Re-review: Ragtime, Charing Cross Theatre

“You can never go back to before”

Mother may spend a song telling us that we can never go ‘Back To Before’ but fortunately you can go back to Ragtime with no fear. And in a post-election climate, it can’t help but feel even more charged as the USA finds itself at a(nother) momentous point in its history. You can read my original review here and if anything, Thom Southerland’s production has gotten even better as the actor-musicians feel even more confident and comfortable. 

Leading performances from Jennifer Saayeng and Ako Mitchell, Earl Carpenter and Anita Louise Combe, and Gary Tushaw remain powerful as ever. But on second viewing I enjoyed watching ensemble members and just how damn hard they’re working – Kate Robson-Stuart, Christopher Dickins and James Mack particularly standing out for me… If you’ve not seen the show yet, there’s a trailer below for your delectation but move quickly, there’s less than a month less of the run. Continue reading “Re-review: Ragtime, Charing Cross Theatre”

Review: Ragtime, Charing Cross Theatre

“And say to those who blame us for the way we chose to fight
That sometimes there are battles that are more than black or white.”

It’s impossible to watch Ragtime right now without marvelling at its relevance to the current US presidential election campaign and the lessons that were right there for Donald Trump and his team to learn. For in many ways, the show – written by Ahrens and Flaherty with book by Terrence McNally from EL Doctorow’s novel – is about the development of the modern American nation and identifies three key groups instrumental in that societal change in women, African-Americans and immigrant communities, the very people Trump has done his damnedest to alienate.

Politics aside, what’s more significant is the magical touch that director Thom Southerland seems to have when it comes to reconceiving musicals, as his actor-musician production here at the Charing Cross Theatre is an extraordinary success. Keeping most of his 24-strong company onstage throughout amplifies the overarching humanity of its storytelling, reminding us that these are all of our stories regardless of whichever group we ‘belong’. Combined with the expert musicality onstage and an ingenious design from Tom Rogers and Toots Butcher, it’s an irresistible adaptation that shouldn’t be missed. Continue reading “Review: Ragtime, Charing Cross Theatre”

Brexited Review: Guys and Dolls, Phoenix Theatre

What a collection of Guys and Dolls eh

Rebel Wilson is actually hugely successful as Miss Adelaide, finding the perfect balance between playing the role as written and bringing enough of her own personality to firmly put her stamp on the part. An impressive West End debut. As for this motley crew, someone should tell them to sit down, sit down, sit down…

Turns out luck really is a lady tonight.

Re-review: Guys and Dolls, Phoenix Theatre

“Follow the fold and stray no more”

In the merry-go-round of theatres and shows and transfers and tours, the success of the West End transfer of Chichester Festival Theatre’s Guys and Dolls has seen it divide itself in two – the promised UK tour will go ahead through to the summer but the show remains in the West End as well, skipping from the Savoy to the Phoenix to replace the outgoing Bend it like Beckham

It’s my third time at the show. I saw the original run in Chichester and the transfer to the Savoy and hadn’t planned to return. But as ever, the lure of the recast leads sucked me in. Siubhan Harrison remains with the company but with Samantha Spiro, Oliver Tompsett and US actor Richard Kind joining the team (plus the excellent Jason Pennycooke), my barely-there resistance melted away. Continue reading “Re-review: Guys and Dolls, Phoenix Theatre”

Review: Guys and Dolls, Savoy Theatre

“Let’s keep the party polite”

In the absence of a long-runner, the Savoy Theatre has becoming something of a receiving house – Guys and Dolls has followed in the rapturously received Gypsy, both from Chichester, and the Menier’s Funny Girl lies in wait in April. But what was interesting to see on my return to Guys and Dolls (after seeing its original run in Chichester the summer before last) is that one size does not fit all, the business of transferring isn’t quite as easy as all that. 

For where Gypsy seemed to gain in intensity in the confines of the proscenium arch, Guys and Dolls feels a little constrained by it. Maybe it’s just the memory of Carlos Acosta and Andrew Wright’s explosive choreography on the openness of the thrust stage but it seemed to pop better there (he grumbled, from the rear stalls), it doesn’t benefit from the same width here at the Savoy and so some of the set pieces – as impressive as they remain – didn’t quite hit the nail on the head. Continue reading “Review: Guys and Dolls, Savoy Theatre”

DVD Review: Cinderella

“Perhaps the greatest risk any of us will ever take is to be seen as we really are”

Who knew what the world needed was a live-action version of Cinderella directed by Kenneth Branagh. It oughtn’t be as good as it is but somehow the fusion of Disney magic and folktale wonder comes together most effectively, thoroughly traditional in its outlook yet somehow still feeling fresh. Chris Weitz’s screenplay is based on Charles Perrault’s Cendrillon but both he and Branagh take lots of inspiration from the Disney version of the story too and the resulting confection is really rather bibbity-bobbity-beguiling.

