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Posts Tagged ‘Vicki Lee Taylor’

Though we’ve seen rarer Rogers & Hammerstein shows on the fringe (most recently Me & Juliet, State Fair & Pipe Dream), I’m not sure anyone has tackled one of the ‘Big 5’ before (Oklahoma!, South Pacific, The King & I, The Sound of Music and this). If I had been asked for my opinion, it would be unequivocal ‘avoid’ – these are big Broadway shows that require big resources and a big stage. WRONG! This is an absolute triumph.

This was only their second show, 70 years old next year. moving musical theatre into a new era of realism, with themes never before associated with the form. It’s packed full of wonderful music, but it all goes a bit awry in the second half when it becomes sweet, sickly and a bit preposterous at the gates of heaven. Not here, though, where it becomes a tense musical drama with a moving moral message. Luke Fredericks’ production has not only turned the sentimentality into pathos, but he’s made the ballet an integral part of the show.

Based on an early 20th century Hungarian play, this production has moved the setting forward 50 to 60 years to start around the time of the Great Depression, providing clearer motivation, and ending as the second world war ends (the year it was first staged), more appropriate for its hopeful, uplifting conclusion. Nothing else is changed, but it’s more intimate, involving and moving. Thankfully, I wasn’t the only emotional wreck at curtain call.

The musical standards are sky high. The unamplified voices have a purity to them and don’t have to compete with a largely unamplified band located above and behind. The use of flute, double bass and above all harp brings a beautiful new quality to the music – it’s amazing how much harp accompaniment transforms You’ll Never Walk Alone. Stewart Charlesworth’s design is a miracle of economy and a brilliant use of the space, with versatile mobile metal ‘arcs’, everything from washing to carnival banners to canopies raised high by pulleys and superbly evocative costumes. Lee Proud’s choreography is fresh and often brave and the second act ballet was thrilling.

It’s hard to talk about the performances with anything but a shower of superlatives. Gemma Sutton follows her sultry, sexy turn in Hackney Empire’s Blues in the Night with a wonderful sweet, naive Julie, with Vicki Lee Taylor matching her all the way as best friend Carrie. Tim Rogers brings more passion and a rougher edge to Billy, which makes the second act all the more heart-breaking. Amanda Minihan’s younger Hettie is more of a role model for the girls and the character seems more central in this setting. There isn’t a weak link in this cast, one any producer would die for.

This is the fourth time I’ve seen this show. The first three – NT, West End and most recently Opera North – were very good, but this intimate staging is something else altogether. I’ve seen and enjoyed producer Morphic Graffiti’s first two shows, but this propels them into the premiere league. Why on earth would you want to go to the West End when you can see a show this good for a third of the price?

Missing this makes any lover of musical theatre certifiable!

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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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Another day, another rare revival of a Broadway show (the 60’s this time). This one has a book & lyrics by Alan Jay Lerner no less ( Brigadoon, Paint Your Wagon, My Fair Lady, Camelot & Gigi) and music by the less well-known Burton Lane, the man who discovered Judy Garland.

It’s a funny little story concerning Daisy, whom a psychiatrist discovers is uber-susceptible and has ESP, who regresses under hypnosis and reveals a former life in England as Melinda, who the psychiatrist falls for. You can see why it wasn’t a big hit on Broadway; it’s a chamber piece with no big choruses and no real showstoppers. That makes it very suitable for the Union Theatre, of course – even more intimate than usual with seats on three sides.

It’s very tuneful, but only one song – the title number – stands out and the story is a bit daft, but director Kirk Jameson has done well with the material. The musical standards are particularly high under MD Inga Davies-Rutter. In a faultless ensemble, Vicki Lee Taylor shines as Daisy, with a spot-on American accent fine-tuned after six months in A Chorus Line. This is a real star performance worth the ticket price alone.

I love all these opportunities to catch up with old shows and though this isn’t the best, it’s well worth reviving and well worth catching.

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