Review: Groundhog Day, Old Vic

“I have not a bad word to say, 
about small towns. Per se.”

Expectations were high, how could they not be. Following on from the extraordinary success of Matilda, Tim Minchin’s next foray into musical theatre was to an adaptation of the 90s movie Groundhog Day, playing a two month run at the Old Vic ahead of a presumed Broadway transfer (a move that has had a little doubt cast on it by the withdrawal of major producer Scott Rudin). Now full disclosure, I saw it in its first week thanks to the PWC £10 tickets and the show went for a full month of previews before officially opening, so feel free to take my opinion with a pinch of salt.

For I did not enjoy Groundhog Day, at all. Worse than that, I was bored by it – at least hating something rouses some form of passion, but as Danny Rubin’s book cycled round and round and Minchin’s not unpleasant but in no way striking score dissipated into the ether, I wondered if Rudin might not have had the right idea. There’s a stellar performance from US import Andy Karl as the central Phil, carved out of that leading man material that is particularly American, but for me there was just too little magic emanating from Matthew Warchus’ direction to elevate the material.

Running time: 2 hours 30 minutes (with interval)
Booking until 17th September

The Curtain Up Show Album of the Year 2015 nominees

Best Cast Recording
Bend It Like Beckham (Original London Cast Recording)
Cool Rider (Original Studio Recording)
Gypsy (2015 London Cast Recording)
Made in Dagenham (Original London Cast Recording)
Memphis the Musical (Original London Cast Recording)

Best Solo Album
Cynthia Erivo and Oliver Tompsett Sing Scott Alan
Hugh Maynard – Something Inside So Strong
John Owen-Jones – Rise
Tim Prottey-Jones – To Do. To Be.

Album Review: Gypsy (2015 London Cast Recording)

“I had a dream, a wonderful dream”

From the moment Imelda Staunton shook the very foundations of the Chichester Festival Theatre as Mama Rose in Gypsy, it was pretty much a given that a West End transfer of this Jule Styne/Stephen Sondheim show would be on the cards and that this incredible performance would be immortalised in an official cast recording. And it shouldn’t be taken for granted that Staunton is wowing audiences nightly at the Savoy and that we have been blessed with an album, for this is the kind of musical theatre perfection that surely only comes along once in a lifetime. 

Much of the attention rightly falls on Staunton’s astonishingly nuanced portrayal of the ultimate stage mom but it would be a mistake to label this a one-woman show, Jonathan Kent’s production is far too good for that. She is supported by an extremely skilful performance from Lara Pulver as Gypsy Rose Lee, tracing this overlooked sister’s journey to unexpected stardom and listening to the growing confidence ‘Let Me Entertain You (Gypsy Strip)’, her shyness is cast off vocally as well as physically, like a chrysalis revealing the shimmering showgirl beneath. Continue reading “Album Review: Gypsy (2015 London Cast Recording)”

Review: Gypsy, Savoy Theatre

“Ready or not, here comes Mama…”

These days, it’s more of a surprise when the big musicals from Chichester Festival Theatre don’t transfer into London (cf Barnum). And though it took them a wee while to confirm that Jule Styne’s Gypsy would be making a similar leap, after receiving the kind of extraordinary reviews (including from yours truly) that would most likely canonise Imelda Staunton right here and now, there was never really any doubt that this Rose would get her turn again, 40 years after the show was last seen in the West End.

With such a build-up and expectations sky high, Jonathan Kent’s production has a lot to live up to – and you can sense perversely-minded naysayers dying to have their turn – but dare I say it, I think the show has gotten even better. A key aspect to this is that Anthony Ward’s multi-faceted and multi-piece set design fits much better into the Savoy’s proscenium arch, its machinations felt just a little too exposed on Chichester’s thrust though the pay-off is that Nicholas Skilbeck’s supple-sounding orchestra now has to be tucked away.  Continue reading “Review: Gypsy, Savoy Theatre”

Review: Gypsy, Chichester Festival Theatre

“You got nothing to hit but the heights”

Considered to be one of the greatest roles for a woman in the American musical theatre, Mama Rose is the twisted soul at the dark heart of Gypsy yet it is not a show that has travelled much across the ocean. The likes of Patti LuPone, Bernadette Peters and Tyne Daly have all had their turn as Rose but my first and only experience of the show was in Leicester a couple of years back where Caroline O’Connor took on the role for Paul Kerryson’s marvellous production there. This Chichester Festival Theatre revival, surely already destined for the West End, really ups the ante by reuniting Imelda Staunton with director Jonathan Kent (at the request of Sondheim himself according to this interview) after their hugely successful Sweeney Todd here in 2011.

It’s a high bar to set but for me, I think Gypsy exceeds it with some extraordinary work here. Arthur Laurents’ book, suggested by the memoirs of striptease artist Gypsy Rose Lee, follows the path of Mama Rose’s ultimate stage mom as she drags her two daughters through the toil and grind of trying to make it in showbusiness, touring a vaudeville show around the country which stars the fading youthfulness of younger sister Baby June. But times are a-changing and Mama’s sure determined so when audiences start to disappear and June quits to do her own act, older shyer sibling Louise is thrust into the limelight. Only now burlesque is what is selling tickets and we find out just how far Rose is willing to push Louise in order to achieve her ultimate goal, whatever that turns out to be. Continue reading “Review: Gypsy, Chichester Festival Theatre”

Review: Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Theatre Royal Drury Lane

“It’s the a-choc-alypse…no, it’s choc-mageddon”

What to do when a golden ticket is actually thrust into one’s hand?! A late invitation to a very early preview of new big budget musical Charlie and the Chocolate Factory meant a hurried trip to the newly refurbished Theatre Royal Drury Lane to see what has to be one of the most highly anticipated productions of the year with Sam Mendes directing, Peter Darling choreographing and Douglas Hodge taking on the role of Willy Wonka. Given the huge success of fellow Roald Dahl adaptation Matilda, the stakes on this multi-million production are substantial and a month long preview period is testament to how much the team want to test the show before opening night. 

