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Posts Tagged ‘Tyrone Huntley’

This musical has been created to raise awareness and pay tribute to the victims of a little publicised 1973 hate crime when a New Orleans gay bar was subjected to an arson attack killing 32, the biggest toll of such a crime before Orlando in 2016.

We meet fashion designer Wes in the present time. He’s relocating from New York to his home town of New Orleans, buying premises to showcase his work, without realising it’s the scene of the 1973 attack. As soon as he’s signed the deal, the magic of theatre brings the club alive again and we’re back in 1973 on the evening of the tragedy. Thus begins a conversation between two generations of gay people across more than forty years, with the seventies set as shocked at Wes’ openness as he is at their secrecy. The eight characters tell their stories, which together show the contrasting lives in the two periods.

Max Vernon‘s score goes from one ballsy number to another for the whole 120 minutes, with the vocal honours going to Tyrone Huntley as Wes, Carley Mercedes Dyer as bar tender Henri and Cedric Neal as Willie, with excellent backing from Bob Broad’s invisible band. Declan Bennett and Andy Mientus bring the homeless hustler Dale and Patrick, the boy abandoned by his parents at fourteen who ends up doing the same, to life with fine acting. It’s great to see Victoria Hamilton-Barritt again and she’s superb as Inez, the Latin mum of drag queen Freddy, a breathless high energy performance from Garry Lee. Lee Newby has created a realistic period bar and director Jonathan O’Boyle and choreographer Fabian Aloise use the small Soho space well.

You have to go with the fantasy of the time warp, but if you do you will be rewarded with a fascinating contrast between gay life then and now illustrated by some great songs.

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I hadn’t got to London when this first hit the West End in 1979, but I did get to see it at the Tricycle Theatre in 1995, on it’s way to a West End revival. It’s a surprise we’ve had to wait 24 years for this second revival, at Southwark Playhouse.

It’s a revue subtitled ‘The Fats Waller Musical’, conceived by Richard Maltby Jr, which celebrates black American jazz performers of the 20’s and 30’s, and Waller in particular, taking its title from one of his songs. There’s no story as such, just a feast of song and dance, most of the songs mini-stories in themselves. I was surprised at how many of them were familiar to me, thirty packed into ninety frenetic minutes.

Designer takis has turned Southwark Playhouse into a period club, with a glittering gold multi-level bandstand (no room for the drummer, who’s relegated offstage!) and a shiny gold dance-floor. Tyrone Huntley’s direction and Oti Mabuse’s choreography make great use of the space, though the use of the entrances brought sightline issues. Mark Dickman’s arrangements make it sound much more than a five-piece band, who play very well. Sadly, the Southwark sound gremlins were at it again, and we missed too many lyrics.

Overall, despite a talented, hard-working cast – Adrian Hansel, Renee Lamb, Carly Mercedes Dyer, Landi Oshinowo & Wayne Robinson – it didn’t fully take off for me, but given the enthusiasm of the rest of the audience, I put this down to our front row seats and associated sound issues, though I did wonder if the space was too small for it to breathe fully.

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This new musical by The Bloc Party’s Kele Okereke and TV writer & producer Matt Jones takes a 360 degree view of gay marriage from the perspective of the families of both parties, as well as the couple and their friends.

Alex and Obi’s relationship has been a whirlwind ten months. Alex is an American working in London, though his employer intends to relocate him to the Middle East. Obi is British, of Nigerian decent, a successful advertising Account Manager. Their coming out stories couldn’t be more different. Alex’s mother Diane embraced his sexuality, joining him at Pride marches, his father Brian more reluctant but ultimately accepting. Obi was thrown out by his dad Kenneth when he was sixteen, his mother Grace forced to tow the line, his sister Chichi supporting him. He put himself through the rest of his schooling and both his degree and his masters.

They live together but decide to marry so that Alex can avoid his relocation and have leave to remain. They don’t plan to invite their families, but Alex breaks first, so Obi attempts a reconciliation and invite his. Alex’s parents arrive and his mom forces the issue by arranging a dinner where both families can meet. From here on it becomes an emotional roller coaster and skeletons come out of cupboards with gay abandon.

Robby Graham’s production has great pace and energy, propelled by superb dancing and movement. I really liked Okereke’s music, played by an onstage guitarist with a backing track. Some have called it a play with music, but in my book it’s a musical, as the songs move the narrative forward. The pivotal scene where the families meet over dinner is superbly staged. When current scenes are interwoven with flashbacks to Obi’s youth, the latter are cleverly staged in slo-mo. The final scene of simultaneous conversations between four couples is brilliant.

Tyrone Huntley & Billy Cullum are both terrific as Obi & Alex. Johanne Murdoch conveys the liberal, effervescent but somewhat controlling Diane superbly. Rakie Ayola is a very dignified Grace, Aretha Ayeh a feisty independent Chi Chi and Cornell S John a defiant Kenneth, all excellent, as indeed are the rest of the ensemble.

A very assured musical theatre debut, a highly original show that’s expertly staged and very well performed that’s very much to be recommended.

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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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Another show I wasn’t planning to see, this time because I caught it less than three years ago on my travels in Portland, Oregon. Then I read the reviews…..