There’s a cleverness too about what it does in spinning new details like giving us a reason that her step-family don’t recognise her at the ball and weaving much humour into the magic spells that get her to said ball. Ella herself is well pitched by Lily James, not quite too perfect to be true but still hugely appealing. It’s no wonder Richard Madden’s Prince Charming tumbles instantly for her (and she for him, those breeches…those boots!) and their chemistry is palpable, one can see why Branagh has cast them as Juliet and Romeo in his upcoming theatre residency in London.  Continue reading “DVD Review: Cinderella”

Review: Grand Hotel, Southwark Playhouse

“Come begin in old Berlin”

Finally, a traverse staging that feels properly justified. It’s still highly dependent on where you sit – despite being a little late, I was able to secure a great vantage point from the middle of the back row from where the full length of the stage for Grand Hotel was suitably visible and I was glad for it. Thom Southerland’s musicals at the Southwark Playhouse have become something of an annual fixture now, becoming big hits for them (Parade) even if they haven’t always floated my boat (Titanic…).

Based on Vicki Baum’s Grand Hotel, the book by Luther Davis swirls around the residents of this Berlin establishment in 1928 over one fateful weekend. A grande dame of a faded ballerina, a typist dreaming of Hollywood, an aristocrat who has lost his fortune, a businessman facing ruin, a man who has little time left to live, their stories and more intertwine elegantly and fluidly in a constantly moving state of flux which captures some of the unpredictability and increasing darkness of interwar Germany. Continue reading “Review: Grand Hotel, Southwark Playhouse”

Review: A Damsel in Distress, Chichester Festival Theatre

“I’m a poached cake without a piece of toast
Yorkshire pudding without a beef to roast”

It’s no secret at all that I love a good old-fashioned musical but it is hard to feel that we need more of them in the world. PG Wodehouse’s A Damsel in Distress started life as a novel in 1919, has been adapted on both stage (with Ian Hay) and screen, where it was augmented by a suite of songs by George and Ira Gershwin, and now finds itself as a piece of musical theatre with a new book by Jeremy Sams and Robert Hudson and vibrantly directed and choreographed by Rob Ashford. 

With a cast that contains Richard Dempsey, Isla Blair, Nicholas Farrell, Sally Ann Triplett, plus the requisite Strallen (Summer, in this case), there’s little about which to complain. Yet I find myself grumbling a little, the bar at Chichester has been set so extraordinarily high with their recent successes, that even a very good production can seem a little lacklustre by comparison. And with so many great ‘traditional’ musicals of this form in the canon, do we really need new ones to be constructed?  Continue reading “Review: A Damsel in Distress, Chichester Festival Theatre”

Review: Shrek The Musical, Theatre Royal Drury Lane

“An Ogre always hides, an Ogre’s fate is known, an Ogre always stays in the dark and all alone”

I hadn’t originally intended to go to Shrek The Musical, certainly not this early in the run, never having seen the films and having a somewhat mixed reaction to the lead casting. The Nigels, Lindsay and Harman, intrigued me but Amanda Holden (I’ve never seen Britain’s Got Talent either) and Richard Blackwood did not appeal. But when an offer appeared on the show’s Facebook page, for £40 tickets at the front of the Upper Circle at a ridiculously cheap price of £15, I snapped up a pair as a birthday treat.

A big-budget production of the show had a relatively short run of just over a year on Broadway but a much-revised version went out on tour across North America last year and it is a copy of this scaled-down production that is now previewing in the Theatre Royal Drury Lane, directed by Rob Ashford and Jason Moore. It has a book and lyrics by David Lindsay-Abaire (also writer of the harrowing Rabbit Hole – talk about diversity!) and music by Jeanine Tesori, and according to my lovely companion for the evening, it cleaves very closely indeed to the first film in the franchise, right down to the same jokes being repeated. This is a review of an early preview, indeed there’s about a month of preview performances, so do bear that in mind as I have.  Continue reading “Review: Shrek The Musical, Theatre Royal Drury Lane”