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Posts Tagged ‘Valerie Cutko’

When I saw the West End première of this show in 1992 I was completely underwhelmed. Part of the problem was that it was staged in the vast Dominion Theatre. I warmed to it when the Donmar revived it in 2004, winning an Olivier award for Best Musical Revival, and again when the Guildhall School of Music & Drama gave it their all just last year (https://garethjames.wordpress.com/2014/07/11/grand-hotel). Now I’m getting positively hot. The producer / director team of Danielle Tarento & Thom Sutherland have another big hit on their hands with this thrilling revival.

It’s a character-driven piece set in a Berlin hotel in the 1920’s. It revolves around a broke Baron, Felix von Gaigern, forced to steal by his criminal creditor. He falls for both fading Russian ballerina Elizaveta and temp secretary Flaemnchen, and befriends dying book-keeper Otto, himself intent on a little bit if luxury on the way out. Otto used to work for Preysing, an unprincipled businessman in the process of engineering a merger for his ailing company, and buying Flaemnchen’s attentions. Felix is also kind to hotel concierge Erik, awaiting news of the birth of his son, much more so than his boss. It’s all presided over by Colonel-Doctor Otternschlag, a somewhat mysterious morphine addict, acting as narrator.

The score is a lot better than I remembered and there’s a lot of it (and little dialogue). It unfolds over 105 unbroken minutes on a patterned faux marble floor, with a huge chandelier above and just a few props, in a traverse setting. Lee Newby’s costumes are terrific and Lee Proud’s choreography is superb, miraculous given the space he has to work with. Thom Sutherland’s staging is masterly, overcoming my initial fears that it would be cramped in this space. The Southwark Playhouse often has issues with sound at its musicals, but not here. With a lot of small overhead speakers angled down, Michael Bradley’s string-heavy septet sounds great, and all of the lyrics are clear.

Tarento does her own casting and again she has assembled a truly gifted ensemble. Scott Garnham is terrific as Felix, with particularly fine vocals. I loved both the characterisation and singing of Christine Grimandi, an auspicious British debut for this Italian performer. It’s great to see Valerie Cutko as Elizabeta’s companion / assistant Raffaela, the same role she took over in the original Broadway production. Here David Delve took over the role of the ‘narrator’ Otternschlag at very short notice, but you’d never know it from his confident, commanding performance. There are too many more to mention – another 13 – in this fine cast, except perhaps to say that there are excellent professional debuts from 2015 graduates Jammy Kasongo, Durone Stokes and Leah West.

We are ever so lucky to get work of this quality on the fringe. I think I might have to be greedy and go again…..

 

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There’s a biography, a film and a play charting the relationship between playwright Joe Orton and Kenneth Halliwell, but I never thought I’d see a musical. As it turns out, Richard Silver & Sean J Hume’s show proves better at showing the complexity of their relationship, as well as being an impressive small-scale musical.

It follows the pair from their first meeting at RADA in 1951 through to Orton’s murder by a by now psychotic Halliwell 16 years later. The unlikely relationship takes us through 50’s drama school life, their hermit-like existence in a small Islington flat, Orton’s promiscuity, imprisonment for defacing library books and North African holidays with Kenneth Williams through to success in the 60’s, when Orton overshadows Halliwell as he becomes a darling of the glitterati. It’s a fascinating story and here it’s entertainingly told, yet still manages to convey the psychological depth of the relationship and its tragic ending.

I thought both Richard Dawes and Andrew Rowney (who appears to have had his head shaved in the line of duty!) were outstanding as Orton and Halliwell respectively. Valerie Cutko was excellent as both of the contrasting older women in their lives – landlady Mrs Cordon and literary agent Peggy Ramsay – and there’s a terrific turn from Simon Kingsley as Kenneth Williams. In an excellent small ensemble, Katie Brennan stands out.

It’s a very good score, full of great tunes and sharp lyrics. The book doesn’t veer from the other forms, though there were a few new facts (to me), most notably that Terence Rattigan invested in the original production of Entertaining Mr Sloane. Director Tim McArthur has done well to make the show work in such a small space and his staging has great pace, using the six doors of Andrew Holton’s design to great effect.

A fine new British musical that’s about to close, but will hopefully turn up again.

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