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Posts Tagged ‘Thomas Michael Voss’

This new musical is based on the true story of a West Country vagrant who fooled ‘society’ into believing her to be an exotic princess. It was the subject of a 1994 film (co-written by John Wells, no less) and a 2012 novel by Catherine Johnson, but I’d never heard of it! It was intended for a big-scale production in Bristol, but that never materialised, so the Finborough Theatre has the privilege of presenting its world premiere.

An Iberian sailor introduces the ‘princess’ to benevolent aristocrats Sir Charles & Lady Elizabeth Worrall. She reminds them of their dear departed daughter and they ‘adopt’ her and introduce her to society. Their destitute nephew Eddie returns from his travels at sea and attempts to decipher her language, in the process of which he falls for her and she for him. His old school chum, now Lord Marlborough, a better catch, also courts her, though his attraction seems to be more lust than love. She is eventually found out and her benefactors humiliated by The Times revelations of the truth. She returns to poverty before finding her escape route.

It’s good subject matter for a musical and Phil Willmott has done a very good job adapting it for the stage, though the opening is a bit muddled as we’re presented with an illustrated ‘lecture’ by Worrall, with scenes played out by his staff. The lecture as narration might work better on its own without the play-within-a-play idea. The shows strongest point is a lovey, tuneful score by Willmott and Mark Collins, here very well sung (though occasionally a touch more vocal restraint by some would have made it even better) with excellent orchestrations played by a trio of keyboards, violin & winds led by MD Freddie Tapner

You can see how it would work on a bigger scale, though it works perfectly well on this scale, with ten performers playing all of the roles. Choreographer Thomas Michael Voss even manages to get some effective dance & movement in this tiny space. The production values are very good, with a simple uncluttered design by Toby Burbridge, making particularly good use of a large mirror and models of houses and ships, and Penn O’Gara’s costumes are excellent. It’s a fine cast without a weak link. Phil Sealey and Sarah Lawn were delightful as the Worrall’s, Christian James made a charming Eddie and Nikita Johal a fine Princess. I was particularly impressed by Oliver Stanley as Marlborough, as close to a baddie as we get in this show.

It’s refreshing to have a new musical whose setting isn’t contemporary, which has more than four characters and which isn’t Sondheimesque! I’m sure this won’t be its last outing, but anyone interested in musical theatre should head for the Finborough in the next two weeks.

 

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This latest (last?) Stephen Sondheim musical has had a tortuous journey since it was first workshopped by Sam Mendes in New York City in 1999. First produced in Washington and Chicago (where I first saw it) in 2003, it re-appeared Off-Broadway in 2008 but never made The Great White Way. It started as Wise Guys before it became Gold!, Bounce and eventually Road Show. It’s not even five years since it’s UK premiere at The Menier Chocolate Factory (https://garethjames.wordpress.com/2011/07/15/road-show), but it’s good to see it again in this revival by Phil Willmott at the Union Theatre.

The show presents the story of the real life Mizner brothers. Younger brother Wilson was a serial entrepreneur / chancer / con-man and Addison a self-trained architect. Their adventures started with the Klondike Gold Rush in 1897, moved to New York City in its hey-day and ended with ground-breaking property development in Florida. In between, Wilson gambles, runs a saloon, becomes a boxing manager, writes plays, sells Latin American furniture, becomes a hotelier and marries a very rich widow. Addison’s journey was less colourful! In truth, in the show their story isn’t anywhere near as exciting and doesn’t make as good source material as any other Sondheim show, but compared to mere mortals it ain’t half bad. The score has too few proper songs and a bit too much ensemble sung dialogue / story, with a lot of melodies that seem familiar from other Sondheim shows.

Phil Willmott’s production is very effective, probably more so that the Menier’s traverse staging. The big two-way mirror at the back works really well and full use is made of the space, making it seem bigger than usual. I particularly liked Thomas Michal Voss’ choreography and Richard Baker’s trio does full justice to the complex, difficult score. The casting of the brothers is crucial to the success of this show and this is its trump card. Howard Jenkins and Andre Refig, both recent RAM graduates with fine vocal and acting skills, are terrific, conveying the completely different personalities, yet totally believable as brothers. The other three leads and ensemble of ten are all very good, but they carry the show.

I wasn’t sure we’d ever see this flawed but fascinating show again and I worried it might be soon to return to it, but I’m very glad I did.

 

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It may be one of the most preposterous stories in musical theatre, but how can you resist a show with a leprechaun called Og who is fast becoming mortal, a mute character who communicates through dance steps, a corrupt racist US senator who gets magicked into poverty (and back again, reformed) and a song called How Are Things in Glocca Morra?! Oh, and a very good score that includes rousing gospel choruses led by Preacher Michael and his three singing ‘sisters’.

The Finian of the title brings the leprechaun’s crock of gold from Ireland to deep south USA, where the poor people of Rainbow Valley are struggling. The drought has put pay to the tobacco crop and the Senator and his corrupt Sheriff are trying to steal their land. Finian’s grand-daughter Sharon falls in love with local boy Woody and the soon to be mortal leprechaun with Woody’s mute sister Susan who is soon to be mute no more. The crock makes wishes come true and news of a gold find spreads to Chicago encouraging swanky retailer Shears & Robust to extend credit to the whole community to allow them to buy the things of their dreams.

Phil Wilmott’s production has it’s tongue firmly in its cheek and as long as you are prepared to suspend disbelief for a couple of hours, it’s a bit of a guilty pleasure. Twenty-three might break even the tiny Union’s cast record and there’s a three piece band too (plus the bassist’s friend sitting in silence!). There’s no designer credited but it looks good, and there’s some great choreography from Thomas Michael Voss. Above all it’s the music what makes it and it’s well sung, particularly by sweet voiced Christina Bennington as Sharon, and the choruses are rousing. James Horne and Raymond Walsh, playing Finian and Og respectively, have the appropriate gift of the gab and lots of charm and Michael Moulton makes a great larger-than-life baddie as the Senator.

Given it was written in 1947, Burton Lane & E.Y. Harburg’s show may have been a touch satirical then, with swipes at racism and corruption, but its the fun factor that makes it worth a visit today, the first opportunity to see it here for over 50 years.

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