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Posts Tagged ‘Savoy Theatre’

I’m surprised that there’s been little or no mention that this is the second Tina Turner jukebox musical, the first just six years ago, transferring from Hackney Empire to the Savoy Theatre for a short summer run (https://garethjames.wordpress.com/2012/09/21/soul-sister). The previous one had much to enjoy, but this is on another level altogether. Director Phyllida Lloyd, who virtually invented the modern day jukebox musical with Mamma Mia, seen in 40 countries, still running in London after 19 years, now almost next door to this, returns with what might be its pinnacle.

Like those other great jukebox musicals – Jersey Boys, Sunny Afternoon & Beautiful – it’s biographical. Tina’s story begins in her childhood church in Tennessee with a brilliant gospel version of Nutbush City Limits. She’s abandoned by her mum, then her dad, and lives with her grandma until her death, after which she goes to live with her mother and sister in St. Louis. Here she meets Ike and so begins the years of success, and abuse. When she finally plucks up the courage to leave him, he continues to exert control over her repertoire and she ends up lost and broke in Las Vegas. Her only hope is new material, and she finds that by following young Aussie Roger Davies to London. The rest, as they say, is history.

Katori Hall has made a great job of telling the story through her excellent book and the production oozes quality in every department, from Anthony van Laast’s choreography, recreating some of Tina’s somewhat quirky moves, Mark Thompson’s designs, Bruno Poet’s lighting and Nevin Steinberg’s sound to Tom Kelly’s terrific band. The show ends with the now customary mini-concert, allowing the audience to indulge in the singing and dancing they’ve been suppressing for 2.5 hours, during which there was a lovely moment when Tina duets with her childhood self.

Adrienne Warren is the embodiment of Tina in a sensational performance; she has the same extraordinary audience contact Tina had. Kobna Holdbrook-Smith, who I last saw as Laertes in Hamlet (!) is a revelation as Ike, though he did veer towards caricature occasionally. In a superb supporting cast, I really liked Ryan O’Donnell as Davies, Madeline Appiah as Tina’s mum and Lorna Gayle as grandma.

A show that lives up to the hype, and more.

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The Best Theatre of 2017

Time to reflect on, and celebrate, the shows I saw in 2017 – 200 of them, mostly in London, but also in Edinburgh, Leeds, Cardiff, Brighton, Chichester, Newbury and Reading.

BEST NEW PLAY – THE FERRYMAN

We appear to be in a golden age of new writing, with 21 of the 83 I saw contenders. Most of our finest living playwrights delivered outstanding work this year, topped by James Graham’s three treats – Ink, Labour of Love and Quiz. The Almeida, which gave us Ink, also gave us Mike Bartlett’s Albion. The National had its best year for some time, topped by David Eldridge’s West End bound Beginning, as well as Inua Ellams’ The Barbershop Chronicles, Lee Hall’s adaptation of Network, Nina Raine’s Consent, Lucy Kirkwood’s Mosquitos and J T Rogers’ Oslo, already in the West End. The Young Vic continued to challenge and impress with David Greig’s updating of 2500-year-old Greek play The Suppliant Womenand the immersive, urgent and important Jungle by Joe’s Murphy & Robertson. Richard Bean’s Young Marxopened the new Bridge Theatre with a funny take on 19th century history. On a smaller scale, I very much enjoyed Wish List at the Royal Court Upstairs, Chinglish at the Park Theatre, Late Companyat the Finborough, Nassim at the Bush and Jess & Joe at the Traverse during the Edinburgh fringe. Though they weren’t new this year, I finally got to see Harry Potter & the Cursed Child I & II and they more than lived up to the hype. At the Brighton Festival, Richard Nelson’s Gabriels trilogycaptivated and in Stratford Imperium thrilled, but it was impossible to topple Jez Butterworth’s THE FERRYMAN from it’s rightful place as BEST NEW PLAY.