It’s the story of a black girl group in the 60’s and 70’s, from talent show to backing singers to R&B chart success to their transfer to the mainstream. Along the way, lead singer Effie is replaced by a slimmer, paler model and eventually quits and manager Curtis gets too big for his boots, transforming from manipulator to bully and losing his lead singer / wife. The girls, and stablemate Jimmy Early, succeed in crossing over to the mainstream, but at the expense of their soul roots. Meanwhile, Effie makes a solo comeback and finds herself in a chart competition with her former group with the same song, but it’s not a fair race thanks to Curtis’ dirty tricks. Though the writers deny it (no doubt concerned about the legal consequences), it appears to be based on the story of The Supremes. With R&B stars now the kings and queens of popular music, it’s easy to forget it was once segregated, in more ways than one, with separate charts and white cover versions outselling the originals. We’ve come a long way.

No disrespect to Portland Center Stage, a fine US regional theatre, but this West End production (it’s London premiere, 35 whole years after Broadway!) is in another league altogether, no doubt partly thanks to a mega-budget . The design team of Tim Hatley (sets), Gregg Barnes (costumes) & Hugh Vanstone (lighting) have produced a spectacular look to the show; you get a lot of bling for your ticket price. Casey Nicholaw’s staging and choreography is fresh and exciting; it sparkles like the Swarovski covered curtains and costumes. The cast of 29 and 14-piece band under Nick Finlow rock the foundations of the gorgeous Savoy Theatre, itself a jewel of Art Deco bling.

For the second time this week, I got an alternate and a cover, neither of which you’d spot if you didn’t know it. I refuse to believe Amber Riley is better than her alternate Marisha Wallace, whose powerhouse voice is extraordinary. Candace Furbert was also excellent covering as fellow Dream Lorrell and Denna(!)’s rise from backing singer to lead to ‘Deena and’, wife of Curtis, is extremely well navigated by Liisi LaFontaine . Adam J Bernard is a terrific bundle of energy as Jimmy Early and Joe Aaron Reid a fine voiced baddie as Curtis. I missed the much lauded Tyrone Huntley in the Open Air Theatre’s Jesus Christ Superstar last year and I left the theatre praying he returns this year; he too was terrific as the girls’ first manager and songwriter C. C. White.

The fourth in my five-day musicals binge, it lives up to the hype and more. The world seems ever so drab when you leave the theatre.

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I’ve got a very special relationship with this show, having taken a punt on a preview on Broadway in the summer of 2002. I adored it and couldn’t believe it took five years to get to London, though I made up for that by seeing it three times in the West End. I couldn’t resist a trip to Woking to see the UK tour, and now up to The Curve in Leicester for this new production, which just about tops the lot!

Set in Baltimore in 1962, our heroine Tracy Turnblad’s ambition is to become a regular dancer on the Corny Collins Show, modelled on a very real US show of the time. The show’s producer, the odious Velma von Tussle, can’t see beyond her size and in any event nothing is going to get in the way of her daughter Amber. Amber’s partner, heartthrob Link (Glee’s Matthew Morrison on Broadway) finds himself more attracted to Tracy the nastier Amber gets. The show’s token ‘negro night’ adds a segregation theme, which makes the show more than just 60’s retro pastiche and takes us onto the moral high ground. In this production, the discrimination themes have a touch more edge, with videos of Martin Luther King keeping it real, reminding you of the realities of 60’s racism and segregation.

It’s a high-energy, super-fresh (channeling Will i Am now!) production which sweeps you away from the off. Jerry Mitchell’s original choreography is hard to match, but Lee Proud has done a terrific job, with more emphasis on hand movements. Ben Atkinson’s band sounded great and looked good high up at the back of the stage. The Curve’s homegrown designers Paul Moore and Siobahn Boyd have done a magnificent job on the sets and costumes and I thought the lighting of Philip Gladwell was outstanding.

Rebecca Craven’s was a match for all the other Tracy’s, loveable & naive with great moves. Damian Williams’ Edna and Landor Theatre regular John Barr’s Wilbur had great chemistry, with their relative sizes adding something extra and their duet You’re Timeless to Me benefitting from some unplanned corpsing. It’s a long way from smile-free East Enders hard man to permanent-smile song & dance man, but it’s a journey David Witts makes in style, thanks no doubt in part to his NYMT & NYT background (is this really his professional stage debut?!). It’s musical theatre, so the rule ‘one must have a Strallen’ is observed with a terrific comic turn from Zizi as Tracy’s friend Penny.

It’s just as good in the baddie department with a great Velma from Sophie-Louise Dann, Sorelle Marsh as Penny’s mom and Vicki Led Taylor’s delicious spoilt brat Amber. Claudia Kariuki as Motormouth Maybelle brought a welcome restraint to her big Act I closing number Big Blonde & Beautiful and Tyrone Huntley was terrific as her son Seaweed. The ensemble sparkles, making this a cast any producer would die for.

Director Paul Kerryson always delivers, but he exceeds his own standards here. This production proves that our best regional theatres are more than a match for the West End or Broadway and with best seats plus train ticket coming in at lest than tickets only in the West End, musical theatre lovers would be bonkers to miss this treat.

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