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Posts Tagged ‘The Other Palace’

In 1987, a quirky and, at that time, highly original little one act musical called March of the Falsettos turned up in the West End for a few weeks. It was the second part of a trilogy but we never saw In Trousers, the first part, or Falsettoland, the third, here in the UK. This is the second and third part together, and its taken 27 years to get here, hot on the heels of a successful Broadway revival three years ago. It’s writer William Finn went on to give us The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, Little Miss Sunshine and the song cycle Elegies, and there are a handful of other shows that never made the crossing. His book co-writer James Lapine is better known as Stephen Sondheim’s collaborator on three of his shows between 1984 and 1994.

The story revolves around Marvin, Jewish New Yorker, married to Trina, son Jason. He leaves Trina for a man, Whizzer. Trina goes to Marvin’s shrink Mendel to help her come to terms with it. She gets Mendel to see her son Jason at home, though he might be the most balanced of them all. She ends up marrying Mendel. Marvin and Whizzer bicker, as do Marvin and Trina. He seems to want it all. Marvin and Whizzer split. In the second part we meet the lesbians, Marvin’s neighbours, and he is reconciled with Whizzer. The family rows turn to Jason’s bar mitzvah and the spectre of AIDS appears. The story is told almost entirely in song, thirty-five of them in fact. They are expertly crafted, catchy tunes with sharp, witty lyrics that really do propel and animate the story. Each part starts lightly, but gets serious, and both dare to end sadly. It struck me how ground-breaking it must have been and how much it was ahead of its time. With the exception of the fatality of HIV, it seems more a story of now than then.

This appears to be a big gig for Director / Choreographer Tara Overfield-Wilkinson and she’s done a great job. The real strength of the production is its faultless casting; I loved every one of them. Daniel Boys as Marvin and Oliver Saville as Whizzer excel in both acting and singing and the combination of their voices is beautiful. Laura Pitt-Pulford shines as always as Trina and I loved Joel Montague’s characterisation of Mendel, both also in fine voice. Natasha J Barnes and Gemma Knight-Jones make great contributions in the second past as the lesbians, with great big vocal performances. Young George Kennedy gives an incredibly assured performance as Jason; a most auspicious professional debut indeed.

In the last six months the producers Selladoor have given us Amelie at the Watermill and on tour and Finn’s Little Miss Sunshine at the Arcola and on tour. Long may they continue to deliver such high quality productions like this. Don’t miss it!

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The Best Theatre of 2017

Time to reflect on, and celebrate, the shows I saw in 2017 – 200 of them, mostly in London, but also in Edinburgh, Leeds, Cardiff, Brighton, Chichester, Newbury and Reading.

BEST NEW PLAY – THE FERRYMAN

We appear to be in a golden age of new writing, with 21 of the 83 I saw contenders. Most of our finest living playwrights delivered outstanding work this year, topped by James Graham’s three treats – Ink, Labour of Love and Quiz. The Almeida, which gave us Ink, also gave us Mike Bartlett’s Albion. The National had its best year for some time, topped by David Eldridge’s West End bound Beginning, as well as Inua Ellams’ The Barbershop Chronicles, Lee Hall’s adaptation of Network, Nina Raine’s Consent, Lucy Kirkwood’s Mosquitos and J T Rogers’ Oslo, already in the West End. The Young Vic continued to challenge and impress with David Greig’s updating of 2500-year-old Greek play The Suppliant Womenand the immersive, urgent and important Jungle by Joe’s Murphy & Robertson. Richard Bean’s Young Marxopened the new Bridge Theatre with a funny take on 19th century history. On a smaller scale, I very much enjoyed Wish List at the Royal Court Upstairs, Chinglish at the Park Theatre, Late Companyat the Finborough, Nassim at the Bush and Jess & Joe at the Traverse during the Edinburgh fringe. Though they weren’t new this year, I finally got to see Harry Potter & the Cursed Child I & II and they more than lived up to the hype. At the Brighton Festival, Richard Nelson’s Gabriels trilogycaptivated and in Stratford Imperium thrilled, but it was impossible to topple Jez Butterworth’s THE FERRYMAN from it’s rightful place as BEST NEW PLAY.

