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Posts Tagged ‘Simon Bailey’

This cult musical, which takes a real life event as its starting point, itself started life on the fringe in late 90’s LA. It ran 8 months Off-Broadway 4 years later and had its UK première at West Yorkshire Playhouse 3 years after that. Then they transferred it to the Shaftesbury Theatre, about the best place in the world to kill a show like this! So here it is ten years on in the much more suitable Southwark Playhouse in a new B-movie interpretation, the fourth show by the inventive Morphic Graffiti, in a co-production with Paul Taylor-Mills.

Three teenage friends stumble across Bat Boy in a local cave. He’s virtually naked, with pointed ears and fangs, and moves like an animal. They take him to the Sheriff who in turn takes him to the local vet. He’s not at home, but his wife Meredith takes him in, renames him Edgar and soon takes him under her wings, taming, civilising and mothering him. Her husband, Dr Parker, and the rest of the small-town community of Hope Falls, West Virginia, are less welcoming, not helped by the fact Bat Boy had attacked Ruthie and is now rumoured to have slaughtered a whole herd of cattle. What follows is the battle of the outsider, with the Parker’s leading the opposing sides.

The pop-rock score is a bit inconsistent, veering to more pompous pop-opera as the show progresses, but there are some good songs and a terrific opening sequence to the second half at an evangelical rally, where they attempt to save Bat Boy’s soul. It’s over-long at 2.5 hours, particularly after ‘the big reveal’ when even the most inventive staging can’t cover up the laboured conclusion. The whole thing does however have an appealing tongue-in-cheek quirkiness which saves the day.

Director Luke Fredericks and designer Stewart Charlesworth’s cartoonish production is packed with creativity, with excellent integration of projections (Benjamin Walden) and a huge selection of deliberately dodgy wigs! A couple of short scenes are given over to puppet dolls and the B-movie style is taken to its logical conclusion at the denouement. Clever stuff, with appropriately lo-tech production values. I thought it was too loud a lot of the time, and again at Southwark there were glitches in the sound.

The casting is terrific. Rob Compton is superb as Bat Boy, particularly in the physical stuff when he is discovered. Lauren Ward and Matthew White are outstanding as the Parkers, with particularly fine vocals from both. Simon Bailey excels in multiple roles, bringing the house down as Reverend Hightower in yellow suit and gold collar and shoes! I also loved Andy Rees characterisation of teenage Rick and there’s a brilliant turn from Nolan Frederick as mother nature in a hysterical ‘dream sequence’.

It’s a good rather than great piece, but there’s a lot to enjoy in this revival. A few cuts and a bit of a tone down would make it even better, but it’s the sort of production the show needed and on a much more appropriate scale. Well worth catching.

 

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This Sondheim revue / compilation is different to the other four (!) in two respects – it uses songs cut from shows (though two have been reinstated since it first appeared 34 years ago and three are from a show unproduced at the time but subsequently staged) and it attempts to link them by staging it with two NYC singleton characters ‘man’ and ‘woman’. The upside is that we get to hear songs previously unheard or less familiar. The downside is that they aren’t amongst his best – though Sondheim ‘seconds’ are better than some composers ‘firsts’!

Seven of the ‘cast-offs’ come from Follies, three from A Little Night Music and one each from A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum, Anyone Can Whistle and Company. Three are from his first (1955) show Saturday Night which we eventually got to see for the first time in 1997, two are from unproduced work and two, including the title song, found themselves back in the shows from which they were cut. Still with me? Some will miss hearing the familiar, others like me will welcome hearing songs last heard 18 years ago at the Bridewell when a then less well known Rebecca Front was ‘woman’ and Clive Carter was ‘man’.

When I reviewed Dessa Rose I said that if I Can’t Sing hadn’t closed we wouldn’t have got to see Cynthia Erivo as Dessa, so I’d better say the same about Simon Bailey, who was the other best thing about that ill-fated show. Here he’s partnered by fringe musicals favourite Laura Pitt-Pulver and both rise to the challenge of Sondheim’s vocal demands. I’m not sure the staging is really necessary, and it does seem a bit contrived, but it does no harm.

This isn’t in the same league as the St. James Theatre’s other recent Sondheim revue Putting it Together, but that’s to do with the selection more than anything else. It’s good to see it again after all these years and good to visit the St. James Theatre studio for the first time. I shall be at this venue four times in twelve days, which suggests it’s fast becoming indispensible.

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Any new musical is a big risk, which is why we don’t get many. Go straight to the West End, into the UK’s highest profile theatre, with a writer, director and choreographer with no musicals credits and a composer with one, and you significantly increase the risk. It’s midway through previews, still being rewritten, with cancellations, lengthened intervals and a half-time abandonment behind it and it’s clearly not ready yet BUT I thought it was great fun and I think they’re going to pull it off.

There’s a great opening scene as we see the ambition of a young Simon (brilliantly played by one of four young actors, I know not which). Then we meet X-Factor hopeful Chenice, her Grandpa and dog Barlow, in the family caravan under a London flyover. She has the back story to end all back stories. Another hopeful, Northern plumber Max, is just passing by. Later, we are introduced to other contestants – Welsh supermarket checkout girl Brenda, Irish duo The Alter Boys, Hunchback and Vladimir. In the first half, its the live auditions and a whistle-stop trip through to the live final which is the focus of the second half, on and off stage.

I liked Steve Brown’s songs (as I liked his score for Spend Spend Spend), lyrically funny with particularly good ‘big numbers’. There’s a somewhat haphazard, anarchic quality to the staging, perhaps because of a lack of readiness, but somehow adding to the fun. There’s a lot of cheeky references, clever parodies and some topicality in Harry Hill’s book and the targets are well and truly sent up, but in a friendly rather than a malicious way. It does lag at times and needs tightening up, but that’s doable. Like The Book of Mormon and The Commitments, it’s a different sort of musical aiming at a different audience and I think it succeeds.

Nigel Harman seemed a bit hesitant as Simon, perhaps because the real Simon was in the audience or perhaps due to his prosthetic teeth and high trousers! Cynthia Erivo certainly can sing, with bells on, and is terrific as Chenice. Alan Morrissey is also in fine voice as loveable Max and Simon Lipkin almost steals the show as Barlow the dog with a crush on Simon. The parts of judges Louis and Jordy (guess!) seemed underwritten to me, but Ashley Knight & Victoria Elliott do their best with what they’re given. Charlie Baker is unrecognisable, and also in fine voice, as Hunchback and I liked both Billy Carter’s camp producer and Simon Bailey’s host Liam, who has a song sung entirely whilst hugging Max!

Designer Es Devlin pulls a lot out of the bag, all of which worked the night I went, but I can see why it takes some breaking in. It’s not as slick as Mormon, but it’s also less cynical and more warm-hearted. If you know what they are parodying and just go for a fun night out, you are unlikely to be disappointed. A full house, the previous night’s aborted performance and the real Simon in the audience probably added a certain frisson, but fun was had regardless.

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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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