Review: Carousel, Open Air Theatre

Despite some careful thinking and some glorious singing, the Open Air Theatre’s reimagined Carousel can’t stop this problematic musical from being, well, problematic

“Walk on through the wind
Walk on through the rain”

There’s a glorious moment early in the second half of the Open Air Theatre’s production of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Carousel when all its constituent concepts and parts coalesce together in perfect harmony. Joanna Riding delivering the haunting strains of ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’ as the sparseness of Tom Scutt’s design reveals its haunting potential, cleverly contextualising Drew McOnie’s lyrical choreography with the bold brass of Tom Deering’s new orchestrations recasting this classic score with real vibrancy.   

Around it though, the rest of this notoriously tricky musical doesn’t quite stick the landing in the same way, despite the work that director Timothy Sheader and his company have put in to try and address its intrinsic issues. A soft relocation to somewhere in’t’north allows the cast to use a range of British accents but it is a certain truth that no British person has ever said the word clambake, particularly as often as it is said in this show. It may seem like a small point but it is an incongruency that rings out every single time someone says it. Continue reading “Review: Carousel, Open Air Theatre”

News: West End musical castings confirmed

The thought of outdoors theatre was fine earlier this week, not so much right now! For the brave, Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre have confirmed full casting for Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Carousel, which plays 31 July – 25 September. Joining the already announced Carly Bawden (Julie Jordan), Declan Bennett (Billy Bigelow), John Pfumojena (Enoch Snow), Joanna Riding (Nettie Fowler) and Natasha May Thomas (Louise Bigelow) are Brendan Charleson (Mr Bascombe), Jo Eaton-Kent (Mrs Mullin), Sam Mackay (Jigger Craigin), Ediz Mahmut (Young Enoch) and Christina Modestou (Carrie Pipperidge).

The ensemble includes: Chanelle AnthonyCraig ArmstrongWilliam AtkinsonShay BarclaySarah BenbelaidMadeline CharlemagneFreya FieldSebastian GoffinAmie HibbertTim HodgesLukas Hunt, Tessa KadlerLindsay McAllisterMatthew McKennaJack MitchellCharlotte RibyLisa Ritchie and Daisy West. Continue reading “News: West End musical castings confirmed”

Review: Hairspray, Orchard Dartford

“You can try to stop my dancin’ feet”

This mahoosive new tour of Hairspray started in the middle of last month and stretches right through to June 2018 and it certainly feels like it has the potential to be a great success. There are some cracking performances which really elevate Paul Kerryson’s production of this most effective of shows (music by Marc Shaiman, lyrics by Scott Wittman and Shaiman, book by Mark O’Donnell and Thomas Meehan) and choreography from hot-shot of the moment Drew McOnie.

And given how dance heavy Hairspray is, it is an astute move from Kerryson as McOnie’s inventive use of movement establishes and reinforces so much of the febrile mood of simmering racial tension and potential societal change. In the hands of the likes of Layton Williams’ Seaweed and an effervescent ensemble, it’s hard to keep a smile from your face as the sheer toe-tapping enthusiasm of it all as fabulous group numbers shake and shimmy their way across the stage. Continue reading “Review: Hairspray, Orchard Dartford”

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: Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, New Wimbledon Theatre

“That was some mighty fine dancing”

Seven young men enter a backwoods Oregon town, kidnap a woman each – with the intention of making them their wives – and escort them back to their mountainside home where a subsequent avalanche traps up there for the winter, leaving family and suitors unable to rescue them. Such is the premise, more or less, of Seven Brides for Seven Brothers but being a classic film musical of the 1950s, it is less a hillbilly horror flick and more of a rollicking romp of lumberjacking lotharios and one which now find itself in a tour of UK theatres. 

Director and choreographer extraordinaire Patti Colombo has worked her considerable magic on the show to make it a stunning visual treat, however there’s no escaping the huge improbabilities and weaknesses of the story. Of course, one shouldn’t be taking such a thing at all seriously, but it does impact on the way the show is delivered, whether the actors try to find the inner soul of a character and play it honestly or just go all out with a knowing smile and plenty of pizzazz. And I’m not too sure that this production really straddles that line all too well.  Continue reading “Review: Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, New Wimbledon Theatre”