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Posts Tagged ‘Valda Avkis’

Back at the Union for the first of what I hope will be many musicals this year.

This is an intriguing one, because its sub-operatic score make it very different  from almost any other Broadway musical comedy. It’s also a late 70’s show masquerading as a 50’s show; I was shocked when I read the date of the first production in the programme.

The Americans have a lovely practice of naming long train journeys and The 20th Century in the show (but not on Amtrak) runs from Chicago to New York City and the whole show takes place on it. Hapless theatre producer Oscar Jaffee is running from his investors after three flops. En route he tries to set up a new show with the movie starlet he discovered (the flashback to that isn’t really clear enough in this staging) and a rich old lady as ‘angel’.

Here it’s given a manic / cartoonish / slapstick / silent movie style which works well. I’m not sure playing it along the length of the Union space works as well here as it did with the recent Bells Are Ringing and the design (on a shoestring) is pretty basic, but good enough. The staging of the chorus numbers is particularly good, as is the rather novel band configuration of piano and six saxophones.

What really makes this show though is outstanding casting by Amy Rycroft (not sure I ‘ve ever name-checked a casting director before?!) who hasn’t put a foot wrong. Howard Samuels producer is a terrific lead in Marx Brothers mode and his excellent leading lady Rebecca Vere is perfect for the period (of the story, rather the first production). Musicals veteran Valda Avkis is made for the role of rich naive Letitia (who turns out to be a ‘nut’ in a delicious politically incorrect twist). Matt Harrop and Chris David Storer are very good as Jaffee’s sidekicks.

This is better than the two previous productions I’ve seen. The youngsters at the Guildhall School were hampered by being, well, youngsters and the Bridewell production had less fizz (I refuse to believe that was only just over three years ago!). Yet again, we have to say what would we do without the Union….

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