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Posts Tagged ‘Rogers & Hammerstein’

This is the second production of this show at Chichester in a decade. Given there have only been two in the West End (originating in Leicester in 1980 and the NT in 1998) in the 70 or so years since it’s UK premiere, that’s quite something. Is there some affinity between Sussex and the state of Oklahoma that I’ve missed?

It was the first of of eleven collaborations between Rogers and Hammerstein during their sixteen years writing together, including the more frequently revived Carousel, South Pacific The King & I and The Sound of Music. It was ground-breaking in so many ways, but now we can look back on their whole career it seems to have somewhat less depth than what followed. Still, how can you resist a hoe-down with some cowboys and their gals and tunes like Oh, What a Beautiful Mornin’, The Surrey with the Fringe on Top and the title song, and what other show can boast a song that became a state anthem.

It’s really a simple love story revolving around whether the farmer or the cowboy wins the heart of young farm owner Laurey. Revivals have tended to emphasise the darker side of one suitor’s jealousy and disappointment leading to rage and violence, as they do here. The lack of native American characters or references is a bit glaring, given it’s set on the eve of the statehood of Oklahoma, created from their territory and reservations, but hey, this is 75-year-old musical theatre.

Robert Jones’ set, Brigitte Reiffenstuel’s costumes and Mark Henderson’s lighting combine to give it a terrific look, propelling you several thousand miles west and more than a hundred years back in time. There’s a windmill, giant barn doors and plenty of bales of straw. Matt Cole’s athletic choreography takes your breath away and the set pieces and dream ballet are thrilling. It’s a big fifteen piece Chichester band again, this time under MD Nigel Lilley, and they sound great. Director Jeremy Sams is the master at marshalling big resources and making something old feel as fresh as new, as he’s done with other R&H shows, and does again here.

Much of the success of the production is age appropriate casting of early career talent. Hoyle O’Grady, Amara Okereke and Emmanuel Kojo are terrific in the love triangle roles of Curly, Laurey & Jud respectively, all with fine vocals, which is the other key to the show’s success, in just about every role. Isaac Gryn and Bronte Barbe are fine too as the somewhat intellectually challenged Will and Ado Annie, and there’s a brilliantly funny cameo from Scott Karim, who makes much of the role of Ali Hakim, the Persian peddler who becomes intertwined with them.

As fine a revival as you could wish for. Given that it hasn’t has a West End outing for over twenty years, it would be good to see this one make the 70 mile journey north-east where I for one would be sure to see it again.

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To be honest, I’m not that fond of this show, but I’m very fond of GSMD’s end-of-year musicals, which combine West End production values with terrific young talent and the biggest and best orchestra you’ll ever hear playing for a musical, and this year is no exception.

By 1964, Rogers & Hammerstein had made it OK to write musicals on serious subjects and Jerry Bock, Sheldon Harnick & Joseph Stein chose the early 20th Century Russian pogroms for theirs. They’d done five shows before this, but this was their big hit, running on Broadway for almost ten years, in the West End for almost five, made into a successful film in 1971, with countless revivals since, including three in the West End. Though the political background is dark, the story of dairyman Tevye, his wife and five daughters in the village of Anatevka is light, and the contrast doesn’t work for me, with the latter smothering the former. Though there are four numbers in the show which have become standards, I find the score a bit too twee.

Whatever you think of the show, though, Martin Connor’s production is superb, with an excellent design by Adam Wiltshire, great choreography by Joanna Goodwin and a luxurious 28-piece orchestra which sounds glorious under MD Steven Edis. Another outstanding cast is led by Alex James-Cox as Tevye, a hugely impressive performance. I was looking at the news of last year’s graduates in the programme to find they’ve since been at Shakespeare’s Globe, the Old and Young Vic’s, Almeida, Bridge and Chichester theatres, two in the Harry Potter plays plus Game of Thrones and the BBC’s A Very English Scandal. That tells you something about the talent that awaits you at a GSMD show.

Can’t wait to see this lot in my future theatre-going.

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Though we’ve seen rarer Rogers & Hammerstein shows on the fringe (most recently Me & Juliet, State Fair & Pipe Dream), I’m not sure anyone has tackled one of the ‘Big 5’ before (Oklahoma!, South Pacific, The King & I, The Sound of Music and this). If I had been asked for my opinion, it would be unequivocal ‘avoid’ – these are big Broadway shows that require big resources and a big stage. WRONG! This is an absolute triumph.

This was only their second show, 70 years old next year. moving musical theatre into a new era of realism, with themes never before associated with the form. It’s packed full of wonderful music, but it all goes a bit awry in the second half when it becomes sweet, sickly and a bit preposterous at the gates of heaven. Not here, though, where it becomes a tense musical drama with a moving moral message. Luke Fredericks’ production has not only turned the sentimentality into pathos, but he’s made the ballet an integral part of the show.

Based on an early 20th century Hungarian play, this production has moved the setting forward 50 to 60 years to start around the time of the Great Depression, providing clearer motivation, and ending as the second world war ends (the year it was first staged), more appropriate for its hopeful, uplifting conclusion. Nothing else is changed, but it’s more intimate, involving and moving. Thankfully, I wasn’t the only emotional wreck at curtain call.

The musical standards are sky high. The unamplified voices have a purity to them and don’t have to compete with a largely unamplified band located above and behind. The use of flute, double bass and above all harp brings a beautiful new quality to the music – it’s amazing how much harp accompaniment transforms You’ll Never Walk Alone. Stewart Charlesworth’s design is a miracle of economy and a brilliant use of the space, with versatile mobile metal ‘arcs’, everything from washing to carnival banners to canopies raised high by pulleys and superbly evocative costumes. Lee Proud’s choreography is fresh and often brave and the second act ballet was thrilling.

