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Posts Tagged ‘Stephen Matthews’

Baz Luhrmann’s stage to screen to stage show gets it’s UK premiere in Leeds in a new adaptation by Terry Johnson directed and choreographed by Drew McOnie. I caught the Australian production in Melbourne 21 months ago and couldn’t resist a trip north to see it on its last day. A very good decision!

Scott Hastings has been groomed as a ballroom dancer since childhood by his mum Shirley and her dancing school partner Les Kendall. They have their eyes on the Pan-Pacific Grand Prix Championship, but his partner Lisa deserts him over his insistence on freestyling. His mum, Les and Federation president Barry Fife are determined to reign him back in, but he’s secretly working with frumpy Fran. She introduces him to her Spanish family, who inject some true Latin spirit into his pasodoble. Barry lies to convince Scott to stick to rules. He relents for a while, until he learns the truth and dances with Fran after all. Crooked Barry gets found out and Scott & Fran triumph and fall in love – and ballroom dancing is liberated from its straight-jacket. It’s a tale of a free spirit seeking to break out of a framework of rules which stifle creativity.

The score is a mash-up of original songs and existing numbers and I’m not sure this is entirely satisfactory. It feels like a bit of a rag-bag and I can’t help wondering if a fully original score might feel more cohesive and serve the show better. I thought this production brought out more comedy which, given it has its tongue firmly in its cheek, is a good thing. Soutra Gilmour’s excellent design gives the Quarry Theatre a stage with a revolving metal frame incorporating a proscenium, which actors can climb and occupy. It moves easily from the dance studio to the roof, Fran’s family home and competition venues. Catherine Martin was also responsible for the costumes for the film and the Australian production and they are sensational – a riot of colour and glitter beyond your wildest imagination.

It’s hard to know where to start with the performances; the casting is faultless. Fernando Mira reprises his wonderful Australian performance as Fran’s dad, but the rest are fresh to the UK production. American Sam Lips and our own Gemma Sutton are terrific romantic leads, the former taking dancing honours and the latter vocal honours. Richard Dempsey is a delightfully camp MC, J J Silvers. Tamsin Carroll and Richard Grieve are excellent as Shirley and Les, with Stephen Matthews great as the virtually mute, deadpan dad (until he turns). Julius D’Silva is as oily as they get with his terrific turn as bent dancing federation ‘policeman’ Barry. Eve Polycarpou gives us another of her delightful cameos as Fran’s gran.

It’s a superb feel-good show and this betters the Australian production. It’s West End ready, though it appears to be heading for Toronto. I was very glad I made the trip north.

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Will someone move Sheffield nearer to London, please? Sheffield Theatres reputation continues to rise and now they outdo the West End by touring probably the best production of Anything Goes I’ve ever seen. This is unmissable.

Cole Porter’s classic musical comedy is 80 years old now, but here it’s fresh and sparkles like new. The score is littered with classics like I Get a Kick Out of You, You’re the Top, It’s De-Lovely, Blow Gabriel Blow and of course the title song, with witty lyrics by Porter and a very funny book, originally by P G Wodehouse & Guy Bolton but revised twice so I’m not sure whose is in use now. Still, who cares, its fun aboard a liner crossing the Atlantic with gangsters disguised as evangelists, evangelists who’ve become nightclub singers, Wall Street businessmen, an American heiress and a British Lord. Singer Reno loves stockbroker Billy, who loves heiress Hope, who’s engaged to nobleman Evelyn but they all get their man / woman in the end, but not until we’ve had a lot of fun aboard ship.

Daniel Evans production has a lovely art deco set by Richard Kent, with the ship’s deck rising up to form the backdrop as well as the stage, and great period costumes. Choreographer Alistair David doesn’t have a lot of space, but works wonders with what he has. There’s a zippiness about the whole thing that lifts you up and sweeps you along. The 9-piece band sounds terrific, and a lot more than nine. Debbie Kurup is sensational as Reno Sweeney, the complete package of great dancer, beautiful singer and comic actress and Stephen Matthews is wonderful as Lord Evelyn Oakleigh, a clumsy but lovable toff. In addition to these star performances, there’s great work from Matt Rawle as Billy, Zoe Rainey as Hope, Hugh Sachs as Moonface Martin, Alex Young as Erma, Simon Rouse as Whitney and the lovely Jane Wymark as Hope’s mum. A fine ensemble of 18 ensure the set pieces sparkle.

The New Wimbledon Theatre isn’t the most suitable (vast) or welcoming (shameful latecomers policy and noisy audience), but with work this good, you’ve got to go where you can, though with hindsight I wish I’d gone to Sheffield, where it appears they outdo the West End regularly. Unmissable indeed.

 

 

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Is there no limit to the joy Hackney Empire can unleash during the festive season? Last year they lost (hopefully not forever) their regular Dame Clive Rowe and still came up trumps. This year they go ‘off piste’ with the rarer Puss in Boots and it feels like something new and familiar at the same time. Bliss.

Puss in Boots has somehow slipped from the panto repertoire. A 500 year-old tale made famous by Charles Perrault 200 years later, introduced to the UK another 100 years after that, with Joseph Grimaldi in the first cast. Now the cunning cat (brilliantly played with great athleticism by Kat B!) comes to Hackneyonia with his master who has inherited him from his father, whilst his elder brother got the mill and the donkey!

Here we get two dames – mother Nettie Knowall and daughter Amnesiah, played brilliantly by Stephen Matthews and Darren Hart respectively – a wicked witch played by Josefina Gabrielle and a wicked queen by Sharon D Clarke, both stars of musical theatre who shine just as brightly here, and King Konkers the Bonkers (an excellently hapless Tony Timberlake) and spoilt brat Princess Petunia (the lovely irritating Amy Lennox). Add in Matt Dempsey’s Thomas, a giant Ogre and a good sorceress and you have an abundance of superb performances.

Amongst the treats are a dance routine for colourful giant trainers (without people!), a trio of mice as backing singers for Puss, a tap dance to end Act I and a superb Les Mis spoof to open Act II. Just before the finale we got the singalong, obviously, and the sight of a couple of thousand people singing Madness’ It Must be Love in cat language with cat masks was a surreal delight. Lotte Collett’s design is a riot of colour and invention, with Dame Nettie’s costumes (and there a lot of them!) a particular treat.

This is Susie McKenna’s 15th Hackney panto. It’s only my 5th, but the imagination, enthusiasm, talent and energy hasn’t waned one bit. Steven Eadis has written a lot of excellent new music to add to a handful of known songs with a fair few nods to musical theatre, performed with exceptional musical standards by a small 5-piece band and singers who really can sing.

It might have West End production values and West End stars, but above all its a community pantomime which generates enough warmth to keep you going until the next one – here’s to Mother Goose in less than 12 months time!

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