Where Charlie might suffer, unlike Matilda, is in the enduring memory of the iconic film version from 1971. When Hodge appears at the door of his factory, you can sense the sigh of relief as he looks ‘right’, as in definitely inspired by Gene Wilder’s take on the character; when the doors open on the Chocolate room, there’s a slight sense of disappointment which is perhaps inevitable as the logistics of creating a chocolate waterfall and river come up hard against what appears to be a giant curly-wurly (hopefully there’s more to be done here). Continue reading “Review: Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Theatre Royal Drury Lane”

Review: Miranda Sings and Friends, Leicester Square Theatre

“Haters back off”
One of the things I love about living and theatregoing in London is the sheer range and diversity of opportunity to see things. Sometimes however, there is just too much choice and this month I’ve been presented with a number of dilemmas, the end result of which was us ending up at Miranda Sings and Friends on Thursday night despite having no clue who or what is was all about.
It is the combined fault of Julie Atherton and Daniel Boys, both of whom are performing cabaret shows to feature their albums, Atherton at the Delfont Rooms and Boys at my beloved Wilton’s Music Hall, but one of my birthday presents was tickets to see Swedish pop legend Robyn on the night Daniel Boys is singing and so I booked to see him performing in the reading of Phil Wilmott’s new musical at the Finborough so that I’d get my fix. But that happened to be the same night as Atherton’s show so in order to get my Julie Atherton fix, I found out she was performing at this Miranda Sings thing and so we booked for that. It’s all a bit overly complicated I know, but these are the dilemmas one faces in this city!
And what an unexpected kind of night it turned out to be. Having only the vaguest idea of what Miranda is all about, I couldn’t quite believe the calibre of guests who she persuaded to appear with her, it really was an impressive line-up. A youtube phenomenom created by Colleen Ballinger, Miranda Sings is a character basically ripping the piss out of the plethora of deadly serious but comically bad singers who post videos on youtube. She has managed to parlay this into into a cabaret act and succeeds by getting amazing singers to come sing duets with her and take her advice on how to ‘improve’ their performance. It is essentially one joke stretched rather thin, but the variety of stars singing with her made it highly enjoyable and combined with the fact it was a late night show, it was perfect entertainment alongside the somewhat considerable amount of wine which found itself by our side!
To be honest, much of the evening was a blur and hasn’t really come back to me yet, hence this will be a little (ie a lot) bit of a sketchy review. Fortunately, Julie Atherton did stick in my head with a great It’s A Fine Fine Line with a lovely puppet(!) so it was all worth it and A Whole New World with turban and a guy from Hair, Matt DeAngelis was another number which stood out. Defying Gravity was predictably lots of fun and all in all it was a load of silly fun. I’m not entirely sure I would want to see it sober as as I said mentioned earlier, it is just one joke in the end, but as she would say, haters back off!
Tracklisting as far as we could remember…
All that jazz
Jon Lee – Suddenly Seymour
Scarlet Strallen – Defying Gravity
Ben James Ellis – ?
Noel Sullivan- Summer Nights
Julie Atherton – It’s a Fine Fine Line
Random competition winner, Darren? – Womanizer
Kieron Jae – ?
Matt DiAngelis – A Whole New World
Kerry Winter? – A Queen song
Defying Gravity
oh and a choir

If you were there too, feel free to make any amendments or corrections, it really is quite hazy!

Review: Finishing The Hat, Sondheim’s 80th Birthday Concert, King’s Head Theatre

“And he showed me things, many beautiful things, that I hadn’t thought to explore”

In New York, Stephen Sondheim’s 80th birthday was marked with an all-star gala featuring such names as Patti LuPone, David Hyde Pierce, Mandy Patinkin, Bernadette Peters and Elaine Stritch. In London, we got a gig in the back room of a pub in Islington. I am however quoting the show’s compere, lest you think I’m being overly critical, and in this case, small was indeed beautiful with a fun evening of mixed delights, celebrating the 80th birthday of Stephen Sondheim.

Finishing the Hat, at the King’s Head, featured a diverse array of West End performers coming together to pay tribute to Sondheim with a birthday concert, cherrypicking their favourite songs from his shows and performing them simply on a stage under Chris Peake’s musical direction, accompanied by keyboard, bass and percussion. The show was held together by compere Chris Allen, who provided some linking material whilst one performer shuffled off and the next emerged from the curtain behind, and a powerpoint presentation showed us pictures of the man himself throughout his career and even a hilarious snippet of the Simpsons. Yes, it was all a bit low-rent but this show proudly wore its heart on its sleeve and focused on highlighting the excellence of the compositions being sung, which even divested of their context remain songs of the highest quality. Continue reading “Review: Finishing The Hat, Sondheim’s 80th Birthday Concert, King’s Head Theatre”