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Posts Tagged ‘Tom Lister’

January is the month, awash with ticket offers, when I revisit show’s I’ve loved and catch up with those I wasn’t sure about, certainly at full price, and this is the first of six, and the first of the catch-up’s.

It’s based on the 1933 film, itself based on a novel, which was made to tap dance America out of the Great Depression. It’s the archetypal Broadway show, but it didn’t get there until 1980. It’s director died on the afternoon of the opening, but no-one involved was told until the curtain call. When it got to London in 1984, life imitated art when a chorus girl had to take over from both the lead and her standby and went on to take the lead role and start a glittering career. That was Catherine Zeta-Jones.

My thirty-something self took against it then, finding it unoriginal, the story vacuous and the production deeply old-fashioned. A short while later, I said this at my interview for the Laurence Olivier Awards panel when I was asked what I thought about it winning the Best Musical award (it beat one of my favourite shows, The Hired Man). When I discovered one of its producers was on the interview panel, I was astonished that I got through. One of my biggest faux pas’ ever. After this second exposure, the serious theatre-goer in me still finds in unoriginal, vacuous and old-fashioned, but the good-time guy melts at the ensemble tap dances, bright neon sets and sheer spectacle, let alone the talent on the stage. I’m not sure I’ve ever been quite so ambivalent about a show.

It may be the first juke-box musical, before the term was coined, as it brings together Warren & Dubin songs from a number of places, including Keep Young & Beautiful, I Only Have Eyes For You, We’re in the Money, and Lullaby of Broadway. I can dispense with the story by saying a leading lady is injured and a chorus girl takes over and becomes a star. It has one of the best opening scenes, as the curtain rises teasingly on something like forty pairs of legs tap dancing. There’s more bright smiles and jazz hands than a musicals regular gets in a years worth of shows. The late Gower Champion’s original dances and Randy Skinner’s musical staging and new choreography, presumably with a nod to Busby Berkley’s work on the film, are conventional but thrilling nonetheless. The design is loud, brash, glitzy, colourful, sparkly, but old-fashioned. Sheena Easton was indisposed, but her standby C J Johnson was sensational. In fact, it’s an excellent cast, with Clare Halse as chorus-girl-becomes-star Peggy Sawyer and Tom Lister as Julian Marsh, the director of the show-within-the-show, Pretty Lady.

Leave your brain at home and go for the dancing, the dazzle and the spectacle. Ambivalent I may be, but I’m also glad I went.

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Our annual outing to the lovely Watermill Theatre near Newbury for the second wild west musical of the month and it turns out they’re a little bit connected. Calamity Jane was also real and toured in Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show, the subject of Annie Get Your Gun. If I catch the tour of Seven Brides for Seven Brothers when I get back from my own wild west tour, that’ll be the complete set. This one of course started as a film musical in 1953, with Doris Day in the title role, and was adapted for the stage, with extra songs, in 1961. We don’t see it anywhere near as often as we should; I think the last time was ten years ago with Toyah Wilcox in the lead! In 1979 it was Barbara Windsor!!

The wood-slatted barn-like Watermill is the perfect venue for this show – hang a few of those iconic semi-circular coloured banners from the gallery and the design job’s done, though Matthew Wright went one better and built a pocket-sized proscenium stage for the saloon theatre. The cast of thirteen actor-musicians feels like a lot more in a rumbustious production in such a small space. Choreographer Nick Winston works wonders staging hoe-downs with next to no space. Nicolai Foster’s staging has great energy and enthusiasm and the cast seem to be having a ball, as the audience did. This is the same creative team that gave us NYMT’s terrific Hired Man at St. James Theatre earlier in the month.

Dedwood’s saloon owner Henry Miller gets his E’s and I’s mixes up and books a male Francis in error, causing a near riot amongst his male patrons. Calamity Jane (Calam to her friends!) heads to Chicago to fetch a replacement and returns triumphantly with Miss Adeleide, but she got the performer and her maid Kate mixed up and gets the latter in error, the right sex but without the talent. Kate’s given a chance, redeems herself and stays on as Calam’s room-mate. At this point, they both discover their love for Danny and all hell breaks loose, but its musical theatre so it all comes good and we end with a customary double wedding. The score includes The Deadwood Stage and The Black Hills of Dakota (which prompted a spontaneous singalong!) and Secret Love, which we know more out of context because of red-lipped Kathy Kirby’s 60’s hit (a bit like You’ll Never Walk Alone from Carousel).

The title role is very dominant and Jodie Prenger is well suited to it, with fine vocals and bucket-loads of warmth and charm. She’s well supported by two excellent leading men in Alex Hammond as Danny and Tom Lister as Wild Bill Hickok. There are lovely performances in smaller roles, most notably Anthony Dunn as Miller and Rob Delaney as Francis.

It’s embarking on a tour after this run in Newbury, but I suspect it won’t be as much fun as it is here. Terrific entertainment.

 

 

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