Review: A Little Night Music, Watermill Theatre

“It’s but a pleasurable means
To a measurable end”

Sondheim’s reputation as one of our finest living composers rests not only on the delicious complexity of his music but also on the superlative performances that it draws from actors who must delve extraordinarily deep to rise to its challenges. Not every performer is able to ascend these heady heights but it gives me enormous pleasure to report that Josefina Gabrielle delivers one of those utterly transcendent moments with a nigh-on perfect interpretation of Desiree Armfeldt at the Watermill. 

As a once-famed actress not quite getting the gigs she believes she should, she presents the facade of ‘The Glamourous Life’ beautifully – a touch self-deprecating, two touches self-assured, she knows how to rule a room. But try as she might, she can’t always rule the hearts of others as evinced in the bittersweet ‘Send In The Clowns’ which is made to feel brand new here, Gabrielle finding fresh textures and feeling (the startled emotion of ‘I thought that you’d want what I want’ seems to surprise even her) to completely and utterly break the heart (the song’s final line has never been delivered more affectingly, and I’m including the Dench in there!). 

Given the name of this blog, it should come as little surprise that I find it hard to resist productions of A Little Night Music, even when they’re in deepest Berkshire. But Paul Foster is a director I admire and actor-musician productions are often superb in their ingenuity. And so it proves here, Sarah Travis’ arrangements for this company of 13 (playing piccolos to double basses) are meticulously done, losing none of the music’s majesty even as it is considerably reconfigured in some parts. Continue reading “Review: A Little Night Music, Watermill Theatre”

Review: Carousel, London Coliseum

“The crowd of doubtin’ Thomases
Was predictin’ that the summer’d never come”

The English National Opera have had great success with their move into semi-staged revivals of classic pieces of musical theatre. Bryn Terfel and Emma Thompson lit up the Coliseum with Sweeney Todd in 2005, Glenn Close received an Olivier Award nomination for last year’s Sunset Boulevard, and so this year, we’re being treated to Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II’s 1945 classic Carousel. I say treated…but with singers Alfie Boe and Katherine Jenkins cast as the show’s ill-fated lovers, this production is a bit of a challenge for musical theatre lovers. Read my three star review for Cheap Theatre Tickets here.

Running time: 2 hours 45 minutes (with interval)
Booking until 13th May

TV Review: The Sound of Music Live

“It’s quite different after you’ve grown up”

The hills are alive, with the sound of questions. Like, why. The UK’s first fully live musical theatre television broadcast saw ITV produce Rodgers and Hammerstein’s The Sound of Music though the result was a curious experiment that fell uneasily between two stools. Lacking the crucial energy that propels the best live theatre (which comes from an audience too), the production values (though often impressive) naturally fell short of the opportunities of filmed work

Which ultimately begs the question, what’s the point. Is the UK hankering for a new production of the show? It’s hardly as if we’re lacking for productions popping up regularly in theatres across the land. Is it showcasing the best of British musical theatre talent? In that case why cast someone like Strictly winner and former Eastender Kara Tointon as Maria and shunt the likes of Julie Atherton (one of the most outstanding performers we have, bar none) into the nun ensemble. Continue reading “TV Review: The Sound of Music Live”

Review: Dessa Rose, Trafalgar Studios 2

“Who does she think she is?”

Based on the novel of the same name by Sherley Anne Williams and premiering off-Broadway in 2005, this is a show that has taken its time to reach our shores. And reflecting the hugely diverse nature of their back catalogue, Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty’s Dessa Rose adds another multi-layered account of a key moment in US history (see Ragtime) to their account, in the tale of the diverse but complementary journeys of a young black woman and a young white women in the Deep South.

It’s 1847 and Dessa is reaping the results of her wilful temperament as a love affair with a fellow slave has left her pregnant and behind bars. But try as she might to assert her independence, she has to learn to accept the kindness of others, chief among whom is Ruth, a former Charleston belle whose marriage has gone awry due to her husband’s gambling problem. Alone on the plantation, she welcomes runaway slaves and altogether, through their difficulties, they dare to dream of a brighter future.  Continue reading “Review: Dessa Rose, Trafalgar Studios 2”

Review: The Secret Garden, King’s Head Theatre

“For in the earth, the charm’s at work”

Frances Hodgson Burnett’s children’s story The Secret Garden was first made into a musical in the early 1990s with book and lyrics by Marsha Norman and music by Lucy Simon but despite an RSC production in 2000, it remains a rarely-performed work. Aria Entertainment and Knockhardy Productions are seeking to redress that with a concert version playing Sunday and Mondays at the King’s Head Theatre Pub.

The story focuses on Mary Lennox, the sole survivor of a cholera attack in her home of the British Raj who unceremoniously shipped back to her closest remaining relative, a disinterested uncle who lives in a vast stately home in Yorkshire. Initially ill-tempered and stubborn, she finds her calling in the restoration of a neglected garden which awakens not only her own good nature but the ailing spirit of her uncle and her sickly cousin Colin. Continue reading “Review: The Secret Garden, King’s Head Theatre”

Review: Ragtime, Landor

“It was the music of something beginning…”

Earlier this year, it did seem that the Landor had a bit of a curse as a range of issues forced programme changes on more than one occasion, but they do seem to have hit their stride now. I didn’t catch Carousel but it seemed to go down well and that was followed an incomparable production of The Hired Man, probably one of the best shows of the year so far, so there was no pressure resting on the show following at all: Ragtime. Directed by Artistic Director Robert McWhir, Ragtime continues the Landor’s strong trend of delivering top-quality fringe musical theatre with unfeasibly large casts: over 20 people make up this ensemble! I caught a preview on a Sunday afternoon as a ticket for a tenner deal popped up on Twitter (if you’re on Twitter then think about following theatres you like as similar deals are frequently posted up there).

And I am pleased to report that Ragtime comes close to the heights of The Hired Man in creating a stunning piece of emotional drama, enlivened with some perky playfulness and all wrapped in a deliciously beautiful score (and funnily enough set in a similar time period). The opening number is a thing of pure joy, managing to cover the thematic scope of the play and fully introduce the three families around which the story turns. Terrence McNally’s book is based on a novel by E.L. Doctorow set at the turn of the twentieth century in a New York bustling with huge social change. Continue reading “Review: Ragtime, Landor”