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Posts Tagged ‘Tim Rice’

A musical at the Open Air Theatre has been one of my summer institutions for decades. Evita is one of the few Andrew Lloyd-Webber shows I like, I hadn’t seen it for thirteen years and the director and designer are favourites of mine, but it didn’t catch my imagination and I didn’t book early as usual. The reviews suggested it was more of a rock concert and I hadn’t liked a similar treatment of Jesus Christ Superstar, so decision confirmed. Then in its final week, a free evening, sunny days, a few single tickets available, a dose of FOMO and no willpower…….

It’s staged on eight large steps the width of the theatre with the band at the back in a corrugated roofed shed behind a giant EVITA sign. It isn’t long before the smoke and confetti bombs confirm the rock concert aesthetic, later joined by more of the same plus fire and fireworks. Even Fabian Aloise’s quirky, grungy choreography owes more to pop videos that musical theatre. Soutra Gilmour’s design palette goes from funereal black through greys to the Peronist pale blue, with at one point Evita’s white dress spectacularly coloured before our eyes.

Some of this works well, particularly big numbers like the opening Requiem, Act I’s closer A New Argentina, the European visit’s Rainbow Tour & the charity fundraising The Money Keeps Rolling In, but it doesn’t always serve the story well, with some of Tim Rice’s sharp lyrics inaudible. Somewhat ironically, presenting it as a rock concert emphasised how operatic it is, but opera really needs more subtlety and some restraint to go with its spectacle. This is a bit of a one dimensional Evita and I couldn’t help fondly recalling Hal Prince’s ground-breaking original in 1978 and Michael Grandage’s stylish revival in 2006.

I liked the all-shapes-sizes-and-colours ensemble very much, and Alan Williams’ band was simply terrific. Trent Saunders was an excellent Che and Ektor Rivera good as Peron. I felt Samantha Pauly was too shouty as Eva and her vocals sometimes shaky, though in all fairness it was a cool evening (I had a jumper and fleece on) and she was clothed in next to nothing, albeit under bright lights most of the time. I can’t help wondering why all three leads are American when we have many here, some no doubt unemployed, who would jump at and excel in these roles.

I enjoyed it more than Superstar, I respect and admire Jamie Lloyd for taking a fresh look and I don’t regret going, but can we move on from ALW revivals in concert and get back to business as usual please? Ah, Carousel next year – now you’re talking……

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The weather hasn’t been kind to us this year at the Open Air Theatre. We managed to get through On the Town with delays and shivers, and this one with a thirty minutes unscheduled break in the first half. Though I’m a regular at OAT musicals, I didn’t book for this last year as I’m not that keen on Andrew Lloyd-Webber’s music (except Evita and his collaboration with Puccini, Phantom of the Opera!) and I’m an unbeliever (though if I was, I might take offence at some scenes). The reviews, awards and friends suggested I’d made a mistake, so we booked for this second run. Though there were things I admired, I think I was right first time.

It tells the story of the last year of Jesus’ life, sung through, more rock opera than musical, a year after The Who started the genre with Tommy. The music seems dated, much more so than other music of the period. The seriousness of the story doesn’t really allow Tim Rice to shine lyrically, with his trademark sharp wit. Timothy Sheader’s production seems more rock concert than musical theatre, returning the show to its first flash Broadway outing rather than following the more restrained London production.

Here we have Tom Scutt’s giant two-story metal structure with a huge fallen cross, something like 300 spotlights and smoke, flares and fire. I found myself admiring the spectacle, but not at all engaged with the story. The singing honours belong to Tyrone Huntly as Judas, who is as sensational, as had been suggested, and as he was in Dreamgirls, and there’s a terrific band under Tom Deering. Drew McConie’s choreography is bold and is the freshest aspect of the show.

Great spectacle, but I went to a musical not a rock concert, so not enough for me I’m afraid.

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Tim Rice is destined to be forever linked to Andrew Lloyd Webber, but only five of his sixteen shows were with him, and of these two didn’t get major productions and one (The Wizard of Oz) was just additional lyrics for additional songs. He wrote with seven other composers, including three each with Disney’s Alan Menken and Elton John, but this 1983 show, with the late Stephen Oliver, was the first post-ALW. It had a decent run in two theatres in the West End, but never made Broadway and has only been revived once, eleven years ago at the Pleasance. It’s a comic romp that I’ve always had a bit of a soft spot for, and this revival confirms that.

