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Posts Tagged ‘Steve Brown’

This Olivier nominated show (7 noms!) was up against Mamma Mia and The Lion King for Best Musical, but it lost to Stiles & Drew’s Honk! It pre-dates Billy Elliott as a British working class musical and if I ever write the history of the great British musicals it will be up there with Billy and The Hired Man. The shows original choreographer, Craig Revel Horward (for it is he) directed a splendid small scale actor/musician revival at the Watermill in Newbury on its 10th anniversary and now we have a new young team ripping it up under the arches in SE1 and its a delight from start to finish.

Could there be a more glamorous and romantic setting than Castleford for this biographical show about pools winner Viv Nicholson (using her infamous press call quote as its title)?! It takes us from her youth, through the big win (which now seems not at all big), the exploitation by friends family and begging letters, the spending spree, the new home in a posh neighbourhood, the rejection by new and old neighbours and friends, the four husbands, her boutique venture and the inevitable bankruptcy – starting and ending in the hairdressing salon where Viv ended up, being visited by the forever inquisitive. The story is brilliantly told by Steve Brown & Justin Greene’s book and deliciously witty lyrics.

There’s a grittiness about it which I love and Katy Dean captures young Viv’s combination of naivety, greed, feistiness and defiance superbly. I loved Julie Armstrong’s older Viv, narrating the story of her rise and fall with resignation rather than regret. The show is packed full of catchy tunes and Christian Durham’s production has great pace and energy, with witty, quirky choreography from Heather Douglas and an excellent four-piece band. In a fine ensemble, Dave Haydn stood out as Viv’s dad, Tom Brandon as hapless first hubby Matt and newcomer James Lyne as second husband Keith.

Great to see it again, and in such a lovely production at the Union. Don’t miss!

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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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