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Posts Tagged ‘Scarlett Strallen’

For the second time in a month, I am in awe of a talented team’s ability to breathe new life into a somewhat twee old warhorse. This is as much of a treat as Half a Sixpence.

It’s a love story set in a perfumerie in 1940’s Budapest. Amalia is in love with her pen pal ‘Dear Friend’ who’s closer to home than she thinks. One of the shop’s sales clerks is having an affair with owner Maraczek’s wife. Young delivery boy Arpad is desperate to become a sales clerk. It’s the third adaptation of Hungarian Miklos Laszio’s novel, following a James Stewart film and a Judy Garland film musical, originally staged in London in 1964. They don’t come sweeter than this.

I wasn’t that keen on the 1994 West End revival, in which life imitated art as it brought stars John Gordon Sinclair and Ruthie Henshall together, but I warmed to it in the Landor’s revival last year. Now, like Sixpence, a combination of perfect ingredients – venue, staging & choreography, design, and performances – combine to create what may prove to be the definitive production. There’s a terrific café scene to end Act I, and the second half is full of show-stopping numbers like Arpad’s Try Me, Amalia’s Where’s My Shoe, Georg’s title song and Ilona’s Trip to the Library

Let’s start with Paul Farnsworth’s stunning design, creating a beautiful period parfumerie (with a lot of bottles), with no less than four revolves, that smoothly turns into a cafe, bedroom and the street, and his gorgeous costumes. Rebecca Howell’s chirpy choreography is a delight, especially in the somewhat manic Twelve Days if Christmas. Catherine Jayes’ band plays brilliantly.

The whole cast is terrific, but Scarlett Strallen deserves a special mention, returning to the Menier after her success in Candide, as does Mark Umbers as Georg, returning to the scene of two previous triumphs in Sweet Charity & Merrily We Roll Along, as her love interest. Katherine  Kingsley provides another of her show-stealing turns as Ilona and 17-year-old Callum Howells is an absolute delight as Arpad. It’s staged to perfection by Matthew White, who already has three Menier hits under his belt.

This is an absolutely unmissable seasonal treat.

 

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Contemporary Music

Surely Richard Thompson hasn’t ever had a band as good as his current trio? His Royal Festival Hall show was the second time I’d seen them in 2.5 years and they’ve got even better. They were such a tight unit and RT was on fire playing guitar. There were so many highlights, but an acoustic Meet Me On The Ledge and a cover of Hey Joe stood out for me. His daughter Kami and her partner did such a lovely 40-minutes in support you had to forgive the nepotism!

Cynthia Erivo‘s late-night ‘bon voyage’ concert (she’s off to Broadway!) at the Hippodrome was a real treat, with a host of great guests that I wasn’t expecting, including Richard Fleeshman (terrific pianist too!) Robert Dean Wilson, Alison Jiear and Eva Noblezada. The vocals were occasionally too unrestrained, but that’s easily forgiven because of the show’s many highs and the emotion of the occasion. Let’s hope they don’t keep her there!

Opera

The Royal Opera’s Orphee et Eurydice felt more like a staged concert, with the orchestra and choir on stage and no set as such. Hofesh Schecter’s dancers were mostly underutilised, but somehow it proved satisfying overall. Gluck’s music was played and sung beautifully and it was this that mattered most, carrying the evening.

Classical Music

The Bernstein Prom was one of the hottest tickets this year and I failed to get an extra single despite trying almost daily. It turned out to be a real highlight too, a lovely combination of stage and screen works with the emphasis on songs from shows. The John Wilson Orchestra sounded great and the soloists were terrific, with Scarlett Strallen bringing the house down with Glitter & Be Gay. Some say the Proms are dumbing down with populist stuff like this, but that’s tosh – Bernstein is a 20th century titan and his stage and screen works are more than worthy of treatment in this way.

