Review: West Side Story, Curve

No doubt about it, Nikolai Foster’s production of West Side Story for Curve Leicester is damn close to musical theatre perfection

“Could it be, yes it could
something’s comin’, something good”

The Royal Exchange may have gotten there first this year but Nikolai Foster’s production of West Side Story for Leicester’s Curve proves an absolute triumph. Going down a similar route of featuring brand-new choreography, here by Ellen Kane, the familiar becomes something refreshing and new and hugely emotionally satisfying. From its opening moments which set the anti-immigrant tone like never before, through Musical Supervisor Sarah Travis’ incredible treatment of this iconic Bernstein score, to Kane’s sensational set-pieces which fill every inch of the Curve’s stage, this is damn close to musical theatre perfection.

It works so well because for all of the epic sweep of its Romeo and Juliet-inspired story, this is a very intimate reading of it. Jamie Muscato and Adriana Ivelisse really are exceptional as the ill-fated lovers Tony and Maria, delivering an unforced chemistry that is sweetness personified. Theirs is a heady, instant passion that feels so natural as to be entirely captivating. Their flirting is delicately but determinedly done – there’s no mistaking what ‘Tonight’ holds here – and something ignites in them when together. And as understated as their acting is, magic happens when they start to sing. Muscato’s ‘Maria’ is as good as I’ve ever heard in my life, as natural as breathing and then taken up to the heavens with a touch of wonder with his deeply expressive tenor. And Ivelisse’s thrilling soprano imbues ‘I Feel Pretty’ with just the right amount of character to refresh its familiar rhymes. Continue reading “Review: West Side Story, Curve”

Review: Strictly Ballroom the Musical, Piccadilly

Baz Luhrmann’s Strictly Ballroom the Musical may not be the strongest musical in the world, but it’s a stronger piece of musical theatre, thanks to Drew McOnie’s choreography

“Pam Shortt’s broken both her legs, and I wanna dance with you”

It is fascinating to be able to follow the development of a show, particularly one that has morphed as much as Strictly Ballroom the Musical. I saw it at the West Yorkshire Playhouse the winter before last, where it didn’t quite set my world on fire, so I was intrigued to hear that its arrival in the West End at the Piccadilly would be accompanied by quite the overhaul, still directed and choreographed by Drew McOnie.

The major change to this adaptation of Baz Luhrmann’s 1992 cult hit movie comes with the introduction of bandleader Wally Strand, played by Will Young, an MC figure and human jukebox who takes on the vast majority of the evening’s singing. And as we skip from Grace Jones to Billy Idol, via Bowie, Whitney and Cyndi, it’s a real pleasure to hear him sing Marius De Vries’ brilliant new arrangements. Continue reading “Review: Strictly Ballroom the Musical, Piccadilly”

Not-a-re-review: Jesus Christ Superstar, Open Air Theatre

Hadn’t planned to revisit Jesus Christ Superstar but stepped at the last minute for an ailing friend…
And whilst it remains impressive, it also remains elusive, caught between gig and theatre…

 

 Meaning there wasn’t much to discover anew on second viewing (my review from last year).
Still worth a shot if you’ve not seen it though.

All photos © Johan Persson

Continue reading “Not-a-re-review: Jesus Christ Superstar, Open Air Theatre”

Review: Strictly Ballroom, West Yorkshire Playhouse

“I don’t know if you are illusion”

Hoping for a ten from Len and to avoid the dreaded dis-sah-ter from Craig, Baz Luhrmann’s Strictly Ballroom arrives for its UK premiere at the West Yorkshire Playhouse. Best known in its 1992 film version, it actually began life as a play in the mid-1980s when it became big in Czechoslovakia as well as Luhrmann’s native Australia and perhaps appropriately, it is now Drew McOnie who takes the directorial chair, the choreographer-director’s rising star an ideal fit for a musical all about dance.

And what dance it is. We’re in the world of competitive ballroom dancing and we’re treated to a wide range of routines from rehearsals to all-out performances and much inventive work in-between, especially where mirrors are involved. And in all this freedom of expression, there’s a crystal-clear distillation of the story’s message in the sheer joy of dancing for fun and the power of following an individual path. But the show isn’t just dance, it’s words and music as well and there, it is less sure-footed.

Continue reading “Review: Strictly Ballroom, West Yorkshire Playhouse”

Review: Jack and the Beanstalk, Hackney Empire

“He said, I’ve bought you a selfie stick. I said, do I have to do everything myself?”

I haven’t booked much Christmas-themed theatre this year in an attempt to try and reclaim a bit of a social life but also because I do find it quite hard to write reviews about pantomimes. By and large I’ve been quite lucky in the few I’ve been to in recent years, sticking to the venues who know what they’re doing (Hackney Empire, Lyric Hammersmith, New Wimbledon) but even with this logic, my fingers were burnt a little with this year’s first festive foray.

Marking Susie McKenna’s 17th panto for the Hackney Empire, Jack and the Beanstalk is a raucous, rambling affair indeed, but one blessed with the return of Clive Rowe as the Dame, the actor famed at the only one to win an Olivier for panto. And I have to say that the audience around us were largely loving the whole thing which is kind of the whole point, even if you’re bribing the kids with handfuls of free sweets (it’s only like giving critics drinks vouchers for the interval ;-)) Continue reading “Review: Jack and the Beanstalk, Hackney Empire”

Review Bugsy Malone, Lyric Hammersmith

“How long have you wanted to be a singer?
‘Since I was a kid’” 

I don’t think even now I really believe that the kids in the film of Bugsy Malone aren’t actually singing – like with Father Christmas and the future for Wigan Athletic, I choose to believe. Fortunately, there’s no such doubt in Sean Holmes’ production of the show, written by Alan Parker with music and lyrics by Paul Williams, a mammoth run of which has been chosen to inaugurate the newly refurbished Lyric Hammersmith. It’s the first professional production in over a decade of this inimitable Chicago gangster classic and Holmes and children’s casting director Jessica Ronane have pulled together a group of exceptionally talented youngsters who sing live, dance, act and fire splurge guns aplenty

Having seen the show twice now, it is remarkable how different the energy was between the two sets of child performers I got to see, they’ve clearly been encouraged to establish their own mark on their roles and it’s a joy to behold. Max Gill’s Fat Sam is an absolute scene-stealing delight, absolutely nailing the comic timing and slapdash slapstick of this hapless boss whereas Sasha Gray captured more of the attention as a supremely confident Bugsy in his group; Thea Lamb’s achingly soulful voice fills her Blousey full of longing, compared to a perkier turn from Zoe Brough; and I couldn’t pick between Asanda Jezile and Samantha Allison as Tallulah, both shining as this most sardonic of songstresses. Continue reading “Review Bugsy Malone, Lyric Hammersmith”

Looking ahead to 2015

I realise I’m just adding (belatedly) to the plethora of 2015 features already published but so many of them trod the boringly familiar ground of forthcoming West End shows (and in the Evening Standard’s case, managed to recommend booking for three shows already sold out from their list of six). So I’ve cast my net a little wider and chosen a few random categories for just some of the shows I’m recommending and looking forward to in 2015.

Continue reading “Looking ahead to 2015”