Album Review: Summer – The Donna Summer Musical (2018 Broadway Cast Recording)

Is there a market for cast recordings from uninspired jukebox musicals. On Summer – The Donna Summer Musical’s evidence, I find it hard to think so.

“Enough is enough is enough is enough”

Yeesh. Summer – The Donna Summer Musical may have wasted no time in releasing a cast album but it really does point up some of the problems with the market’s increasingly reliance on jukebox musicals. As good as the performances by the likes of LaChanze and Ariana DeBose are and make no mistake, they are two sensational singers who fully deserve their Tony nominations, who is a record like this really aimed at?

It’s no great leap to suggest that fans of Donna Summer will always turn to her albums. For there’s nothing here in the vocal arrangements or the instrumentation that actually elevates it above and beyond a conventional covers album. There’s no narrative through-thread that can be gleaned from the sequencing, no startling insight that makes you reconsider the music anew, it all feels – sadly – rather pointless. Continue reading “Album Review: Summer – The Donna Summer Musical (2018 Broadway Cast Recording)”

Review: Cabaret, Studio 54

“Outside it is winter. But in here it’s so hot.”

It is 22 years since Sam Mendes debuted his iconic revival of Kander and Ebb’s musical Cabaret with Alan Cumming (re)creating the role of the Emcee and in the hallowed grounds of Studio 54, he is back in that part overseeing a succession of bright young things taking on the equally iconic character of Sally Bowles. Michelle Williams (Dawson’s not Destiny’s) opened up this run and Sienna Miller will step into the shoes next month but it is recent Academy Award nominee Emma Stone was the original choice for this particular revival.

fascinatingly honest interview reveals the reason why she couldn’t open the show but circumstance prevailed to allow her to join the company and ever so pleasingly, right at the moment that I was in town. And she is brilliant in the role, it’s no mean feat putting her own spin on a character that has been so effectively previously immortalised but Stone manages it, finding a real sense of a new, fresh, personality for Sally that is more emotional, fragile even, laying bare all the vulnerability of a young woman aching for a place to belong in a world that is turning its back on her, and so many others. Continue reading “Review: Cabaret, Studio 54”

Review: As You Like It, Bridge Project at Old Vic

“The fool doth think he is wise, but the wise man knows himself to be a fool”

As You Like It is one half of the 2010 Bridge Project season now in residence at the Old Vic, The Tempest being the other. The transatlantic company, directed by Sam Mendes, takes two classic plays in rep around the world for a year, starting in New York at BAM’s Harvey Theatre, these actors have so far been to Hong Kong, Singapore, France, Spain, Germany and Holland with these two Shakespeare works and London is their current leg.

The play follows Rosalind, daughter of the Duke Senior who has been usurped by his own brother Duke Ferdinand and forced into exile. Rosalind remained in court due to her close friendship with Ferdinand’s daugher and her own cousin Celia, but the situation becomes increasingly unbearable and the two women flee the court disguised as men with the court jester Touchstone. They end up seeking sanctuary in the Forest of Arden where they meet up with a range of the forest’s inhabitants and the pastoral setting encourages a whole range of amorous feeling which may or may not end up in a quadruple wedding (what do you think?!) This is a darker version of the play than most, the comedy has been dialled down somewhat and an air of melancholy pervades which brings an interestingly different dynamic.

This really is Juliet Rylance’s show: her Rosalind lights up the stage brightly from the off, starting in a beautiful jade green dress and full of a youthful exuberance, her early scenes with Michelle Beck’s Celia are delightful, and impetuousness, you really believe she is going for the Duke as he banishes her. This impulsiveness is carried through to the forest as she tumbles head-first in love and she has a girlish playfulness she can’t quite conceal even whilst disguised as a boy, stealing a kiss from Orlando under the pretence of teaching him the right way to woo. She has such a natural confidence and ease on the stage, it is a pleasure to watch her, right ‘til the end of the gender-defying epilogue. She is nicely matched by Christian Camargo (her real-life husband and Dexter’s evil brother from season 1) as Orlando, dreamily romantic, quietly comic and unafraid to let Rylance shine.

There’s also been some impressive work with some of the supporting characters who sometimes make this play a little hard-going: Thomas Sadoski makes Touchstone as funny as I’ve seen him and a keen observer of all around him and Edward Bennett lends his Oliver a clear-spoken sharpness. With Michael Thomas’ sterling work as both the Dukes, there really is the general feeling of high quality throughout this production.

