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Posts Tagged ‘Robert Scott’

This is the first time I’ve seen a ‘big’ production of this Jerry Herman ‘problem’ musical and now I’m struggling to understand what the problem is. Fascinating true life story. Good book (revised by Francine Pascal, the original writer Michael Stewart’s sister). Great songs. I loved it.

The story is framed by scenes where silent movie maker Mack Sennett looks back at his relationship with his leading lady, and love of his life, Mabel Normand. We flash back to learn that he discovered her when she delivered food to his film set (I think this is a departure from the real life story for dramatic purposes) and she immediately begins a successful but punishing career making several ‘two reel’ movies a week. Sennett is forever innovating then milking his ideas – pie-in-the-face, bathing beauties, keystone cops etc. He’s an uncompromising slave-driver who’s ego and pride mean he eventually loses her, and just about everyone else, though he does get her back – but by now she’s lost to drink and drugs. The onset of talkies puts an end to his career as he can’t / won’t embrace the change.

There are only 12 songs but every one is a winner. The overture is terrific, and the opening scene is thrilling, as Mack is surrounded by three screens with his films projected onto them. The screens drop and he turns on the deserted studio lights and we’re back filming a movie, starting our chronological journey forward. The pace doesn’t let up as it moves between New York and Hollywood. Train journeys and boarding a liner are superbly created using projections. There are great set pieces filming movies, stunningly staged keystone cop chases, bathing beauty scenes and a show-stopping tap dance routine. It’s great when it fills the stage but it works well too in more intimate scenes.

Jonathan Church’s production is terrific, with classic period choreography by Stephen Mear. They’ve even brought in those Spymonkey boys to get the physical comedy right. Robert Jones set is excellent, enabling speedy scene changes, with Jon Driscoll’s projections and Howard Harrison’s lighting well integrated. Robert Scott’s big band sounds even bigger than fifteen and the ensemble is as fine as they come. This is the third consecutive role in twice as many tears that Michael Ball has made his own – Mack follows his Olivier award winning Sweeney and Edna! – in what appears to be a mid / late career high. I don’t know why Chichester have, like they did for Barnum, had to import a leading actor from the US again but Rebecca LaChance is indeed very good. Anna Jane Casey, herself a Mabel at the Watermill Newbury (replaced by Janine Dee when it got to the West End) almost steals the show as Lottie.

For me, this up there with the best shows the ‘National Theatre of Musicals’ has done and deserves to follow the others to the West End, if only to prove that either there was never a problem or the problem is solved. I’d certainly go again.

 

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This was written for the screen in 1952 and didn’t get staged until 1983 – and in London (Tommy Steele & Roy Castle!), not Broadway. There was a terrific production by Jude Kelly at the NT (from West Yorkshire Playhouse) in 2000 and another at Sadler’s Wells (from Leicester), also with Adam Cooper, in 2004. This is the 2011 Chichester Festival Theatre production transferred to the Palace Theatre and I’m coming to it 7 months late!

Set at the outset of the talkies, it tells the story of silent screen couple Lockwood & Lamont. Lina Lamont is fine when she isn’t talking or singing; so for her the talkies will be a disaster (not that she sees it that way). She’s dubbed by Lockwood’s real love interest Kathy but is exposed when she becomes too big for her boots.

It takes a long while to take off, but when it does the set pieces (most in the second half) are glorious. In addition to the very wet tile number at the end of each half (we escaped, but only just, in the 7th row of the stalls) there’s the delightful trio Good Morning and the brilliant Broadway Ballet. Simon Higlett’s grey design is transformed as it gets splashed with colourful costumes and the neon of Broadway. Andrew Wright’s choreography is exceptional – fresh and sprightly. For a musicals novice, director Jonathan Church has done a good job!

It’s been great watching Adam Cooper’s transition from ballet to musical theatre and he’s really at home here, one-third of an outstanding trio of leads that also includes an impressive Daniel Crossley and the now mandatory Strallen – this time Scarlett. I’m afraid I thought Katherine Kinglsey pushed Lina’s whining and screeching way too far in a performance that wasn’t so much over the top as on the other side altogether. Robert Scott’s 13-piece band sounded a lot more than that and gave the score a real big band treatment.

This isn’t Broadway / Hollywood’s finest, but it’s a great production and a fun night out – definitely deserving of its transfer.

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