It’s hard to talk about the performances with anything but a shower of superlatives. Gemma Sutton follows her sultry, sexy turn in Hackney Empire’s Blues in the Night with a wonderful sweet, naive Julie, with Vicki Lee Taylor matching her all the way as best friend Carrie. Tim Rogers brings more passion and a rougher edge to Billy, which makes the second act all the more heart-breaking. Amanda Minihan’s younger Hettie is more of a role model for the girls and the character seems more central in this setting. There isn’t a weak link in this cast, one any producer would die for.

This is the fourth time I’ve seen this show. The first three – NT, West End and most recently Opera North – were very good, but this intimate staging is something else altogether. I’ve seen and enjoyed producer Morphic Graffiti’s first two shows, but this propels them into the premiere league. Why on earth would you want to go to the West End when you can see a show this good for a third of the price?

Missing this makes any lover of musical theatre certifiable!

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This is the London premiere of a Rogers & Hammerstein show, one based on a John Steinbeck novel no less, for which we owe the Union Theatre a debt of gratitude. It came after Oklahoma, Carousel, South Pacific and The King & I but before The Sound of Music. It was a huge flop.

The setting brings together the world of a brothel, a man’s doss house and a marine biologist (!) in Monterey’s Cannery Row in California. New-girl-in-town Suzy is ‘adopted’ by brothel madam Fauna and a love story develops between Suzy and Doc, the marine biologist. That’s about it, really – and that’s its problem; an extraordinarily slight story. There are some nice tunes, but nowhere near enough to redeem what is in reality a turkey from the most unlikely of sources. How on earth did it even get to Broadway in 1955?!

Sasha Regan has done her best with such material, with an evocative setting by Elle-Rose Peake. The few choruses are stirring, with fine choreography by Lizzi Gee, and there are outstanding performances from Kieran Brown as Doc ad Virge Gilchrist as Fauna, and good turns in smaller roles from David Haydn and Nick Martland. My one quibble with the production is that the keyboard / percussion duo are musically underpowered.

Whatever you think of the show, though, it’s a must-see for musical theatre completists like me who want to see all of the work of the great masters, not just endless revivals of their hits like The Sound of Music, currently revived at the Open Air Theatre less than five years aft it closed at the London Paladium.

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Well, either this has improved immeasurably since opening or I’m easily pleased. Put off initially by the obscene ticket prices (top price £85 – 30% higher than any West End musical), then by the mediocre blogs and reviews and on arrival at the theatre by the £6 programme, things didn’t look promising…….but I absolutely loved it!

I’ve only seen the show twice before – in 1998 in the West End when Gemma Craven was a rather glib Nellie but Bertice Reading a terrific Bloody Mary and at the NT in 2001 when Philip Quast was an excellent Emile but John Napier’s designs and Matthew Bourne’s choreography were the stars. Neither was cast as well as this, where every role is well played and beautifully sung. The musical standards are particularly high with the orchestra playing the score so well both the overture and entr’acte were highlights in themselves.

Samantha Womack is a revelation – sweet-voiced and gorgeous, with an excellent American accent, riding Nellie’s emotional roller coaster superbly. Jason Howard (well, I think it was him – I refused to pay the £6 for the programme!) is excellent, with a lovely baritone voice that does full justice to the songs Rogers & Hammerstein wrote for Emile. Daniel Koek is a fine voiced, handsome Joe and Loretta Ables Sayre a darker Bloody Mary than we’re used to. Alex Fearns showed us his musical comedy credentials in the touring version of the Menier’s Little Shop of Horrors and he confirms them here with a brilliant characterisation as Billis.

In addition to its exceptional musical standards, where this production scores for me is on an emotional level. You really do engage with the characters, their novel situation and their love – it is often deeply moving. The show was way ahead of its time in the 50’s with a war setting and racism to the fore, and with such wonderful songs (and boy, what a score!) it’s easy to bury the issues in the palm trees and grass skirts. They’ve certainly not done that here and for me that’s the real success of Bartlett’s Sher’s production.

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Fringe powerhouse The Finborough Theatre and one-man musicals machine Thom Sutherland have teamed up again to give us another European premiere of a Rogers & Hammerstein show that proves to be even more of a delight than State Fair.

It’s got nothing to do with Shakespeare’s R&J; it’s a simple onstage-backstage love story, but you get a real baddie and a second love story for your money. Clearly it’s not in the Oklahoma / South Pacific league, but it’s a decent show and therefore astonishing that it’s taken 27 years to be seen here. It didn’t take long to sweep me away.

Designer Alex Marker has cleverly reversed the usual theatre configuration and integrated both audience and cast entrance doors and the spaces above them into the set. There’s some terrific staging, including scenes of the show-within-the-show lighting men from both above the stage and looking down from the stage which are inspired, and there’s a brilliant surprise entrance. The chorus numbers are delicious Busby Berkley miniatures staged with tongue slightly in cheek looking back 50 years very affectionately.

The singing and acting are first class. Laura Main and Robert Hands are great romantic leads. John Addison was so menacing he brought a believability to the bad-guy character which could easily have been a caricature.  Jodie Jacobs was so spot in every way she could have time-travelled from the 50’s for the evening. Dafydd Gwyn Howells (wonder where he’s from?!) and Anthony Wise also impressed as Company Manager and Lighting Man respectively. The musical standards are outstanding with MD Joseph Atkins alone playing the whole score on his upright piano.

Charming and irresistible, I hope that, like State Fair, it gets a second outing . We’re so lucky to have theatres like the Finborough, Landor and Union putting on musical productions of this quality and people like Thom Sutherland to present us with opportunities to see rare gems like this. I’d say GO GO GO, but it’s probably sold out by now!

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