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Posts Tagged ‘Sarah Galbraith’

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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I revisited this 1986 show a couple of years ago when Craig Revel Horwood, who had by then taken over John Doyle’s mantle as the master of actor-musician musicals at the Watermill Newbury, directed a touring version. This is what I thought of it https://garethjames.wordpress.com/2011/03/13/chess  – more like a staged concert and a bit X-Factor. Still not sure whether it was the production or the show, I couldn’t resist seeing it at fave haunt The Union Theatre where it appears to be their hottest ticket ever as it sold out before opening (the show clearly has its fan base, as the 2008 Royal Albert hall concert showed). 

Almost everything that was wrong about the touring production is right about this production. The design is a simple, elegant and effective and the sound is great. The production values are as good as they’ve ever been at the Union with more lights than you’d need for the average rock concert. It is mostly performed in a square space in front of an audience on three sides and a raised platform on the fourth above and to the side of which we have floating chess squares. It does look a bit cramped when all 16 performers occupy the square, but the space is nevertheless used well.

The ladies fare better than the men. I loved both Sarah Galbraith’s Florence and Natasha J Barnes’ Svetlana (though she was prone to the occasional screech) and Gillian Kilpatrick’s sinister Molokova is excellent. Nadim Naaman is very good as Anatoly, but I’m afraid Tim Oxbrow’s Freddie was vocally harsh and Craig Rhys Barlow’s voice too weak for The Arbiter.

As to the show, well I’m afraid I feel the same as I did last time. The story didn’t engage me emotionally or intellectually, the music’s OK but only OK and at 2h40 mins it outstays its welcome by at least 20 minutes. So, an impressive production by a team new to the Union, but a show that hasn’t passed the test of time and now needs to be packed in the ‘old musicals’ box and returned to the attic.

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Yet another Broadway flop becomes a London fringe hit – at the Union Theatre, where this time the capacity audience is just twice the size of the cast and band. Yet another minor Kander & Ebb – the third this year after Flora the Red Menace and Curtains; this one’s a European Premiere too.

They’re in They Shoot Horses, Don’t They territory here – the world of dance marathons. They could go on for weeks, despite the fact they only got 15 minutes break every hour. They were the X-Factor of their day – people desperate for fame, dancing for money, sponsorship and showcases. Along the way, they picked up coins thrown by spectators (as we did last night!) before they became exhausted, some also hallucinating.

This particular story sees MC Mick Hamilton colluding with his (secret) wife Rita Racine to not just win but also get precious exposure with a fake wedding. With no partner minutes before the start, she ends up with airman Bill Kelly. The trouble is she falls for him, Mick pushes her too far and, oh yes, he’s actually dead. I’m not sure if I was supposed to know he was in limbo from the start, but I only got it at the end and that’s where the show failed for me – a daft idea that just doesn’t work. It’s a fairly pedestrian score too, so on the whole not great material for a hit show.

The traverse staging with ballroom stage at one end makes for a lot of poor sight lines (those four pillars all getting in the way this time) but despite this David Shields art deco design with swing doors at the opposite end of the silver draped stage (and art deco touches to the pillars) is superb. There’s too little space for a show that’s all about dance, but despite this Richard Jones’ choreography is sensational. MD Angharad Sanders only has a five-piece band but despite this they make a terrific sound.

Above all, though, it’s the outstanding ensemble that take this unpromising material and make it something special. The four leads are excellent (three real Americans amongst them!) with Ian Knaur as lying cheating bullying Mick, Sarah Galbraith as his put-upon wife, Jay Rincon as her (sadly dead) love interest and most of all Aimie Atkinson’s Shelby Stevens, who brings the house down with her showstopper Everybody’s Girl.

I’m beginning to think that in the right space with a crack creative team and a premiere league cast and band, you can turn just about anything into a hit. Producer and director Paul Taylor-Mills certainly has with this one.

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