer, Liam and the outrageously camp Tayzr who learns of the tournament in Bilbao and persuades the others to enter.

In Bilbao they don’t take things too seriously, until they start winning. Joe reconnects with Charlie, who has a new rather possessive and clingy partner Marcus, Liam attempts to turn straight Norwegian Mathias, Pete meets a former semi-pro colleague Jase and goalie Tayzr continues his hedonistic lifestyle.

Bradfield has written some nice tunes, with witty lyrics, which MD Simon David plays gamely on solo piano. The small space is used to great effect in Robert McWhir’s sprightly staging (great to see him back after the demise of the Landor) with chirpy choreography by Carole Todd. It’s an excellent young cast who clearly love performing it, something which brings it to life and fills the auditorium with smiles.

Great fun.

 

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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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Perhaps I shouldn’t have seen this straight after a run of four musical comedies. It might be only 75 minutes, but it’s a dark affair. Unlike the Wildhorn-Bricusse Jekyll & Hyde musical, this is a three-hander chamber piece that’s less gothic and more introspective.

In seventeen scenes and eighteen songs we follow Jekyll, his fiancée Katherine, good-time girl Lizzie and of course Hyde from being booed by his peers to murder and consequential incarceration. With a book by Gary Young, the scenes and songs seem to change before they’ve been fully developed, leaving you with the impression of work-in-progress. It’s virtually sung through with a sub-operatic score by Tony Rees that left me a bit cold.

One can’t fault Robert McWhir’s production, though. Designer Martin Thomas has created a simple period feel with excellent lighting from Richard Lambert. With just cello for company, MD Matheson Bayley plays the score on piano from memory! The performances are all good – Dave Willetts no less as Jekyll / Hyde, Alexandra Fisher as Katherine & Jessie Lilley as Lizzie.

It was all a bit melodramatic and earnest for me, but maybe that’s because I was by now programmed to laugh!

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From Page to Stage is an excellent initiative promoting new musical theatre. For four weeks at the Landor they will put on two fully staged premieres, three ‘readings’ and a couple of showcase ‘concerts’. This is the first of the two premieres – a musical comedy thriller – and it’s huge fun.

Olivia Thompson (book, lyrics and gamely taking over the role of Verona!) & Chris Whitehead (music) have set their show in the 30’s at the birthday party of British film star Honey Quenelle (in a clever touch, designer Magdalena Iwanska has created eighteen period film posters featuring her). She’s walked out on her latest film and producer Stubby is determined to change her mind. The other guests Include jealous acting rival Verona, Honey’s ex Dickie and her new wife Farmonica, brother Monty and friends / colleagues Hilary & Margot. Butler Hugo and maid Mabel complete the picture.

The first half sets up a murder and the second unravels it in true farcical fashion. Things are not as they seem and it does become a bit convoluted as it progresses. It twists from being a whodunnit to a whodidntdoit and why. It’s a good score with a cocktail of musical styles and both the book and lyrics are very funny indeed. The writers are very lucky to have Robert McWhir direct and there are some inventive touches, including a prologue featuring a building on fire, guests arriving in three ‘cars’ and a blackout scene played with torches.

They are also lucky to have a cast of this quality and experience, assembled by Benjamin Newsome (again), including a delicious comic performance by Kate Brennan as Mabel and a glamorous leading lady in Amelia Adams-Pearce. The second half contains big numbers for Ian Mowat’s Stubby, Keiran Brown’s Hilary and Jenny Gayner’s Farmonica and they all rise to the occasion with gusto. Whitehead plays his own score on the piano, so there’s no hiding place for either composer or writer!

This is a very impressive first full scale musical. It does need a little work, and its running time cut from 2h40m (even the programme said 2h10m), but it must surely get a proper run outside From Page to Stage. Six performances just isn’t enough for such a good show. I can’t remember when I laughed so much at a musical.

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Well, they may have big budgets and people off the telly in that theatre north of the river where another musical comedy thriller adapted from a film, American Psycho, has just closed but there’s as much fun to be had with this one south of the river at The Landor.

First staged in 1987, based on William Goldman’s 1964 novel (as was the 1968 film), Douglas J Cohen’s show is about serial killer Christopher (Kit) Gill whose mother, a famous broadway actress, has recently died. Kit never lived up to her expectations and having failed to make it as an actor, he sets out on a mission to find fame through murder. DI Morris Brummell pursues him, as well as pursuing his new love interest, whilst trying to live up to his own mother’s expectations. Several deaths later, Kit gets his wish – the front page of the New York Times – but he doesn’t stop there.

It’s a clever little story, which has an excellent book without a wasted moment and a fine score with witty lyrics. It’s very funny at times, but also manages enough tension to justify the description comedy thriller. Robert McWhir’s staging is slick and nimble and he has assembled a superb cast. Nicholas Chave leads a fine 5-piece band with some distinctive orchestration involving woodwind and xylophone.

Simon Loughton is a suitably creepy master of disguise and Graham Mackay-Bruce an the archetypal NYC DI, both outstanding with particularly fine vocal performances. Judith Paris is simply wonderful playing both (living and dead) nagging mothers and all of Kit’s victims with a handful of frocks and wigs and some quick changes. Kelly Burke completes the foursome as Morris’ girlfriend, vying with the killer for Morris’ attentions.

2013 was a great year for the Landor and this is a great start to 2014. If you haven’t seen it, make sure you’re there in this last week

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It’s clever of the Landor Theatre to programme this at Christmas and, given it’s the UK premiere, a bit of a coup. A 1944 film musical, this stage adaptation didn’t appear until 1989. The timeliness is down to the fact that Christmas is the setting of the second act, it’s the first appearance of ‘Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas’ and it also features a Christmas carol and snatches of Auld Lange Syne.

It’s a fairly simple love story, set at the time of the St. Louis World Fair in 1904. The Smith family are rocked by the decision of dad Alonso to move to New York with his work; no-one else – his wife, grandpa, four daughters and a son – wants to go, particularly daughters Esther & Rose who are both in love with local boys. That’s about it, really, and that’s part of the problem with the show – it relies too much on schmaltz and sentimentality. It’s hard to fault Robert McWhir’s production, though.

It’s a good score, with a high ‘standard’ count, including the title song (reprised twice), The Boy Next Door (reprised once) and that well-known Christmas number. It’s all beautifully played by Michael Webborn’s quartet and the singing is lovely. Georgia Permutt is superb as daughter Esther, an auspicious professional debut if ever I saw one, and there’s a delightful performance as young Tootie by Rebecca Barry; a rather big part for a child actor.

It’s a little too sweet for my more savoury tastes, but it has to be seen and it’s the season for it!

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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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