BEST REVIVAL – ANGELS IN AMERICA / WHO’S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF

Much fewer in this category, but then again I saw only 53 revivals. The National’s revival of Angels in America was everything I hoped it would be and shares BEST REVIVAL with Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf. The Almeida’s Hamlet was the best Shakespearean revival, with Macbeth in Welsh in Caerphilly Castle, my home town, runner up. Though it’s not my genre, the marriage of play and venue made Witness for the Prosecution a highlight, with Cat on a Hot Tin Roof and Apologia the only other West End contributions in this category. On the fringe, the Finborough discovered another gem, Just to Get Married, and put on a fine revival of Arthur Miller’s Incident at Vichy. In the end, though, the big hitters hit big and ANGELS IN AMERICA & WHO’S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF shone brightest.

BEST NEW MUSICAL – ROMANTICS ANONYMOUS

Well, I’d better start by saying I’m not seeing Hamilton until the end of the month! I had thirty-two to choose from here. The West End had screen-to-stage shows Dreamgirlsand School of Rock, which I saw in 2017 even though they opened the year before, and both surprised me in how much I enjoyed them. Two more, Girls and Young Frankenstein, proved even more welcome, then at the end of the year Everybody’s Talking About Jamie joined them ‘up West’, then a superb late entry by The Grinning Man. The West End bound Strictly Ballroom wowed me in Leeds as it had in Melbourne in 2015 and Adrian Mole at the Menier improved on it’s Leicester outing, becoming a delightful treat. Tiger Bay took me to in Cardiff and, despite its flaws, thrilled me. The Royal Academy of Music produced an excellent musical adaptation of Loves Labours Lost at Hackney Empire, but it was the Walthamstow powerhouse Ye Olde Rose & Crown that blew me away with the Welsh Les Mis, My Lands Shore, until ROMANTICS ANONYMOUS at the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse at The Globe stole my heart and the BEST NEW MUSICAL category.

BEST MUSICAL REVIVAL – A LITTLE NIGHT MUSIC / FOLLIES

Thirty-two in this category too. The year started with a fine revival of Rent before Sharon D Clarke stole The Life at Southwark Playhouse and Caroline, or Change in Chichester (heading for Hampstead) in quick succession. Southwark shone again with Working, Walthamstow with Metropolis and the Union with Privates on Parade. At the Open Air, On the Town was a real treat, despite the cold and wet conditions, and Tommyat Stratford with a fully inclusive company was wonderful. NYMT’s Sunday in the Park With George and GSMD’s Crazy for You proved that the future is in safe hands. The year ended In style with a lovely My Fair Lady at the Mill in Sonning, but in the end it was two difficult Sondheim’s five days apart – A LITTLE NIGHT MUSIC at the Watermill in Newbury and FOLLIES at the National – that made me truly appreciate these shows by my musical theatre hero and share BEST MUSICAL REVIVAL

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Another show I wasn’t planning to see, this time because I caught it less than three years ago on my travels in Portland, Oregon. Then I read the reviews…..

It’s the story of a black girl group in the 60’s and 70’s, from talent show to backing singers to R&B chart success to their transfer to the mainstream. Along the way, lead singer Effie is replaced by a slimmer, paler model and eventually quits and manager Curtis gets too big for his boots, transforming from manipulator to bully and losing his lead singer / wife. The girls, and stablemate Jimmy Early, succeed in crossing over to the mainstream, but at the expense of their soul roots. Meanwhile, Effie makes a solo comeback and finds herself in a chart competition with her former group with the same song, but it’s not a fair race thanks to Curtis’ dirty tricks. Though the writers deny it (no doubt concerned about the legal consequences), it appears to be based on the story of The Supremes. With R&B stars now the kings and queens of popular music, it’s easy to forget it was once segregated, in more ways than one, with separate charts and white cover versions outselling the originals. We’ve come a long way.

No disrespect to Portland Center Stage, a fine US regional theatre, but this West End production (it’s London premiere, 35 whole years after Broadway!) is in another league altogether, no doubt partly thanks to a mega-budget . The design team of Tim Hatley (sets), Gregg Barnes (costumes) & Hugh Vanstone (lighting) have produced a spectacular look to the show; you get a lot of bling for your ticket price. Casey Nicholaw’s staging and choreography is fresh and exciting; it sparkles like the Swarovski covered curtains and costumes. The cast of 29 and 14-piece band under Nick Finlow rock the foundations of the gorgeous Savoy Theatre, itself a jewel of Art Deco bling.