BEST REVIVAL – ANGELS IN AMERICA / WHO’S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF

Much fewer in this category, but then again I saw only 53 revivals. The National’s revival of Angels in America was everything I hoped it would be and shares BEST REVIVAL with Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf. The Almeida’s Hamlet was the best Shakespearean revival, with Macbeth in Welsh in Caerphilly Castle, my home town, runner up. Though it’s not my genre, the marriage of play and venue made Witness for the Prosecution a highlight, with Cat on a Hot Tin Roof and Apologia the only other West End contributions in this category. On the fringe, the Finborough discovered another gem, Just to Get Married, and put on a fine revival of Arthur Miller’s Incident at Vichy. In the end, though, the big hitters hit big and ANGELS IN AMERICA & WHO’S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF shone brightest.

BEST NEW MUSICAL – ROMANTICS ANONYMOUS

Well, I’d better start by saying I’m not seeing Hamilton until the end of the month! I had thirty-two to choose from here. The West End had screen-to-stage shows Dreamgirlsand School of Rock, which I saw in 2017 even though they opened the year before, and both surprised me in how much I enjoyed them. Two more, Girls and Young Frankenstein, proved even more welcome, then at the end of the year Everybody’s Talking About Jamie joined them ‘up West’, then a superb late entry by The Grinning Man. The West End bound Strictly Ballroom wowed me in Leeds as it had in Melbourne in 2015 and Adrian Mole at the Menier improved on it’s Leicester outing, becoming a delightful treat. Tiger Bay took me to in Cardiff and, despite its flaws, thrilled me. The Royal Academy of Music produced an excellent musical adaptation of Loves Labours Lost at Hackney Empire, but it was the Walthamstow powerhouse Ye Olde Rose & Crown that blew me away with the Welsh Les Mis, My Lands Shore, until ROMANTICS ANONYMOUS at the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse at The Globe stole my heart and the BEST NEW MUSICAL category.

BEST MUSICAL REVIVAL – A LITTLE NIGHT MUSIC / FOLLIES

Thirty-two in this category too. The year started with a fine revival of Rent before Sharon D Clarke stole The Life at Southwark Playhouse and Caroline, or Change in Chichester (heading for Hampstead) in quick succession. Southwark shone again with Working, Walthamstow with Metropolis and the Union with Privates on Parade. At the Open Air, On the Town was a real treat, despite the cold and wet conditions, and Tommyat Stratford with a fully inclusive company was wonderful. NYMT’s Sunday in the Park With George and GSMD’s Crazy for You proved that the future is in safe hands. The year ended In style with a lovely My Fair Lady at the Mill in Sonning, but in the end it was two difficult Sondheim’s five days apart – A LITTLE NIGHT MUSIC at the Watermill in Newbury and FOLLIES at the National – that made me truly appreciate these shows by my musical theatre hero and share BEST MUSICAL REVIVAL

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Sometimes shows don’t cross the Atlantic successfully (either way) and I think this is one of them. It’s quintessentially American, with rather more schmaltz than most Brits can stomach. Though there’s much to like, it falls short of complete success, though it’s fair to say that the audience’s reaction on the night I went was much more positive than the critical reception, so perhaps its a populist rather than critical success. I think I’m more with the critics than the audience.

It’s based on Daniel Wallace’s 1998 novel, made into a film by Tim Burton in 2003 (somewhat ironically with Brits Albery Finney and Ewan McGregor as the leading man and his younger self). John August was responsible for the screenplay as he is here for the book, with music and lyrics by Andrew Lippa. It starts at Edward Bloom’s son’s wedding, during which he is taken ill. From his hospital bed, he tells tall tales which are re-enacted as song and dance fantasy sequences. These include a witch, a giant and a werewolf and times in a circus, at war and as a travelling salesman. His son has been hearing these all his life and doesn’t believe any of them, but one day he tracks down his dad’s old school friend Jenny and discovers a true tale he hadn’t been told, which enables them to repair their relationship before Edward dies.