Dance

Lest We Forget was a triumph for English National Ballet; three works marking the centenary of the start of the First World War by three great modern choreographers – Liam Scarlett, Russell Maliphant and Akram Khan.  I feel lucky to have seen the early revival. They were extraordinarily diverse pieces, but all were stunning in both visual imagery and emotional power. One of the most perfect evenings of dance I’ve ever experienced.

I haven’t seen Les Ballets de Trocadero de Monte Carlo for many years and I’d forgotten what fun this all-male company is. The parody of classical ballet is brilliant, but what I realised this time is how skilled they really are as ballet dancers. A hoot.

I gave the Hofesh Shechter Company a second chance as I wasn’t sure after Political Mother, but the barbarians trilogy didn’t convince me I’m afraid. The visual imagery was often striking, but the lack of a cohesive narrative meant that it didn’t sustain its 90 minute running time.

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I’d only ever seen Candide on a big scale – Scottish Opera at the Old Vic in 1988, the NT in the Olivier in 1999 and the biggest of all, ENO at the ginormous London Coliseum in 2008. So forgive me for a ‘WTF?’ when this operetta was announced as the Menier’s Christmas show.

The theatre’s configuration for this has the audience on four sides with a mezzanine behind them and stage entrances on three sides and this works well (from where we were, but I suspect not for all). There are doors and windows in the mezzanine, with stairs down on two sides. The rest of Paul Farnsworth ‘s clever design is period costumes and the odd prop.

The story of Candide’s adventurous journey from fictitious Westphalia through Holland, Lisbon, Paris, Cadiz, Buenos Aires, Montevideo, mythical Eldorado and Surinam to Venice is completely preposterous, but there’s some lovely music and enough funny business to keep you amused. The four romantic leads are excellent – Fra Fee as Candide, David Thaxton as Maximilian, the lovely Cassidy Janson as Paquette and (under Rule 7 of musical theatre casting, stating that you must have a Strallen) the wonderful Scarlett Strallen.

Unfortunately, they’ve also cast James Dreyfuss as Pangloss and Jackie Clune as Old Lady, neither of whom are up to the roles (particularly when compared with Simon Russell Beale at the NT and Patricia Routledge at the Old Vic!); it undermines rather than ruins it, but its a shame. There’s some good choreography from Adam Cooper no less and good musical standards from the small (for Candide) band of nine under Seann Alderking. Matthew White has staged it with brio and it doesn’t feel its length.

If you go expecting high art, you’ll come out disappointed. If you go expecting musically up-market panto, you’ll have fun. I did.

 

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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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This has always been my ‘problem Sondheim’. I don’t find the story at all convincing, so I find it difficult to engage with it. I admire it, but I don’t love it in the way I love most of his shows.

It’s set in 19th century Italy and the story concerns an army officer, his affair with a married woman and the obsession of the sister of a fellow officer with him. The love affair between Giorgio and Clara rings true, but there’s an implausibility about the behaviour of Fosca and the reaction of Giorgio. It’s played for 110 minutes without a break and the music is almost all sung dialogue rather than songs, so it feels like an opera rather than a musical.

On its first London outing 14 years ago, it was a bit lost on a bigger West End stage. A more ‘chamber’ staging here at the Donmar is better suited to the piece and Christopher Oram’s period design is simply superb. Jamie Lloyd’s staging is stunning, elegant and flowing, much helped by Scott Ambler’s brilliant choreography / movement. A perfect combination of period style and elegance.

Elena Roger follows her extraordinary Evita and Piaf with another fine performance as Fosca, but it was David Thaxton who blew me away with a terrific and appropriately passionate performance as Giorgio. Scarlett Strallen (yes, another Strallen – is there a production line?!) also impresses as Clara. In fact, there isn’t a fault in the casting, with every role excellently played and exceptionally sung.  Alan Williams’ small 9-piece string and woodwind dominated band played the gentle lush score beautifully.

Whatever you think of the show, it was and still is original and ground-breaking and here it’s given a definitive production in a theatre it seems to be made for. It won’t be the highlight of Sondheim’s 80th year for me, but I’m very glad I saw it again.

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