For the second time this week, I got an alternate and a cover, neither of which you’d spot if you didn’t know it. I refuse to believe Amber Riley is better than her alternate Marisha Wallace, whose powerhouse voice is extraordinary. Candace Furbert was also excellent covering as fellow Dream Lorrell and Denna(!)’s rise from backing singer to lead to ‘Deena and’, wife of Curtis, is extremely well navigated by Liisi LaFontaine . Adam J Bernard is a terrific bundle of energy as Jimmy Early and Joe Aaron Reid a fine voiced baddie as Curtis. I missed the much lauded Tyrone Huntley in the Open Air Theatre’s Jesus Christ Superstar last year and I left the theatre praying he returns this year; he too was terrific as the girls’ first manager and songwriter C. C. White.

The fourth in my five-day musicals binge, it lives up to the hype and more. The world seems ever so drab when you leave the theatre.

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Best New Play – Violence & Son / Iphigenia in Splott

What a bumper year for new plays. I saw more than 80 and almost half of these made it onto the long list. The final cut saw a very diverse bunch competing. At the NT, a brilliant adaptation of Jane Eyre and a stunning ‘mash-up’ of three D H Lawrence plays as Husbands and Sons, a very radical adaptation of Everyman, the somewhat harrowing People Place & Things, the highly original Rules for Living and the expletive-loaded Mother*****r With the Hat. Two ‘minimalist’ Mike Bartlett contributions – Bull at the Young Vic and Game at the Almeida, both original and hugely impressive. The Young Vic also staged Ivo van Hove’s stunning Songs From Far Away. The Royal Court gave us Martin McDonough’s black comedy Hangman, Debbie Tucker Green’s distressing hang and a play about the NHS, Who Cares?, which took place all over the theatre. At The Donmar, Temple was a more conservative but beautifully written piece about the impact of Occupy outside St. Pauls on those inside. The Bush surprised with The Royale, a play about boxing, my least favourite sport, and The Arcola hosted one about rugby, the deeply moving NTW / Out of Joint verbatim collaboration, Crouch Touch Pause Engage as well as the lovely Eventide and Clarion. Jessica Swale graced the Globe with another superb historical play, Nell Gwynn, with the lovely Farinelli & the King next door in the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse. I was much more positive than most about Future Conditional, a topical analysis of our broken education system, which kicked off the new regime at the Old Vic. Elsewhere in the West End only Photograph 51, Taken at Midnight (from Chichester), Oppenheimer (from Stratford) and Bad Jews made the cut. The Park continued to make itself indispensable with The Gathered Leaves and Theatre 503 punched above its weight with Rotterdam, a sensitive and very funny exploration of transgender issues. Southwark Playhouse found one of the best Tennessee Williams’s rarities, One Arm. Earlier in the year, Hampstead gave us the very underrated Luna Gale and topped this with Ian Kelly’s Mr Foote’s Other Leg, and even the late Arthur Miller was a candidate with the belated world premiere of his first play No Villain, but it was Gary Owen’s contributions that pipped everyone else at the post – Violence & Son, a striking modern family drama at the Royal Court Upstairs, and Iphigene in Splott, a Greek adaptation (but radical enough to be considered a new play) which packed more punch than most in a year abundant with Greek adaptations, which started in Cardiff and toured via the Edinburgh fringe ending up at the NT’s temporary space.

Best Revival – Les Liasons Dangereuses

I saw half as many revivals as new plays, and only a quarter of them made the long list. The best Shakespeare’s were both at the Young Vic – a shockingly modern Measure for Measure and a dance-drama Macbeth. The best of the Greeks were the Almeida’s Orestia and Stratford East’s Antigone, which out-shone the high profile Barbican-Van Hove-Binoche one. The Donmar pitched in with Patrick Marber’s Closer, embarrassingly better than his NT contributions this year, though the NT did shine with both Our Country’s Good The Beaux Stratagem, with particularly good use of music. The Globe gave us a very quick revival of Heresy of Love and the Open Air Theatre’s adaptation of Peter Pan was a triumph, but it was the long-overdue revival of Christopher Hampton’s masterpiece that ended the year with a theatrical feast.