This play does seem much better suited to the ensemble in general, not least because they all get to do so much more, especially the women. The second act here with its series of meetings between the various inhabitants of the forest is perfect for a good group of actors and no-one disappointed here: Ashlie Atkinson as a buxom Phoebe, Anthony O’Donnell’s knowing shepherd Corin and Jenni Barber’s cheeky country girl Audrey all stood out for me and Stephen Dillane’s delightfully sardonic man of the world Jaques was a great touch, his unexpected Bob Dylan impersonation providing the biggest laugh of the play, although probably not to everyone’s taste.

The violin-led score is excellent and perfectly judged to the melancholic overtones. And Mendes conjures some visually impressive moments: the swinging light over the wrestling match, the moment when Duke Frederick’s court is transformed into the exiled Duke Senior’s headquarters by the donning of robes, Mendes really does have an eye for an arresting image which translates so well onto the stage.

Taking the commonalities identified by Ted Hughes between these two plays, of father/daughter relationships, usurped positions and fierce sibling rivalries and presenting them as explorations of the same themes written at different stages of Shakespeare’s career does feel like a bit of a stretch to be honest. An issue probably not helped by the fact I saw them the wrong way round in that respect, but also in their completely different presentations, it was hard to see the connecting tissue between the two. I do wonder what the third and final year of the Bridge Project will hold.

Perhaps I enjoyed this more because of being relatively disappointed by The Tempest, but I do genuinely think that this was an extremely good production. A strong and varied ensemble clearly comfortable with their work, elevated by what I suspect will be a award-winning performance from Rylance, beautifully staged and musically spot on: if you only do one of the Bridge Project shows this year, then this is definitely the one to plump for.

Running time: 3 hours (with interval)
Programme cost: £4 (but covers both Bridge Project shows)
Booking until 21st August
Note: a little smoking on stage

Review: The Tempest, Bridge Project at Old Vic

“This rough magic I here abjure”

The Bridge Project, a transatlantic company of actors performing two classic plays in rep directed by Sam Mendes, returns to the Old Vic for its second year after playing numerous venues across the world. After a well-received double-bill of The Cherry Orchard and The Winter’s Tale last year, there’s a greater focus on Shakespeare with As You Like It partnering The Tempest.

This is a somewhat low-key interpretation of Shakespeare’s final play. Played in modern dress, it tells of Prospero, usurped as Duke of Milan by his own brother and cast out to sea with his infant daughter Miranda. Shipwrecked on a mysterious island full of magical knowledge, 12 years pass until he is able to confront his enemies aided and abetted by his enslaved island creatures Ariel and Caliban and through a masterful display of control-freakery, manipulate most everyone he deals with into achieving his own aims. Continue reading “Review: The Tempest, Bridge Project at Old Vic”

Review: The Winter’s Tale, Bridge Project at the Old Vic

Accompanying The Cherry Orchard as part of the Bridge Project’s first run of plays which arrived at the Old Vic last month, is The Winter’s Tale, often considered one of Shakespeare’s ‘problem plays’.

Starting off in Sicilia, the play follows childhood friends Leontes and Polixenes, Kings of Sicilia and Bohemia respectively, as Leontes allows his jealousy and paranoia over his pregnant wife to take over. Imprisoning his wife and ordering the murder of his friend, Leontes pushes everyone to the edge to destructive effect, even sending his newborn daughter to her death, a fate from which she is thankfully spared. The second act then jumps ahead 16 years in time to Bohemia, where we see a young couple falling in love and their peculiar parentages equip them with the power to heal the terrible events of the past. Continue reading “Review: The Winter’s Tale, Bridge Project at the Old Vic”

Review: The Cherry Orchard, Bridge Project at the Old Vic

The Bridge Project is a rather ambitious venture: an Anglo-American theatre company formed specially for three years and performing 2 plays a year in repertoire, touring across a number of venues over the world. With Sam Mendes as director, it has attracted a very strong group of actors, who have already formed a cracking ensemble, and I had my first experience with them this week in Anton Chekhov’s The Cherry Orchard at the Old Vic, the final stop in this first year of the Project.

The play has a new translation by Tom Stoppard, but given this is the first time I have seen it, I cannot really comment on its merits or otherwise, but the lovely lady sat next to me reassured me it was much more comic than than the last time she had seen it. It tells the story of the return of an aristocratic Russian lady, Ranevskaya, and her family to their hereditary estate since it is being sold off to pay for the mortgage. They are presented with different ways in which the estate could be saved and kept in the family, but the family do nothing and events overtake them as it emerges that their social status no longer affords them the protection that it used to. Continue reading “Review: The Cherry Orchard, Bridge Project at the Old Vic”