Like Lippa’s The Wild Party at the same venue earlier in the year, the story is subservient to the ‘turns’, so there are some great comic song and dance routines but they don’t really add up to a satisfying musical theatre work. The songs are OK, the comedy broad but fun, but the story sentimental tosh which I found rather pointless, I’m afraid. The lead role isn’t very demanding, but Kelsey Grammer, the main draw here, is likeable and playful. The real work is left to the younger members of the cast, most notably Jamie Muscato as the young Edward and Matthew Seadon-Young as his son Will, amongst the best of the new generation of musical theatre performers and both on fine form. The comic honours belong to Forbes Masson in more than one role.

I liked the intimacy that The Other Palace facilitates, but it’s a big show for that space and it sometimes felt a touch cramped. Given the space, Liam Steel works wonders with the choreography, with a particularly fine sequence for Muscato involving hula hoops. Tom Rogers design, with projections by Duncan McLean, works well and Nigel Harman, relatively new to directing, marshals his resources well. In fact, all of the creative and performing contributions are excellent, it’s the material that lets them down, though I don’t regret going.

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I’ve lost count of the number of four-hander chamber musicals / song cycles set in New York (lots!) but this one has music by master songwriter Burt Bacharach. It doesn’t seem to have had many productions since its San Diego premiere six years ago and this short run is its UK premiere.

It works backwards from present day, with former lovers Ben and Molly reflecting on where they went wrong, helped by their younger selves, who act out scenes from their earlier lives and sometimes interact with their older selves. They met in a restaurant where Ben was a pianist / singer and Molly a waitress. They move in together and Molly subsidises Ben’s career, buying him a baby grand piano amongst other things, but the relationship doesn’t go anywhere and they eventually split.

Neither the characterisations nor the story are meaty or interesting enough to sustain a 90-minute musical, I’m afraid. Bacharach’s songs are good, but Sater’s book and lyrics aren’t really good enough. I wasn’t convinced by Ben Richards as older Ben, but I liked the other three performances, especially Aaron Kavanagh as young Ben, who has only just graduated from the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, whose singing and acting were both hugely impressive. Jordan Li-Smith leads a nice quartet, but the sound balance between the band and singers could do with improvement.

It felt very much like work-in-progress to me, and on that basis it showed promise. Given a re-write, a lot more could be made of it.

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I have to confess that I’ve never seen the iconic 1957 Oscar-winning Fellini film on which this is based, but it seems to lend itself to adaptation as a musical, and director Sally Cookson weaves the same homespun lo-tech magic she did with Jane Eyre and Peter Pan at the NT.

Gelsomina is ‘sold’ by her mother to strongman street performer Zampano, as her sister Rosa, who died in his care, had been just one year before. She becomes his assistant, drumming up an audience and passing around the hat. He’s a bit of a bully and when they join a circus, clown Il Matto taunts and torments him, ultimately leading to a tragic outcome. Gelsomina eventually breaks free, when Zampano realises what she really means to him.

It’s a simple tale and it gets a simple but delightful production in Cookson’s Kneehighesque style. Mike Akers has adapted it for the stage (he’s called ‘Writer in the Room’ because he writes it during rehearsals, with everyone involved contributing) and Benji Bower has added some excellent music. Katie Sykes’ design has a great sense of period, place and character.

Audrey Brisson, so good in The Flying Lovers of Vitebsk, is delightful as Gelsomina, her voice shining in a couple of songs.  Stuart Goodwin is excellent as Zampano, with great presence and truly believable rage. Bart Soroczynski’s Il Matto is a contrastingly playful character, with genuinely good circus skills.

