Posts Tagged ‘Stuart Matthew Price’

The creator of London’s iconic street-finder is as good a subject for a musical as any and better done while we still know what the A-Z is! Staging a brand new musical though is a big risk, but here they’ve put together a lot of creative and performing talent, not least the man behind one of the Menier’s biggest hits, Sunday in the Park with George, Sam Buntrock and musicals stalwart Frances Ruffelle. Somewhat crucially though, the writer Diane Samuels, composer Gwyneth Herbert and leading lady Isy Suttie all have little musical theatre experience – and they seem to have had only two previews. This increases the risk significantly and for me it hasn’t paid off.

When you walk into the theatre you smile at the hundreds of items hanging from the roof – newspapers, suitcases, telephones, street-signs; it’s a lovely design by Klara Zieglerova. We’re told Mrs P’s story from her return to the UK sans husband, getting the idea for the A-Z, it’s development and launch through to its 20th anniversary when she effectively hands over ownership to her employees by setting up a trust. Alongside this we get the story of her relationship with her bullying father and alcoholic mother and their relationship with one another. Unfortunately, this tragic tale sits uncomfortably alongside an otherwise wistful story of an eccentric Brit.

There are other structural issues, notably a lack of clarity about where her father is – London or New York – at any given time and in the positioning of flashbacks to their earlier lives, which are sometimes confusing. The sondheimesque score has too few fully developed songs and lots of snatches and the lyrics are sometimes inaudible despite (or because of?) amplification. At 2h 30m it’s a touch overlong and it came close to losing me altogether before the interval and again before it ended.

Isy Suttie acts well and copes with the moderate vocal demands of her solo parts, but she struggles when she has to sing with others or raise the volume and impact, when she veers off key. The rest of the cast do a good job with their multiple roles and I particularly liked Stuart Matthew Price as her brother Tony and Sidney Livingstone as her right hand man. The band plays the score gently and is well balanced with the vocals.

I think the core issue is that it hasn’t had enough development, rehearsal or try-out. It just doesn’t feel ready to be put before a critical press, though I’m yet to know what they thought. Good idea, lots of talent and craftsmanship but it didn’t really work for me I’m afraid.

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It’s hard to believe it’s taken 10 years for this Marvin Hamlisch show to get to the UK, a delay no doubt resulting from its lack of success on Broadway in a production by our very own Nicholas Hytner. It may be on the fringe, but the production feels very West End; a bit too slick maybe?

It’s set in 1952 (a good year!) in the manipulative, machaeavelian world of gossip columnist JJ Hunsecker. A mere mention in his column and you hit the bigtime or disappear into obscurity. Venues and people employ press agents specifically to get them into his column and he befriends one such agent, Sidney Falcone, in a club where Sidney poses as JJ’s sister Susan’s friend in order to cover up her relationship with jazz pianist Dallas – though he hasn’t even met her. JJ’s relationship with his younger sister is possessive, obsessive and rather unhealthy. They propel Dallas to stardom, but when JJ and Dallas discover the truth the shit hits the fan bigtime.

The seven piece band under MD Bob Broad makes one of the biggest sounds I’ve ever heard in the theatre and you jump as they hit the first notes. Fortunately, Ed Borgnis’ sound design maintains perfect balance with the vocals and it all sounds great. The new Arcola studio has seats on three sides and three galleries – one long one for the audience, a smaller one for the band and an even smaller performance space. Most of the action takes place on the unelevated stage floor, though the arrival of the chorus at the back in a space that has something to do with the building’s former use is ingenious. A few neon signs and some furniture constitute the minimalist but effective design by Mark Bailey – there are 17 scenes in 14 different places!

I was hugely impressed by Adrian der Gregorian as Sidney; great characterisation and superb singing. Stuart Matthew Price was in fine voice as Dallas and Celia Graham gives a lovely cameo as Sidney’s girl Rita. I thought David Bamber was good though he didn’t blow me away like Der Gregorian did. Caroline Keiff’s seemed to be singing uncomfortably high as Susan. There’s an excellent ensemble who are well choreographed by Nathan M Wright. Mehmet Ergen’s production is super-slick and that for me was a bit of a problem. The show is a bit cold and cynical (typical of book writer John Guare), failing to engage on an emotional level, and the production’s slickness just adds to that rather than trying to balance it. Perhaps coming just two nights after Howard Goodall’s deeply moving musical of  A Winter’s Tale at the Landor didn’t help.

Still, as impressive an outing as the show is ever likely to get and just 3 months after Hamlisch’s sad demise. Off to Dalston you go…..

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