Review: Guys and Dolls, Royal Exchange

“The passengers were bound to resist”

Michael Buffong’s reinterpretation of Guys and Dolls, a co-production between the Royal Exchange and Talawa Theatre, is just that, a bold re-envisioning of the classic musical that consequently comes up with something different. That’s the point. So it may take a second to recalibrate, to adjust to these portrayals of familiar characters but in doing so you get to embrace something fresh and new and really rather exciting.

Moving the show from Times Square to the heart of the Harlem Renaissance in 1939 allows Buffong to employ an all-black cast, infuse Frank Loesser’s score with jazz and gospel (new orchestrations by Simon Hale) and introduce a vibrant choreographic vision (by Kenrick Sandy) that draws on several decades of dance history. The result is less-concept heavy than you might expect and often, explosively good fun. Continue reading “Review: Guys and Dolls, Royal Exchange”

Cast for the Royal Exchange’s Guys and Dolls announced

The Royal Exchange in Manchester have really been upping the ante as far as their Christmas musicals are concerned. Last year’s Sweet Charity was a stonker, their Into the Woods was something special, and 2014/15’s Little Shop of Horrors was basically perfection. This year see them tackle Broadway classic Guys and Dolls in a co-production with Talawa Theatre Company and by the crin (as my Aunty Mary would say – a bit of Wigan dialect for you there…) just take a look at this bushel and a peck’s worth of beauties!  Continue reading “Cast for the Royal Exchange’s Guys and Dolls announced”

Review: I Can’t Sing, Palladium Theatre

“It’s a no, it’s a yes, it’s a no from me”

One of the most profitable television franchises in the UK, a much-loved comedian writing the book, a £6 million budget…there’s clearly considerable heft behind the latest musical to establish itself in the London Palladium. But the marriage of Harry Hill’s bizarre comic sensibility, Steve Brown’s bright if hollow score and the ITV juggernaut that is the X-Factor makes for uneasy bedfellows, Sean Foley’s garish production eschewing any kind of subtlety for the broadest kind of populist swoop.

I Can’t Sing is a show that constantly wants to have its cake and eat it. Faux-Dermot presenter Liam O’Deary gets a laugh by exasperating at one point “I don’t know why you might be charged” when the phone lines have closed, presumably the response “because they continue to make money for the production company” was mixed in previews. The TV show’s heavy reliance on tear-jerking backstories is a running gag yet nothing dispels the myth that that is the way to get noticed on a talent show. Likewise the qualifications of the panel to be judges of a popular music contest are skewered yet they remain feted as a special brand of celebrity. Continue reading “Review: I Can’t Sing, Palladium Theatre”

Review: The Color Purple, Menier Chocolate Factory

“Somebody gonna love you”

The Broadway production of the musical adaptation of Alice Walker’s novel The Color Purple was no great success and so it may seem an unusual choice for the Menier Chocolate Factory to bring to their Southwark home. Nor does the story of Celie, a young woman forced to bear two children by her violent stepfather who then sent them away and then married her off to a brutal partner, necessarily seem one ideal for this genre. But with the focus being on survival, on the road to self-actualisation against racial and sexual pressures, and a score blending many aspects of black music into a smooth melange, it is surprisingly effective.   

There’s much potential for this to be a highly overwrought piece, but where John Doyle’s production comes into its own is in achieving a Zen-like state of calm for the show, a clean simplicity which permeates every aspect and focuses the intensity of the emotion.  Doyle’s own design reconfigures the Menier to great effect, stripping it back to bleached wood and a collection of chairs; Ann Yee’s choreography finds huge elegance in as simple a movement as walking forwards and then back; and at the heart of it all, is a performance of immense grace from Cynthia Erivo as the much-maligned Celie. Continue reading “Review: The Color Purple, Menier Chocolate Factory”