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Posts Tagged ‘Shanay Holmes’

I was very fond of Nick Hornby’s 1995 novel. It seemed to me to be quintessentially British, so I was disappointed when it was relocated from North London to Chicago for the 2000 film. Though this musical adaptation retained its US setting for it’s Broadway premiere in 2006, it’s relocated back to London N7 for it’s UK premiere, though it is being staged south of the river!

The story of Rob, the nerdy record shop owner, and his love life felt retro at the time of the book and film, but seems even more retro today. This adaptation distills it into the tale of Rob and current girlfriend Laura, with nods to the lives of shop hangers-on Dick and Barry, and the music scene and record collector obsessions as a backdrop. There are song lists for things like break-ups and mixtapes with strict rules. Rob’s ex’s make regular appearances in a large number of flashbacks and fantasy & dream sequences.

Tom Kitt’s eclectic score has particularly good lyrics by Amanda Green and it’s extremely well played by Paul Schofield’s band (members uncredited, sadly) and very well sung by the whole cast. David Shields excellent design makes great use of the small space, with clever transformations from shop to flat and more. It’s an impressive musical theatre directorial debut from Tom Jackson Greaves whose choreographic experience shines through, and I liked his use of the space in front of the stage and the aisle. Oliver Ormson and Shanay Holmes are both very good as Rob and Laura and there’s a fine ensemble, with great cameos from Robert Tripolino as Ian, Carl Au as Dick and Robbie Durham as Barry. We even get turns from Neil Young and Bruce Springsteen (Joshua Dever)!

With all the to-ing and fro-ing across the Atlantic, it does appear to have lost its sense of place and time and become a bit of an indeterminate transatlantic anywhere, anytime. David Lindsay-Abaire’s American book has been adapted for London by Vikki Stone and it might be this, and the vanilla pop-rock musical styles, which contribute most to the loss of some of Nick Hornby’s charming source. I think it’s a very good production of an OK show. It doesn’t feel like a Broadway show and I can see why it was curtailed after 18 previews and 13 post-press performances (and why its taken 13 years to get here). I suspect it fares much better on this scale, more intimate, with a talented and enthusiastic young cast, and I was glad I caught it.

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This musical is based on the 1992 debut novel of American writer Robert James Waller. It sold 60 million copies and became one of bestselling books of the 20th Century. He probably couldn’t believe his luck. Clint Eastwood made it into a film three years later, starring himself and Meryl Streep. Jason Robert Brown’s musical adaptation got to Broadway nine years later, and now has its UK premiere at the Menier Chocolate Factory, for which it has received the whole gamut of stars, from five to one; marmite indeed.

The story revolves around Francesca, who left Naples at the end of the Second World War, following American GI Bud Johnson to the US. In the brilliant opening number she tells us her story from wartime loss of boyfriend Paolo, the sea journey to New York and train across the US to her new life in Winterset, Iowa where she becomes a farmer’s wife, bringing up two children. When we join her there, the family head off to the State Fair in Springfield Illinois, where daughter Carolyn is showing her prize steer. While they’re away she meets and falls for National Geographic photographer Robert Kincaid, who’s in town to take pictures of those bridges of the title. It’s a sort of mid-west Brief Encounter!

Jon Bausor’s brilliant design seems to enlarge the Menier space, with three huge barn like doors, onto which images are projected, and two revolves moving us from the main location of the family kitchen to the State Fair, a neighbouring home, the fields outside, one of those covered bridges and a truck on the road, though it’s sometimes a bit noisy, during as well as between scenes, with involuntary movements of furniture occasionally comic (oh, and they need to repair the fridge door!). That aside, it’s a truly evocative design matched by Trevor Nunn’s staging, which flows beautifully.

It seems to me that the different views on the show are probably driven by the score and your attitude to love stories. Well, I’m a sucker for the latter (yes, there were tears again) and I think the lush eclectic Americana score is gorgeous, an antidote to the bland formulaic pop of most contemporary musicals. The songs, and there are a lot of them, maybe a few too many, really do propel the story and develop the characters, keeping just the right side of sentimentality, well, until the very end. I liked the way many of the cast get a number that brings their character briefly to the fore, enabling them to showcase their talents, notably Shanay Holmes and Georgia Brown.

Francesca provides yet another career high for Jenna Russell, as a very different character which she inhabits with conviction and authenticity. She’s well matched by Edward Baker-Duly as Robert, the finest performance I’ve seen by this actor, with a Glenn Campbell like velvet voice which so suited the songs. Dale Rapley provides fine support as Bud and there’s a lovely cameo from Gillian Kirkpatrick as neighbour Marge and an auspicious professional stage debut by the appropriately named Maddison Bulleyment as Carolyn.

Well, I’m with the four star gang. A lovely show staged and performed to perfection. Go and make your own mind up

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