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Posts Tagged ‘Stavros Demetraki’

This transfer from the US has been hailed as a radical interpretation of Rogers & Hammerstein’s first show together, eighty years old next year. I saw the NT’s 1998 production and Chichester’s 2019 revival and even though these brought out the darkness, in comparison it is. It seems to me it was always a play with music rather than a musical as such and that’s certainly what we have here.

Chief amongst the reinventions is new orchestration and instrumentation featuring banjo, mandolin, pedal steel guitar, fiddle and accordion, creating a wholly appropriate Americana sound. It’s scaled down for an eight-piece band (plus actor-musician Arthur Darvill) in an onstage pit, and a cast of twelve. It’s more tense, such as in the wedding scene, funnier (just about any scene featuring lovable but dim Will), and above all sexier. When it’s rousing, notably the title number, it’s very rousing. The auditorium looks great, covered in light wood panelling with one wall a sort of sepia landscape mural and gun racks containing 72 guns on the other walls. The playing area is surrounded by party tables at which audience members sit opposite cast members. There are decorations, and later lights, above.

It has its problems, though. The first half lacks pace, two scenes in complete darkness – encounters between Curly & Jud and between Laurey & Jud – are baffling, Laurey’s dream sequence has been moved to open the second half and she’s replaced by a dancer doing freeform to the shows tunes in the style of Jimi Hendrix (this didn’t really work for me) and I found the new ending, at the wedding, before the trial, problematic. That said, the positive innovations outweigh the negatives.

One of the production’s big strengths is excellent casting. Darvill is a bit of a revelation as Curly, with good vocals and a cowboy swagger. Patrick Vaill is a charismatic, brooding presence as Jud. Anoushhka Lucas is terrific as Laurey, with a beautiful voice which does full justice to her songs. Lisa Sadovy has crossed the Thames from her Olivier Award winning performance in Cabaret to give us a fine Aunt Eller. There’s excellent support in the sub-plots, notably Marisha Wallace as Ado Annie, who first wowed me as an ‘alternate’ lead in Dreamgirls and went on to impress in Waitress & the Hairspray revival, James Davis as Will, Stavros Demetraki as Ali and Rebekah Hinds as Gertie, whose laugh is a solo performance in itself.

Despite my misgivings, I admire them for taking such a fresh look and I enjoyed enough of the reinvention to make the visit more than worthwhile. Musicals purists, like those next to us who left at the interval, might not agree, though. Make your own mind up.

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