It’s an odd show for The Other Palace, it might feel more at home at Southwark Playhouse or BAC, but it sits well in the space and I was glad I caught it.

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This show is written by Duncan Sheik, the man who gave us the ground-breaking musical Spring Awakening, a critical and commercial hit on Broadway, a critical hit but commercial flop in the West End (I should know, I lost a wardrobe full of shirts on it). This comes between that and his excellent musical adaptation of American Psycho at the Almeida Theatre. I therefore had high hopes for this.

Set on the East coast of the USA during the second world war, Lily continues the family tradition of running the lighthouse, a more significant role now that German U-boats are off the coast. Lily’s young nephew Christopher is sent to stay with her, something neither of them are happy with. Christopher is even less happy with the fact his aunt has a Japanese helper, Yasuhiro, as his dad was shot down by a Japanese plane, so he’s pleased when the local sheriff apprehends him in line with US government’s policy regarding nationals of Germany, Italy & Japan. The other two characters are ghosts, apparently of people who died through the negligence of Lily’s ancestors.

It’s a vey slight piece, with undistinguished music, that falls flat and goes nowhere. The best song comes after the curtain call, sung by the ghosts. I liked the way designer Andrew Riley has reconfigured the space and the staging, performances and onstage band were fine. It runs for just 80 minutes, plus a totally unnecessary interval, no doubt for the usual commercial reasons. I just didn’t engage with it at all, and I’m a bit puzzled as to why they’ve bothered to put it on. Oh, and there’s another of those programme notes about it resonating more post-Trump. Yawn…..

 

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This is a musical based on a poem! Somewhat bizarrely, another musical based on the same poem opened in the same 2010 season in New York. This one, by Michael John LaChiusa, was on Broadway; the other, by Andrew Lippa, ran Off-Broadway. It crosses the Atlantic seven years on to open the newly rebranded The Other Palace, formerly St. James’ Theatre. Given it lasted less than two months over there, I wasn’t expecting to be quite so blown away, though more so by the terrific staging and sensational performances than the material..

It’s a slice of roaring twenties decadence. Queenie and Burrs are Vaudeville entertainers who form a stormy, abusive relationship. They throw the wild party of the title, fuelled by alcohol and cocaine, resulting in all sorts of sexual activity and depravity. When the party’s over, there are hangovers, regrets and recriminations, before its tragic conclusion. It feels more like a song cycle than a musical (and there are almost forty of them!). Above all, it’s a showcase for the performers.

The story is subservient to the jazz-influenced score. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a show with so many showstoppers and so many show-stealing opportunities, distributed evenly so that almost everyone gets their moment. The longer first half doesn’t let up and by the interval I was exhausted; I think I’d have liked more light and shade. This is delivered in the shorter and darker second half with a series of sensational solo turns, many of which bring the house down. 

Soutra Gilmour’s design has a ‘stairway to heaven’ and terrific costumes. Drew McOnie continues his successful transition from choreographer to director / choreographer with a staging that took my breath away and choreography that was positively thrilling. Theo Jamieson’s eight-piece band sounded terrific.

I’m not sure where to start with the performances as they were all stars. John Owen-Jones was in fine acting and vocal form as Burrs, miles away from his usual territory, and Frances Ruffelle was clearly relishing every moment as Queenie. US star Donna McKechnie was a treat in her cameo as Delores. We’re used to scene-stealing turns from Tiffany Graves and Victoria Hamilton-Barritt and they deliver yet again. Sebastien Torkia & Steven Serlin make a superb double-act as the budding producers, particularly in their second half comic duet. Casting women as ambisexual brothers Oscar & Phil D’Armano was an inspired idea and Genesis Lynea & Gloria Obianyo are outstanding. Dex Lee and Ako Mitchell are superb as Jackie and Eddie respectively. It’s hard to imagine a better cast.

This exceeded my expectations; it’s rare to see such faultless casting and such a stunning production. Head to Victoria while you have the chance. 

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