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Posts Tagged ‘Summer Strallen’

There are times in every theatre-goers life when they just want fun, which is exactly what this show delivers. Mel Brooks will never win any awards for subtlety, sophistication or political correctness, but when it comes to big laughs and huge fun, he sweeps the board.

Like The Producers musical adaptation before it, the show is based on his own 1974 film, adapted by Brooks himself (with Thomas Meehan contributing to the book) 33 years later, and it’s taken another 10 to cross the Atlantic, apparently improved and rewritten. As musicals go, it’s small scale, and achieves an intimacy at the Garrick Theatre that makes you feel like you’re sharing a joke with your friends.

There’s little need to outline the story, though it’s never been so loud, brash, cheeky or rude before. The songs will be remembered more for how they emerge from the tale than their quality as songs. It’s packed with sight gags, not always new, but always funny. The designs makes a virtue of the fact they’re old school (all painted screens and flats). The performances are broad, but impeccably executed. Above all, the smile rarely leaves your face and you often ache from laughter.

Hadley Fraser is simply superb as Frankenstein, with that manic twinkle in his eye, athletic movement, fine vocals and impeccable comic timing. Ross Noble is a revelation as hunchback Igor; stand-up’s loss is a real gain for musical theatre. Lesley Joseph is popular casting as the housekeeper Frau Blucher, whose voice alone scares the horses, themselves brilliantly cast! There’s a Strallen of course, and Summer delivers the comic goods as well as the fine vocals we’ve become used to. I haven’t seen much of Dianne Pilkington’s work, but she’s terrific here as Frankenstein’s fiancee. Schuler Hensley is a great monster and Patrick Clancy doubles up brilliantly as the Inspector and the Hermit (I didn’t know it was the same man until his curtain call!). It’s superbly cast and their combined sense of fun sweeps you away – they’re clearly having as much fun as the audience.

Some will find it crude, some corny, some tacky, but if you go just to have some very welcome fun you won’t be disappointed.

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Even though it’s based on the 1919 novel by P G Wodehouse which became a silent movie the following year, a stage play by Wodehouse with Ian Hay eight years later that was turned into a film musical written by Wodehouse and others, with music by the Gershwin’s, nine years after that in 1937, this is actually a world première! What’s actually new is Jeremy Sams & Robert Hudson’s book and the Gershwin’s back catalogue has been mined for additional songs.

George Bevan is in the process of transferring his Broadway show to the West End and has brought his female star Billie Dore with him. Whilst he’s trying to make changes that the British director and some of the cast are reluctant to make, he meets and falls in love with Maud, Lord Marshmoreton’s daughter, who is betrothed to hapless, star-struck Reggie. George and Billie visit the Marshmoreton castle as tourists where Maud, prone to wander, is imprisoned by her father’s formidable sister Lady Caroline. So begins the rescue of the damsel in distress and the resulting marriage or four. It’s silly stuff but it provides some good comedy and Gershwin tunes (though it has to be said second division Gershwin) and who can resist a song called I’m A Poached Egg!

Christopher Oram’s revolving castle is terrific and his costumes excellent. The staging is traditional, perhaps a little too so, and I wondered if Director / Choreographer Rob Ashford should have delegated the latter to someone else (Stephen Mear, perhaps) to bring some freshness and more sparkle. It’s a great cast, led by Sally Ann Triplett (welcome back!) and Richard Fleeshman, building on his work in Ghost and Urinetown and fast becoming an excellent musicals leading man. Nicholas Farrell is a fine actor but not someone I associate with musicals and I was very pleasantly surprised by his excellent turn as the Lord. I loved Richard Dempsey as Reggie and Desmond Barrit as the butler; both great comic creations. There’s a Strallen of course (Summer, playing Maud) and some lovely turns in smaller roles from Isla Blair as Lady Caroline and David Roberts & Chloe Hart as the cooks, who brought the house down.

Chichester FT has been on such a roll with great musical productions in recent years (Singing in the Rain, Love Story, Sweeney Todd, Pajama Game and last year’s pair of  Gypsy and Guys & Dolls, which between them will spend a year at the Savoy Theatre in London) that good productions like this struggle to live up to their own extraordinarily high standard. Still, it’s summer fun and there’s much to enjoy – and the inspiration for the location of the Lord’s home in the show is apparently close to Chichester and the other location is indeed the Savoy Theatre, so maybe they’ll also move this to the real one and occupy it even longer.

 

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Well you have to, don’t you? Go and see something that divides people. Make your own mind up.

Well, I’m not with the phans and I’m not with the whingers. I actually don’t regret going (though I didn’t pay, so I might have felt differently if I’d coughed up the £67.50 my seat cost) though I wouldn’t go again. The show’s the problem; the production is the reason to go.

The truth is there isn’t much of a story – SPOILER WATCH – Phantom goes to NYC and sets up a freak show – anonymously invites Christine over to sing  (she needs the money as she’s now married to a drunken aristocrat) – her son turns out to be the Phantom’s – she dies. It’s spun out for 2.5 hours with another one of Ben Elton’s pathetic books, undistinguished lyrics from Glenn Slater and another dose of ALW’s mushy pop-opera music.

BUT the production and performances really are good, so there’s stuff to look and wonder at and singing and acting to admire. I wasn’t impressed by Sierra Boggess (the title song was the lowspot of the evening for me) but was hugely impressed by the Phantom’s understudy, Tam Mutu. The boy – Harry Child at the performance I saw – was terrific. Summer Strallen almost steals the show with her quick-change-almost-strip number. A big talent like Joseph Milsom is rather wasted in the rather underwritten role of Raoul.

The orchestrations are great and the 27-piece orchestra really does sound good. There is some nice music, though not enough – but it’s a lot better than Woman In White. Bob Crowley’s design with Jon Driscoll’s projections, Scott Penrose’s special effects and Paule Constable’s lighting are highly effective. The sound is amongst the best I’ve experienced in a musical. Director Jack O’Brien and choreographer Jerry Mitchell do their best with the material they’re given.

In the end, it proves yet again that ALW really does need a collaborator as good as Tim Rice; chairing a committee with Elton, Slater and Frederick Forsyth (!) just doesn’t produce a good show. So, a great production in search of a good show. You’re left to admire the talent on and off stage and in the orchestra pit.

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