Posts Tagged ‘Victoria Hamilton-Barritt’

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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This is a musical based on a poem! Somewhat bizarrely, another musical based on the same poem opened in the same 2010 season in New York. This one, by Michael John LaChiusa, was on Broadway; the other, by Andrew Lippa, ran Off-Broadway. It crosses the Atlantic seven years on to open the newly rebranded The Other Palace, formerly St. James’ Theatre. Given it lasted less than two months over there, I wasn’t expecting to be quite so blown away, though more so by the terrific staging and sensational performances than the material..

It’s a slice of roaring twenties decadence. Queenie and Burrs are Vaudeville entertainers who form a stormy, abusive relationship. They throw the wild party of the title, fuelled by alcohol and cocaine, resulting in all sorts of sexual activity and depravity. When the party’s over, there are hangovers, regrets and recriminations, before its tragic conclusion. It feels more like a song cycle than a musical (and there are almost forty of them!). Above all, it’s a showcase for the performers.

The story is subservient to the jazz-influenced score. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a show with so many showstoppers and so many show-stealing opportunities, distributed evenly so that almost everyone gets their moment. The longer first half doesn’t let up and by the interval I was exhausted; I think I’d have liked more light and shade. This is delivered in the shorter and darker second half with a series of sensational solo turns, many of which bring the house down. 

Soutra Gilmour’s design has a ‘stairway to heaven’ and terrific costumes. Drew McOnie continues his successful transition from choreographer to director / choreographer with a staging that took my breath away and choreography that was positively thrilling. Theo Jamieson’s eight-piece band sounded terrific.

I’m not sure where to start with the performances as they were all stars. John Owen-Jones was in fine acting and vocal form as Burrs, miles away from his usual territory, and Frances Ruffelle was clearly relishing every moment as Queenie. US star Donna McKechnie was a treat in her cameo as Delores. We’re used to scene-stealing turns from Tiffany Graves and Victoria Hamilton-Barritt and they deliver yet again. Sebastien Torkia & Steven Serlin make a superb double-act as the budding producers, particularly in their second half comic duet. Casting women as ambisexual brothers Oscar & Phil D’Armano was an inspired idea and Genesis Lynea & Gloria Obianyo are outstanding. Dex Lee and Ako Mitchell are superb as Jackie and Eddie respectively. It’s hard to imagine a better cast.

This exceeded my expectations; it’s rare to see such faultless casting and such a stunning production. Head to Victoria while you have the chance. 

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When this show opened with a rap number, my first thought was ‘this may not be for me’. It didn’t take long though before it won me over with it’s high energy Latin / hip hop hybrid music and thrilling dance sequences. By the end I joined, possibly led, the standing ovation.

Set in a NYC Dominican American community in Washington Heights, the show revolves around three businesses – a cab firm, a bodega (corner shop!) and a hairdressers – and two families – the Rosario’s who own the cab firm and Usnavi (named after the first sign his parents saw when they sailed into New York!), his cousin Sonny and Claudia, the woman who took him in when his parents died. Hairdresser and chief gossip Daniela (a terrific Victoria Hamilton-Barritt, almost stealing the show) and her two assistants (one Usnavi’s love interest), Rosario’s employee Benny (Nina Rosario’s love interest), a street seller and a graffiti artist complete the picture. It’s all about their hopes and dreams, growing up and living in this close-knit inner city community.

The score is an odd cocktail of Latin, rap and pop, but I warmed to it, perhaps because of the quality of delivery of the songs and the brilliant brassy big band sound. I struggled to catch all of the rap lyrics at first, but I attuned to (most of) it eventually. Above all, though, it is Drew McOnie’s choreography that sweeps you away, using every inch of the space. Also a hybrid, of street-dance and Latin, it often takes your breath away and, from the front row, gets perilously but thrillingly close! It’s a great cast; the lack of name-checks has more to do with the unavailability of a programme!

Some have called it a modern West Side Story, but I think it’s its own thing and more original than that comparison would have you believe. After a hard day’s work, it was a re-energising, uplifting experience. The performance I saw was the third of three previews and it was in great shape; by press night, it might well be on fire.

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