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Posts Tagged ‘Sarah Travis’

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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This and Follies (which I’m seeing again in three days time) haven’t been my favourite Sondheim shows – I’ve always considered them a bit conventional, even old-fashioned, in comparison with the rest of his work. Well, that was until Saturday. This is another musical theatre triumph for the Watermill in Newbury, unquestionably the best of the four staged productions of the show I’ve seen over 28 years. It looks gorgeous, it sounds great and it’s much wittier.

Based on Ingmar Bergman’s 1955 film Smiles of a Summer Night, it revolves around three generations of Armfeldt women – actress Desiree, her mother Leonora and daughter Fredrika. Desiree is away on tour much of the time, leaving Fredrika at home to hear her grandmother’s endless tales of liaisons with European nobles. Her ex Fredrik has a new child bride Anne, who he takes to one of her performances. Her current affair is with the pompous military dragoon Count Carl-Magnus. In the second half, they all meet at the Armfeldt home for a weekend house-party where Anne and the Count’s wife Charlotte plot, Fredrik clashes with Carl-Magnus and Fredrik’s son, trainee priest Henrik, declares his love for his step-mother. It all untangles before it ends with three happy couples and a death!

Musically, it’s one long waltz, more delightful here as the actor-musicians sometimes dance with their instruments, including cellos hooked around necks, some serving an additional purpose, such as Fredrik’s trumpet seeming to duel with Carl-Magnus’ clarinet. Watermill regular Sarah Travis has created outstanding arrangements, mostly using strings and woodwind, with the brilliant use of chimes. The book and lyrics shone like never before, much funnier than I remember. David Woodhead’s design is beautiful to look at, a brilliant evocation of time and place and a superb use of the Watermill space. Amongst its delights are the transformation from house to garden as the first half ends. I haven’t seen much of director Paul Foster’s work, but he does an absolutely splendid job here.

The cast is without a weak link. Josefina Gabrielle has great presence as Desiree, her regrets palpable and deeply moving in Send in the Clowns. Dillie Keane is a revelation as Madame Arnfeldt, with an extraordinary ability to convey things like contempt or cheekiness with facial expressions alone. I loved both Alastair Brookshaw and Alex Hammond as Fredrik and Carl-Magnus respectively, one towering over the other, both determined to win. Benedict Salter’s characterisation of Henrik was excellent. Phoebe Fildes as Charlotte transforms well from naive to vengeful, Lucy Keirl is every bit the nervous bride Anne and Tilly-Mae Millbrook is a delight as granddaughter Fredrika.

This may be the definitive revival. Two more weeks to go. Don’t miss it, Sondheim fans.

 

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I have to admit that I thought The Hired Man might be overambitious for NYMT, though on reflection I don’t know why as they’d done such a terrific job with Sweeney Todd four years ago. As it turned out it was thrilling and deeply moving in equal measure and an absolute triumph for this young company.

The Hired Man & I have been firm friends for thirty years now, but this is only the seventh staged production I’ve seen – though the third in as many years. Given WWI looms large in the second act the timing of this revival, in this 100th anniversary week of the outbreak of that war, is particularly poignant – something that wasn’t lost on an audience watching young people of a similar age perform last night.

Based on Melvyn Bragg’s epic novel of early 20th century Cumbrian life, we follow the Tallentire family from the land to the mines and the war and back to the land, with much tragedy along the way. It’s also a piece of social history, showing us the hirings of the title, where people bargained with potential employers, the horrors of mining & the beginnings of the union movement and of course the devastation of the first world war. The personal and social stories work seamlessly together and the show takes you on a captivating emotional journey.

Howard Goodall’s score is British through and through, with uplifting melodies and soaring choruses in keeping with both folk and choral traditions. With a cast of over 30, the choruses soared as well as they ever have and there were some lovely solo vocals too. MD Sarah Travis virtually invented the actor-musician approach and it works particularly well here, with a third of the cast doubling up. Dominic Harrison (17 years old!!!) brought great passion and energy to the lead part of John Tallentire and Amara Okereke (also 17!!!) as Emily sang beautifully. I loved Jacques Miche’s interpretation of Isaac and Will Sharma’s characterisation of Seth. Naomi Morris and Charlie Callaghan gave confident and moving performances as the Tallentire children, May and Harry – unlike most of the cast playing at or younger than their ages. Joe Eaton-Kent was an excellent Jackson and seemed way older than his 18 years.

So many of the scenes were handled well in Nikolai Foster’s superb staging, with very physical, muscular choreography from Nick Winston. Matthew Wright’s beautiful evocative set has a broken stone and grass ground, rising up through the hills to the sky. NYMT are lucky to have such a first class production team. The mine, the union meeting and the war scenes were particularly well staged. The St James space was opened up by removing the wings and the front two rows so even with a big cast there was plenty of room to move and for the show to breath.

Another wonderful production of this wonderful show and such an extraordinary achievement for a company in which only two have left their teens. Just two performances left and if you’re reading this on Saturday 16th August 2014 you should be there!

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Well, I never thought I’d confess to going to a Barry Manilow show – such is the draw of the Watermill’s musicals, with acting musicians on their pocket-handkerchief stage. This is the fourth I’ve seen here (plus another four on transfer to London) and though its is far from the best, largely because it isn’t a particularly good show, its well worth a visit to Newbury.

It’s a simple tale centring on one of those ‘cabaret’ clubs in post-war New York, though it jumps to Havana – in a Guys & Dolls sort of way – much like the clubs themselves did. Lola gets her break then falls into the clutches of a baddie but gets rescued, obviously. Along the way, we get a multitude of styles from Chicagoesque sexy to farcical comedy taking in a fair dose of camp (well, it is directed by Craig Revel Horwood), lots of feathers and even a dance routine where showgirls meet S&M boys! It doesn’t take itself seriously though, so you’re laughing along rather than laughing at it.

This ensemble may be the most talented they’ve ever put together here. Just 12 of them play every part and every instrument, including drums, piano, trumpet, clarinet, sax, guitar and bass! There isn’t a weak link in the casting. It should be preposterous watching a couple of scantily clad and feathered showgirls dance and play saxophone, but it isn’t.

Designer Diego Pitarch works wonders to create a two-tier set including a proscenium, grand piano, entrance stairs and four palm trees in a space not much bigger than my bedroom, his costumes are terrific  and there are even plastic flashing palm trees in the garden! Sarah Travis orchestrations are masterly – sounding just like a club big band when it needs to sound like a club big band.

Craig Revel Horwood has successfully picked up John Doyle’s ‘house style’ and you’d have thought that after eight such shows you’d tire of it, but you don’t. This proves that whatever the show, you are in awe of the talent and ingenuity of it all.

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