Best New Musical – Bend It Like Beckham

Of the 50 musicals I saw in London, only 40% qualify as New Musicals and only seven made the final cut. I very much enjoyed wallowing in the nostalgia of both Carole King’s biographical Beautiful and the brilliantly staged Bert Bacharach compilation What’s It All About? (renamed Close to You for the West End). Xanadu was a hoot at Southwark Playhouse, which also hosted the very original Teddy, and the ever reliable Union pitched in with Spitfire Grill and The White Feather, a winner in any other year I suspect. Kinky Boots was great fun, but it was Howard Goodall’s brilliant Bend It Like Beckham, the a feel-good triumph which I’m about to see for the third time, that brought a breath of fresh air and a new audience to the West End.

Best Musical Revival – Grand Hotel

A better hit rate for musical revivals, with half of the 30 I saw in contention. The year started with a stunning revival of City of Angels which benefitted from the intimacy of the Donmar and ended with a very rare revival of Funny Girl which didn’t benefit from the intimacy of the Menier (but was still a highlight, and which I expect to be better at the Savoy, which hosted Gypsy which is also on on the list). It took two attempts to see the Open Air’s thrilling Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, but well worth the return on a dry evening. Ye Olde Rose & Crowne in Walthamstow gave us notable revivals of both Face the Music and Bye Bye Birdie and the Landor chipped in with Thoroughly Modern Millie. A rare treat at the Royal Academy was Michel Legrand’s Amour and a unique experience at Belmarsh Young Offenders Institute where Pimlico Opera staged Our House with the residents and Suggs himself. I missed the same show at the Union, but did make three other revivals there – Whistle Down the Wind, Loserville and most especially Spend Spend Spend, my runner up. However, Thom Sutherland’s production of Grand Hotel at Southwark Playhouse was as close to perfection as you can get and made me look again at a show I had hitherto been underwhelmed by, and that’s what makes it the winner.

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I can’t help comparing this show with Jules Styne’s other big hit, Gypsy. It’s another quintessentially American showbiz story with a gutsy heroine, and like the recent Chichester Gypsy, this production has a diminutive leading lady with the triple threat – acting, singing and dancing all sensational.

It’s the true story of Fanny Brice, who gets her vaudeville break by being funny and is soon top of the bill at the Ziegfeld Follies. She falls in love with businessman and gambler Nick Arnstein, moves to a mansion on Long Island and starts a family. Nick makes some bad, even dodgy, business decisions and she soon finds herself returning to work and bail him out. It backfires when her attempts to help become secretive, hurting his pride, and when he comes out of prison he doesn’t return to the family home.

It’s a conservative show, which here gets a very conservative production, including the design and the choreography. It’s as if its American director is scared to mess with it. I also don’t think it fits the Menier space well, a big show desperate to break out of this confined space. For once, the venue’s intimacy works against it. I think it will suit The Savoy, where Gypsy was and where this is heading, better.

That said, it has a good score, played to perfection by Alan Williams’ band, and it’s superbly cast. Darius Campbell continues to impress with great presence and a fine voice (here towering over his leading lady). Marilyn Cutts is excellent as Fanny’s mother, no more so than when she’s with her two friends, played superbly by Gay Soper and Valda Aviks. In fact, the more mature members of this cast all shine, with Bruce Montague a wonderful Ziegfeld too. Praise as well for Joel Montague as Fanny’s showbiz chum and dance coach Eddie, another fine performance.

It’s Fanny’s show, of course, and musical theatre lovers and Sheridan Smith fans have been seriously over-excited at the prospect of her in this role and she doesn’t disappoint. When she sings Don’t Rain on My Parade to end Act One you want to punch the air. In the final scene, alone in front of her dressing room mirror, she breaks your heart then breaks out and lifts you up to close the show. Terrific stuff. 2016 Olivier sorted.

Time to book for The Savoy, I think, if only to prove my prediction eight.

