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Posts Tagged ‘Tom Chambers’

This re-working of the Gershwin’s’ 1930 show Girl Crazy came over sixty years later and was a huge hit on both Broadway and in the West End. It was a hit all over again five years ago when the Open Air Theatre mounted it, then transferred it ‘up West’ (https://garethjames.wordpress.com/2011/08/07/crazy-for-you). Now this third outing in Newbury’s lovely Watermill Theatre makes it a triple hit.

Ken Ludwig (best known for stage comedies) made significant changes to the original story, a culture clash between the wealth and sophistication of New York City and the somewhat wilder west. In his adaptation, stage-struck Bobby Child, who’s tried and failed to get into the Zangler Follies, is sent by his businesswoman mom to foreclose on a theatre in a Nevada desert town. Theatre owner Everett Baker is a former entertainer who’s deceased wife used to grace the stage with him. Billy falls in love with Everett’s daughter Polly and ships the Follies girls west in an attempt to rescue the theatre and get his girl. His strategy includes impersonating Zangler, which becomes problematic when the real Zangler turns up. In a bizarre but delicious addition, the Fodor’s of travel guide fame (British here, though they weren’t really) turn up to add a third culture to the mix.

The Gershwin’s score has been supplemented by numbers from a handful of their other shows, so the standards count is sky high – Someone To Watch Over Me, Embraceable You, I Got Rhythm, They Can’t Take That Away From Me, Nice Work If You Can Get It……and the musical standards are high too under Catherine Jayes supervision.  As usual here, the actors double-up as musicians, but the musical quality is so good you’d never know it if your eyes were closed.

The Watermill really does seem like a small-town American theatre, a small shed-like building with the addition of a gold proscenium arch and red curtains by regular designer Diego Pitarch, whose costumes are excellent. This is the first show I’ve seen by their new AD Paul Hart, and his staging is at least a match for all those other lovely summer musicals we’ve seen here. Choreographer Nathan M Wright works wonders in the small space. Watching burly, clumsy cowboys burst into dance alongside showgirls is a delight. There’s a particularly good comic scene where the Zanglers meet, and Tom Chambers climbing of, and dangling from, the balcony had us gasping on more than one occasion.

I wasn’t keen on the West End production of Top Hat, or Chambers performance in it, but here he is outstanding in every respect. Caroline Sheen is lovely as Polly, feisty and tomboyish, melting in the end. With another dozen performers, it’s a big ensemble for a small stage, and a very talented one too.

I do love these summer outings to the Watermill…..

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The problem with this stage premiere of the 1939 Fred Astaire / Ginger Rogers RKO picture is that’s its way too reverential. Most new stagings of 30’s shows (Anything Goes, Girl Crazy, On Your Toes, Babes in Arms…..) have scrubbed up fresh, but this feels like a visit to the RKO Musicals Museum.

It’s typical musical comedy fare. American hoofer Jerry Travers falls for Dale Tremont during a London run, but she thinks he’s producer Horace Hardwick. The mistaken identity unravels and resolves during a visit to Horace’s wife in Venice, where a rather cartoon Italian dressmaker Alberto Beddini gets caught up in the plot. It all ends happily (except for Alberto).

From Hildegard Bechtler’s lovely art deco sets & Jon Morrell’s accompanying costumes to the perfect wigs & make-up to the period choreography to the permanent smiles, it’s as if they set about recreating the film in colourful 3D. It felt like you’d dozed off on the sofa watching the movie in B&W on a Sunday afternoon and awoke disorientated with these people live in colour in your living room.

I found the leads a bit wooden; Charlotte Gooch is new, so she could be excused, but Tom Chambers has been doing it for 15 months. The smaller parts fared better, particularly Vivien Parry as Madge Hardwick, Stephen Boswell as Bates and understudy Paul Kemble as Horace Hardwick.

Director Matthew White has produced exciting revivals of Sweet Charity and Little Shop of Horrors at the Menier and choreographer Bill Deamer has produced fresh choreography for shows like The Boyfriend and Lady Be Good at the Open Air Theatre, so I’m a bit puzzled why they chose to be so conservative here. A disappointment.

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