Blondel is an unsuccessful troubadour, with a feminist socialist girlfriend Fiona. This is the late 12th century, with Richard I on the throne, his disloyal brother John in the wings and the third crusade about to begin. Blondel manages to get his new song, I’m A Monarchist, heard by the king before he departs on the crusade. The king insists on taking Fiona as a skivvy, but Blondel stays behind. While Richard is away, John plots against him, intent on becoming king himself. The crusade ends in a draw (!), but the king is abducted by Duke Leopold of Austria on the way home. Blondel tours Europe’s castles singing his song until it is heard in Austria and results in Richard’s release, Blondel’s appointment as court musician and marriage to Fiona.

In an inspired move, there’s a quartet of monks as a chorus / narrators who sing (mostly) a Capella – their introduction is one of the best openings of any musical. Mathew Pritchard has added six songs, and changed two others, to Oliver’s original score, packed full of catchy tunes. Rice’s lyrics are superbly witty, as you might expect from a premiere league lyricist. I was surprised by how many tunes and words I remembered and I’ve been humming them continually since I left the theatre. It’s all a bit daft, but it’s great fun, with European and Middle East references taking on new meaning today.

Sasha Regan’s revival is very well cast, with the quartet of monks – David Fearn, Ryan Hall, Oliver Marshall and Calum Melville – simply superb, and Neil Moors shining as Richard the Lionheart, with particularly fine vocals. Connor Arnold oozes naïve charm as Blondel and Jessie May is delightfully feisty as Fiona, and there’s an excellent comic turn, again with good vocals, from Michael Burgen as the assassin who John hires. Simon Holt’s band was restrained enough to ensure the unamplified lyrics could be heard except for some in the quieter solos by less robust singers. I liked the map of Europe which formed the backdrop in Ryan Dawson Light’s design and Sasha Regan’s excellent staging has some chirpy choreography by Chris Whittaker.

Great to see such a good revival of a much neglected show.

 

 

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Biblical musicals aren’t really my thing. I’m not at all fond of the Lloyd-Webber / Rice pair, Jesus Christ Superstar and Joseph & the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat, or Godspell by Stephen Scwartz, who also wrote this (which flopped when it went straight to the West End twenty-five years ago). Somewhat perversely, I prefer it to the other three – all hits – but that may have a lot to do with the chamber scale and high quality of this revival.

Based on the Old Testament Book of Genesis, it tells the stories of Adam & Eve, Cain & Abel and Noah, the first two in Act I and the latter in Act II. I thought the score was rather good, as were Schwartz own lyrics, better than his other shows like Godspell, Pippin and Wicked. John Caird’s lucid book provides a cohesive structure. Even for an unbeliever like me, these are good yarns.

The staging (director Christian Durham) choreography (Lucie Pankhurst), design (Kingsley Hall) and lighting (Nic Farman) all come together to create a fresh, energetic and attractive whole. The animals were conjured up brilliantly and the use of umbrellas was very clever. Musical director Inga Davies-Rutter led an excellent quartet with particularly lovely woodwind sounds. It was very pleasing on the eye and ear.

There was a lot of doubling-up in the excellent young cast of eleven performers. I was particularly impressed by Stephen Barry as Adam / Noah and Canadian Natasha O’Brien (in her first UK role) as Eve / Mama Noah. There were other fine leading performances from Guy Woolf as Cain / Japeth, Daniel Miles as Abel / Ham and Nitika Johal as Yonah, and an excellent ensemble. They deserved a medal for getting through with the distraction of a front row of kids consuming an entire sweetshop with their mothers two rows behind necking cans of lager!

A very pleasant surprise, well worth catching.

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This new musical is full of superb ingredients. Soutra Gilmore’s design is brilliant. Javier de Frutos choreography is thrilling. Tamara Harvey’s staging is impeccable. The ensemble and the five leads are all excellent. Yet there’s something missing.

We start and end on a ship leaving Hawaii after Pearl Harbour. We spend the 2.5 hours in between with the American military back on the island in the days leading up to the Japanese attack in 1941. Two love stories intertwine – First Sargent Warden’s affair with Captain Holmes’ wife Karen and Private Prewitt’s love for prostitute Lorene. Prewitt has just arrived with high hopes he’ll boost both the boxing and musical credentials of G Company.