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Even though it’s based on the 1919 novel by P G Wodehouse which became a silent movie the following year, a stage play by Wodehouse with Ian Hay eight years later that was turned into a film musical written by Wodehouse and others, with music by the Gershwin’s, nine years after that in 1937, this is actually a world première! What’s actually new is Jeremy Sams & Robert Hudson’s book and the Gershwin’s back catalogue has been mined for additional songs.

George Bevan is in the process of transferring his Broadway show to the West End and has brought his female star Billie Dore with him. Whilst he’s trying to make changes that the British director and some of the cast are reluctant to make, he meets and falls in love with Maud, Lord Marshmoreton’s daughter, who is betrothed to hapless, star-struck Reggie. George and Billie visit the Marshmoreton castle as tourists where Maud, prone to wander, is imprisoned by her father’s formidable sister Lady Caroline. So begins the rescue of the damsel in distress and the resulting marriage or four. It’s silly stuff but it provides some good comedy and Gershwin tunes (though it has to be said second division Gershwin) and who can resist a song called I’m A Poached Egg!

Christopher Oram’s revolving castle is terrific and his costumes excellent. The staging is traditional, perhaps a little too so, and I wondered if Director / Choreographer Rob Ashford should have delegated the latter to someone else (Stephen Mear, perhaps) to bring some freshness and more sparkle. It’s a great cast, led by Sally Ann Triplett (welcome back!) and Richard Fleeshman, building on his work in Ghost and Urinetown and fast becoming an excellent musicals leading man. Nicholas Farrell is a fine actor but not someone I associate with musicals and I was very pleasantly surprised by his excellent turn as the Lord. I loved Richard Dempsey as Reggie and Desmond Barrit as the butler; both great comic creations. There’s a Strallen of course (Summer, playing Maud) and some lovely turns in smaller roles from Isla Blair as Lady Caroline and David Roberts & Chloe Hart as the cooks, who brought the house down.

Chichester FT has been on such a roll with great musical productions in recent years (Singing in the Rain, Love Story, Sweeney Todd, Pajama Game and last year’s pair of  Gypsy and Guys & Dolls, which between them will spend a year at the Savoy Theatre in London) that good productions like this struggle to live up to their own extraordinarily high standard. Still, it’s summer fun and there’s much to enjoy – and the inspiration for the location of the Lord’s home in the show is apparently close to Chichester and the other location is indeed the Savoy Theatre, so maybe they’ll also move this to the real one and occupy it even longer.

 

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After what seems like an age of pompous pop operas and jukebox musicals, this old-fashioned but new musical comedy comes as a breath of fresh air; and I mean old-fashioned in a positive way! In what seems like a golden age French Riviera, designed by Peter Mackintosh, it fits the art deco Savoy Theatre like a glove.

I’ve never seen the film, so I come to it fresh with the twists and surprises unspoiled. Lawrence Jameson is the reigning king of the con and as the show starts he’s in the process of getting money for his destitute kingdom. New grifter on the block, young American upstart Freddy Benson arrives to challenge him and after some initial competition, an unlikely friendship develops and they start combined scams, though not without some healthy competition for good measure.

There’s nothing like a lovable rogue and here you get two for your money – the suave smoothie and the cheeky chappie – played by actors with terrific chemistry. The role of Lawrence was made for Robert Lindsay and he doesn’t disappoint. His particular brand of slick charm contrasts well with the rough-and-ready clumsiness of Rufus Hound’s Freddy. This is only Hound’s third stage role, and his first musical, and he’s a revelation, virtually unrecognisable, red-faced and cherub-like without that trademark tash. Katherine Kingsley is sensational as Christine Colgate, in fine voice and gliding effortlessly as if assisted by some modern day dance machine. There’s great support from her poshness Samantha Bond and John Marquez, complete with dodgy French accent, in an unlikely but delightful sub-plot love story.

On first hearing, David Yazbek’s score did’t wow, but it was perfectly enjoyable and the lyrics are sharp. It’s the comedy that shines through with a good book by Jeffrey Lane, nimble staging by Jerry Mitchell and the infectiousness of a cast that is clearly having as much of a ball as the audience, with the occasional ad lib and knowing look. The show was broken in out of town so at the third London preview it’s more than ready. I thoroughly enjoyed it and left the theatre feeling nostalgic about something brand new.

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