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Posts Tagged ‘William Finn’

In 1987, a quirky and, at that time, highly original little one act musical called March of the Falsettos turned up in the West End for a few weeks. It was the second part of a trilogy but we never saw In Trousers, the first part, or Falsettoland, the third, here in the UK. This is the second and third part together, and its taken 27 years to get here, hot on the heels of a successful Broadway revival three years ago. It’s writer William Finn went on to give us The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, Little Miss Sunshine and the song cycle Elegies, and there are a handful of other shows that never made the crossing. His book co-writer James Lapine is better known as Stephen Sondheim’s collaborator on three of his shows between 1984 and 1994.

The story revolves around Marvin, Jewish New Yorker, married to Trina, son Jason. He leaves Trina for a man, Whizzer. Trina goes to Marvin’s shrink Mendel to help her come to terms with it. She gets Mendel to see her son Jason at home, though he might be the most balanced of them all. She ends up marrying Mendel. Marvin and Whizzer bicker, as do Marvin and Trina. He seems to want it all. Marvin and Whizzer split. In the second part we meet the lesbians, Marvin’s neighbours, and he is reconciled with Whizzer. The family rows turn to Jason’s bar mitzvah and the spectre of AIDS appears. The story is told almost entirely in song, thirty-five of them in fact. They are expertly crafted, catchy tunes with sharp, witty lyrics that really do propel and animate the story. Each part starts lightly, but gets serious, and both dare to end sadly. It struck me how ground-breaking it must have been and how much it was ahead of its time. With the exception of the fatality of HIV, it seems more a story of now than then.

This appears to be a big gig for Director / Choreographer Tara Overfield-Wilkinson and she’s done a great job. The real strength of the production is its faultless casting; I loved every one of them. Daniel Boys as Marvin and Oliver Saville as Whizzer excel in both acting and singing and the combination of their voices is beautiful. Laura Pitt-Pulford shines as always as Trina and I loved Joel Montague’s characterisation of Mendel, both also in fine voice. Natasha J Barnes and Gemma Knight-Jones make great contributions in the second past as the lesbians, with great big vocal performances. Young George Kennedy gives an incredibly assured performance as Jason; a most auspicious professional debut indeed.

In the last six months the producers Selladoor have given us Amelie at the Watermill and on tour and Finn’s Little Miss Sunshine at the Arcola and on tour. Long may they continue to deliver such high quality productions like this. Don’t miss it!

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If I was asked to create a musical writing partnership, I’m not sure I’d put together the writer of sophisticated, clever stuff like Sunday in the Park with George & Into the Woods, James Levine, and the man behind chirpy, quirky shows like The 24th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee and the three Falsetto musicals, William Finn, but here they are together, adapting the 2006 hit film of the same name.

Olive is runner-up in the regional Little Miss Sunshine pageant, but gets through to the national final when the winner is disqualified. This necessitates a road-trip for the entire family – mom Sheryl, dad Richard, Grandpa, Uncle Frank and teenage brother Dwayne – from Albuquerque, New Mexico, to Redondo Beach, California. They are beset with problems along the way – car breakdowns, dad’s book deal falling through, the discovery of a condition that will blight Dwayne’s chosen career, a chance meeting with an ex. and his new lover for Frank and something way more serious for grandpa – but they make it.

It’s hard to like a show about an institution you loathe, even if it is sending it up a bit, but its not helped by a fairly pedestrian book and a bland score. The first half in particular fails to engage enough, and the second half makes a customary descent into American musical theatre sentimentality. There’s nothing wrong with Mehmet Ergen’s production, with an excellent design by David Woodhead and some nifty choreography from Anthony Whiteman. I don’t know which of the three Olive’s we had on Tuesday, but she melted hearts on cue. The five leads are uniformly good – Laura Pitt-Pulver, Gabriel Vick, Gary Wilmot, Paul Keating & Sev Keoshgerian – and there are terrific comic turns from Imelda Warren-Green as Linda the bereavement liaison and Miss California.

I just don’t think it was really worth the transatlantic crossing, and why are they serving American cheese at the edgy Arcola anyway?

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I rather liked this quirky tongue-in-cheek celebration of a peculiarly American tradition, the high school spelling competition.

The composer William Finn has shown promise for a long time, but failed to fulfil it. I remember seeing the first outing of March of the Falsettos zonks ago and thinking ‘he’ll go far’ – but he hasn’t. In truth, the simplistic formulaic music here shows he hasn’t moved on much, which is perhaps the reason. The show’s success has more to do with a terrific idea, the right theatre with a brilliant design, funny lyrics, a production that fizzes and performances bursting with enthusiasm and energy.

Designer Christopher Oram has turned the Donmar into a school gym with a blue and yellow colour scheme that extends to the letters at the end of the rows of special blue seats and the ‘confetti’ which falls from the rafters. Jamie Lloyd’s staging and Ann Yee’s choreography are just as bright and they’ve teased lovely portraits of archetypal kids from Harry Hepple, Iris Roberts, Chris Carswell, David Fynn, Hayley Gallivan and Maria Lawson. Steve Pemberton and Katherine Kingsley are excellent as the adults as is Ako Mitchell as the helper on community service.

Adding four volunteers from the audience as ‘extras’ is an inspired idea and on the night we went, they were so good I wondered if some of them were actually plants. The way their characters are  ‘invented’ is clever and when one manages to spell a word that was clearly meant to be her exit, it brought the house down.

95 minutes of infectious fun – it won’t change your life, you might struggle to remember it in 10 years, but you probably won’t regret going – and it’s a whole lot better than The Umbrellas of Cherbourg!

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