In the first half, the focus is on the development of these relationships and Prewitt’s reluctance to box or play and the show fails to engage or come alive. The second half is much grittier as the pressure mounts on Prewitt and choices have to be made by all of the lovers. There’s a realism to the situation (the late James Jones, on whose novel it is based, was there at this time) but Bill Oakes’ adaptation doesn’t entirely work. Stuart Brayson’s score is a bit uneven, but there are some good songs (the choruses are particularly good) and I very much liked David White’s orchestrations. If I hadn’t known Tim Rice was the lyricist, I don’t think I’d have noticed; it seems to lack his trademark sharpness and wit.

You can’t question the craftsmanship, though. The location and period are perfectly evoked in an impressionistic set based on a post-Pearl Harbour theatre and barracks with excellent projections by Jon Driscoll and lighting by Bruno Poet. De Frutos does the same as he did in Rufus Norris’ Cabaret – original and fresh choreography with a contemporary dance feel, which works particularly well in a barrack room scene, a boxing match and the air attack. Tamara Harvey’s staging has so much more intelligent detail than most musicals and the finale is hugely impressive.

Darius Campbell has great presence as Warden and real chemistry with Rebecca Thornhill’s Karen. Robert Lonsdale plays Prewitt with an appropriate edginess and great passion and is well matched with Siobhan Harrison as Lorene. Ryan Sampson first impressed me in DNA at the NT, then Canary at Hampstead, followed by The Kitchen Sink at the Bush (also directed by Tamara Harvey). He showed us his musicals potential in Floyd Collins at Southwark Playhouse and here he almost steals the show with a superb performance in the pivotal role of Angelo. The ensemble – all shapes and sizes, like the real world, for a change! – is uniformly excellent.

It’s a shame it doesn’t quite come together, but this is quality British musical theatre which is to be welcomed nonetheless. Only the lyricist and orchestrator have a strong West End Musicals track record and maybe that’s the crux of it – it brings a freshness of approach but doesn’t have the combined experience to quite pull it off. A bit like The Light Princess, really, and like that, you should still go.

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When his partnership with Andrew Lloyd-Webber ended, Tim Rice collaborated with the boys from ABBA to create this show about chess champions with a cold war political backdrop and plenty of love interest. I saw it, but somehow it has been erased from the memory – I can’t even remember whether I liked it or not! So off to Woking we go to find out……

I’ve loved most of Craig Revel Horwood’s actor-musician productions since he picked up the mantle at The Watermill Newbury from John Doyle. The best of them was 2009’s Spend Spend Spend and I even liked 2010’s Copacobana! They can breathe new life into weak shows like Sunset Boulevard. Here they scale up considerably with an onstage team of 29 and I’m afraid it doesn’t work. Here’s why:

1. The design is very clever, using light panels and projections. The costumes are good, but there are next to no props. With 21 scenes in 16 different locations, you’re given few references to help you follow the story. Apparently, at one point we were in the Temple of the Reclining Buddah in Bangkok; you’d never know it. It feels more like a staged concert than a show.

2. The sound design buries a lot of Tim Rice’s lyrics and given that it’s virtually sung through, that means burying some of the story too. The onstage musicians sound as if they are miming to a backstage band, so distant is the sound. The lead vocals are over-amplified above this, compounding the problem – it seems like they are on The X-Factor singing to a backing track.

3. With the actors doubling up as musicians, the stage is very crowded for most of the show. This is fine in a ‘big’ scene or chorus number, but completely distracting in a more intimate scene.

4. The show is clever, but maybe too clever for its own good. The slickness means you don’t really engage with the characters or their stories. Frankly, I didn’t give a shit about any of them and was completely unengaged and uninvolved – I found myself watching the stagecraft as if I was its producer taking a look at how my show was shaping up, preparing to give notes to the team.

5. For people who wrote some of the most iconic pop songs ever, the score has nothing remotely as good. It’s mostly sub-operatic mush, with I Know Him So Well the only showstopper. Tim Rice’s lyrical trademark is his wit, but there’s little of that too – though some may have got buried in the sound design.

6. The Theatre Royal, Woking isn’t The Watermill Theatre, Newbury!

The seven leads are fine – particularly Shona White as Florence, who sounds uncannily like Elaine Paige (the original Florence). Unfortunately, the production forces them to act and sing with little subtly. The chorus of clearly talented actor-musicians work very hard.

More is less I’m afraid – lots of talent and energy leading to little entertainment.

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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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