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Posts Tagged ‘Ye Old Rose & Crown Walthamstow’

This was the third musical comedy I’d seen in London in eight days. Top price tickets for the other two, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels and I Can’t Sing in the West End, are five times as much and though I enjoyed the other two, I can honestly say this was just as much fun. The belated UK premiere of Charles Strouse’s 1966 Broadway show (11 years before he wrote his big hit Annie) is a coup for Ye Olde Rose & Crown Theatre in Walthamstow, and yet another reason to justify this venue’s candidature for musical theatre indispensability.

The baddies in this particular Superman tale are atomic scientist Dr Abner Sedgwick, determined to destroy the world’s iconic goodie in revenge for the lack of respect of other scientists, and Max Mencken, a challenger for the affections of Lois. We also have five acrobatic Ling’s – Fan Po, Tai, Ding Ming Foo and father Ling! – brilliantly choreographed by Kate McPhee, when she wasn’t designing the costumes. Randy Smartnick, when he wasn’t directing, designed an inventive ‘cardboard cut-out’ set of panels that change to become the Daily Planet offices, Sedgwick’s laboratory and all other locations, with an air blower and a doll on a wire giving us flying sequences. The low budget is turned to an advantage by giving us production values to match the tongue-in-cheek tone of the parody.

It’a got some great songs and they are sung really well, accompanied by Aaron Clingham’s excellent quintet behind the stage. Craig Berry as Superman has a commanding presence, a kiss curl, an earnest look and a booming baritone voice. Matthew Ibbotson is a suitably manic baddie (and a dead ringer for The Book of Mormon’s Elder Cunningham, Jared Gertner) and Michelle LaFortune is a lovely Lois. Sarah Kennedy almost steals the show with a terrific performance as put-upon Sydney. There’s great energy and enthusiasm in the whole ensemble which was infectious.

Sadly the run is now over but if there’s any justice it’ll be back. Huge fun on a shoestring.

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Perhaps it should be renamed ‘Flare Path – The Musical’ to cash in on that play’s recent success; it’s set in an RAF base during the second world war – though that’s just about where the similarity ends. Anyway, a second wish granted – another Howard Goodall revival – so soon after my wish for a Lionel Bart revival.

I was lucky to be working in the North West when this was premiered in Bolton 25 years ago. It was lovely; a worthy follow-up to his first musical, The Hired Man, which I had seen and loved in London two years before. Something happened when it transferred to the West End; it was nowhere near as good, but I couldn’t work out why. Seeing this first London revival at Ye Old Rose & Crown has answered that question – it really is a chamber piece which never belonged in the West End.

It’s a simple story of the love of two women for the same man, set against a backdrop of wartime sorties by the male pilots and parachute making by the girls at the base. There’s a touch of feminism and a nod to conscientious objection, but that’s about it story-wise. Even though it’s not sung-through, there’s not a lot of dialogue. That makes the music seem a bit repetitive and monotonous, lovely though it is. There are nice touches of humour though (Richard Curtis had a hand in it) and the characterisation is good, but I think the lack of depth and the music’s mono-style is its weakness.

The young cast of seven girls and two boys do very well indeed; it’s not an easy score to sing. The three that make up the love triangle – Mark Lawson, Harriet Dobby and Emma Manley – are particularly good. The production has an authentic feel (helped by uniforms with caps, stockings with seams and hairos with buns & copious quantities of hairpins!) and its beautifully sung. The five piece band (an unusual but effective line-up of piano, cello, clarinet, alto sax and trumpet) under MD Aaron Clingham provide lovely accompaniment (after a ragged opening); I didn’t think it over loud as others before me did, but I did sit as far away from the band as I could because I’d heard this!

It’s the musicality of Goodall shows that I love. He writes such good melodies and it all sounds so British; a breath of fresh air in a genre that almost always sounds American. All Star Productions succeed where it matters – musically – and it’s a long-awaited and very welcome revival. Great to see a full house in a room above a pub in Walthamstow on a Sunday afternoon for work like this, too. Well worth the schlep north.

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I set out to see as many Sondheim shows as I could in his 80th year. I confined myself to London and managed 10 – 9 staged and 1 in concert – out of his grand total of 15. Given that one has yet to get its UK premiere and one has to be staged in a swimming pool, that’s not bad! Anyway, I decided it was worthy of a few tributes…..

The best West End production was without doubt Into The Woods at The Open Air Theatre (https://garethjames.wordpress.com/2010/09/13/into-the-woods). Never have a theatre and a show been so made for each other. An honourable mention must go to the Donmar’s Passion (https://garethjames.wordpress.com/2010/11/23/passion) which was a great production of my least favourite show.

Best fringe production was Assassins underneath the railway arches at that musicals powerhouse, The Union Theatre (https://garethjames.wordpress.com/2010/07/11/assassins) sung better than I’ve ever heard it before.

Best Drama School contribution was the Royal Academy of Music with A Little Night Music (https://garethjames.wordpress.com/2010/06/29/sondheim-at-the-royal-academy-of-music). Hugely ambitious for a young cast, but it paid off (though their Assassins fared less well).  Unfortunately, RADA’s ambition with Company proved over-ambitious, I’m afraid (https://garethjames.wordpress.com/2010/02/12/sondheims-company-rada)

Best amateur production was the NYMT’s extraordinary Sweeney Todd (https://garethjames.wordpress.com/2010/08/05/nymt-sweeney-todd) thrillingly staged in a nightclub masquerading as a lunatic asylum.

Gold star for ambition and sheer balls must got to All Star Production’s Follies in Walthamstow (https://garethjames.wordpress.com/2010/11/04/follies) – staging Sondheim’s ‘biggest’ show in a room above a pub! Will someone please stage this at Wilton’s Music Hall, it’s London spiritual home…..

Turkey of the year, I’m afraid, to Hornchurch Queens Theatre’s A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum (https://garethjames.wordpress.com/2010/09/30/a-funny-thing-happened-on-the-way-to-the-forum). A long trek for little reward.

The biggest surprise was how concert performances could be so so good – the Donmar’s Company and Merrily We Roll Along at the Queens Theatre were both simply breathtaking (https://garethjames.wordpress.com/2010/11/08/donmar-warehouse-sondheim-at-80-concerts)

London did Sondheim proud. If only every year could be an 80th year!

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