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Posts Tagged ‘Theo Jamieson’

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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There was a time when I wasn’t interested in hearing songs from musicals performed out of context; now I can’t seem to get enough – this is the second of three evenings this month. There are five Sondheim compilation shows and this is one of the two most famous, but after it’s premiere run in Oxford 22 years ago (starring Diana Rigg, no less) it never got to the West End – well, until now. It’s been worth the wait.

It’s an unpredictable selection, with four from the film Dick Tracy, two from rarity The Frogs (which co-incidentally I will be seeing for the first time on Saturday) and numbers from the less well-known Do I Hear A Waltz? and Anyone Can Whistle and that’s actually part of its appeal. They are not just sung, they are performed by the characters for whom they were written by a quintet of seasoned musicals professionals – David Badella, Daniel Crossley, Janine Dee, Damien Humbley & Caroline Sheen. I loved the arrangements for piano, double bass, trumpet and three woodwind and they were played beautifully by an extraordinarily young band under Theo Jamieson.

As solos or in various combinations, these songs are interpreted with meaning and you savour every word of Sondheim’s incomparable lyrics. You know they’ve worked when you’re on the edge of your seat willing Janine Dee to make it through the manic Not Getting Married Today (which she does, to perfection), you’re laughing uproariously at Daniel Crossley’s hysterical take on Buddy’s Blues and Being Alive brings a tear to your eye just by being uplifting. There’s some sprightly choreography, a conceit that they’re all at a cocktail party and the only props are a chaise longue and a drinks table, but it’s the songs that make the show.

Producer & musical supervisor Alex Parker, director Alastair Knights & choreographer Matthew Rowland, like MD Theo Jamieson, have all graduated in the last 18 months and there’s a youthfulness, energy and freshness about the whole thing; a towering achievement indeed.

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