Review: Sweeney Todd, Mercury Theatre

“Because the lives of the wicked should be made brief. 
For the rest of us death will be a relief.”

A handful of cancelled performances due to production design problems meant I missed Sweeney Todd in Derby but fortunately, it being a co-production with Colchester’s Mercury meant that I was able to fit it in to what has been a most hectic schedule this October. And I’m glad I did, for Sondheim and Hugh Wheeler’s musical proves once again to be an evergreen classic and Daniel Buckroyd’s production here makes that case, whilst still establishing its own spin.

Most notably, it comes in the casting of Hugh Maynard as the titular Demon Barber of Fleet Street, for much as I’d love us to be in a place where it doesn’t matter, it still feels important to note that he is the first black man to play the role professionally in the UK. And from his very first utterance, you’re left in no doubt whatsoever that he’s more than up to the task, giving us a viscerally angry Sweeney, his fury his defining characteristic right up until the finale. Continue reading “Review: Sweeney Todd, Mercury Theatre”

Album Review: Lend Me A Tenor (Original London Cast Recording)

“Life is like opera, it’s hard to keep the drama from seeping through”

The West End is a tough nut to crack at the best of times and despite its best efforts, the musical version of Ken Ludwig’s Lend Me A Tenor lasted barely 2 months at the Gielgud in 2010. It’s strange, especially in light of Dirty Rotten Scoundrels’ relative success, as it occupies a similar groove with its traditional, even old-school, vibes, aping a classic era of musical theatre with japes and jolliness but somehow, it just didn’t connect with audiences – not everyone loves a farce…

Its old-fashioned humour and madcap antics are well served by Brad Carroll’s score and Peter Sham’s lyrics and book, which follows the trials of the Cleveland, Ohio Grand Opera Company as a world famous tenor scheduled to sing in their Otello goes AWOL in the hotel just hours before he’s due onstage. Is there a schmuck who can step in at the last minute and pretend to be Merelli, of course there is, but there’s also jealous wives, lovelorn girlfriends and conniving co-stars aplenty to thicken the plot. Continue reading “Album Review: Lend Me A Tenor (Original London Cast Recording)”

Review: Annie Get Your Gun, Churchill Bromley

“Even with a turkey that you know will fold
You may be stranded out in the cold”

Blessed with one of the almighty scores of Broadway history, you’d think that productions of Annie Get Your Gun would be the simplest of gimmes but given that it is very much a piece of writing of its time, it’s not quite as easy as that (as I discovered recently in seeing Carousel for the first time). The gender politics therein are dubious at best and the treatment of Native Americans also speaks of severely outdated attitudes, so directors are faced with something of a conundrum. The Young Vic just went bizarre with it back in 2009 and now a major UK touring production by Ian Talbot opts for the ‘play within a play’ route, the framing device often used in The Taming of the Shrew to address similarly thorny issues. 

Elements of the show have also been removed and tinkered to further redress the gender balance but in all honesty it feels like a step too far – applying both of these patches detracts from their intentions. If it is a bit of meta-theatre, then surely it can just be played as is, as we know not to take it seriously; or if we’re reinventing the story for 21st century eyes, then just rewrite it wholesale. Instead we’re left with something which never really achieves either aspect on a dramatic level, something exacerbated by the limitations of a touring set design. Fortunately, the production sounds like a dream with a superb orchestra though and has some cracking performances in it from a cast who deliver the utterly timeless score by Irving Berlin with all the panache it deserves. Continue reading “Review: Annie Get Your Gun, Churchill Bromley”

Review: The Mistress Cycle, Landor

“This is how it starts”

I haven’t been able to make any of From Page to Stage this year, the Landor’s new musical theatre writing season full of short runs and showcases, so I was pleased to be able to get into the very last show. The Mistress Cycle is an 80 minute song cycle written by Beth Blatt with music by Jenny Giering, which takes a look at mistresses past and present as a modern-day New Yorker wrestles with the morality of falling for a married man.

So we hear about Lulu White, a brothel madam from turn of the century New Orleans, Diane du Poitiers who was the lover of 16th century French King Henri III, the teenage concubine of a 12th century Chinese master and contemporary erotic writer Anaïs Nin. Blatt presents the variety of reasons that have led these women to take control of their sexuality and deploy it as they see fit, yet leaves their stories ambiguous enough for us to make our own judgements. Continue reading “Review: The Mistress Cycle, Landor”

Review: Lend Me A Tenor, Gielgud Theatre

“Anna 1, Anna 2, Anna 3”

For the second time in three days, I deliberately went to a show knowing nothing about it in advance, and I would evidently seem to have used up much of my theatrical karma as for the second time, I was subjected to farce! But ever the contrarian, musical comedy Lend Me A Tenor hit the spot for me with a highly entertaining production where Rumours at the Hen + Chickens did not (although they are completely different beasts in the end). A relatively new musical, written by Peter Sham and Brad Carroll and based on the 1986 play of the same name by Ken Ludwig, the show had a short run in Plymouth last autumn and transfers now to the Gielgud in the West End where it is now previewing following the untimely departure of The Umbrellas of Cherbourg. Several of the cast members have made the move with the show but in a neat twist of continuity, Joanna Riding has joined the ensemble here meaning she will continue to perform in the same theatre.

Set in 1934, the Cleveland, Ohio Grand Opera Company is struggling to survive and manager Henry Saunders is banking everything on their new production of Otello featuring leading Italian opera star and notorious womaniser Tito Minelli. But when a set of circumstances conspire to leave Tito unable to perform, shy assistant Max – who harbours his own dreams of performing – has to find a last minute replacement to play the title role. Things are not quite so simple though, this is a farce after all, as there’s a jealous Italian wife, conniving co-stars, a trio of ex-wives, a randy daughter, three version of the same costume, oh, and the President is coming to watch. Continue reading “Review: Lend Me A Tenor, Gielgud Theatre”