Review: The Smallest Show on Earth, Mercury Theatre

“Forget this gateau, this means war”

When is a new musical a new musical, especially when it has music by Irving Berlin? The Smallest Show on Earth manages it by adapting the 1957 film of the same name and then sprinkling it with a selection of Berlin hits, both well-known and the not-so-much, to create something really rather adorable. Writers Thom Southerland and Paul Alexander have tailored this raw material beautifully, dovetailing the gently bittersweet humour of the British film with the instinctive melodiousness of Berlin’s songwriting into a heart-warmingly lovely new musical comedy. 

Struggling screenwriter Matthew Spenser and his new wife Jean are agog when they discovered a long-lost relative has bequeathed them the Bijou cinema but aghast when they discover it is a total flea-pit. In order to get a decent offer from the rivals at the Grand cinema across the way, they pretend to be doing it up to make it a going concern but as they restore and repaint and get to know the eccentric locals that work there, the couple soon find that the picturehouse offers more opportunities than just old movies and oddballs. Continue reading “Review: The Smallest Show on Earth, Mercury Theatre”

Review: The Mikado, Charing Cross Theatre

“The Japanese equivalent for hear, hear, hear”

Though I am most familiar with the score, I’ve never actually seen a production of The Mikado before. The Pirates of Penzance was my Gilbert & Sullivan show of choice, due to a childhood obsession with the film version, and there have been precious few opportunities to see much G&S (the all-male versions aside) in London in recent years. Director Thom Southerland has had great success with chamber musicals like Parade and Titanic (even if I wasn’t that much of a fan of the latter) so news of a radically reconceived version, set in a 1920s fan factory, provoked more interest than concern.

It’ll be interesting to see how those who know the show better react but for me, it is highly entertainingly done. Lyrical updates include a predictable attack on reality TV wannabes but also a truly witty, and bang-up-to-the-minute, sift through political mis-steps in Lord High Executioner Ko-Ko’s list, delivered with a twinkly mischievousness by Hugh Osborne. And though I was one of just a few to apparently catch it at this performance, there’s a great Strallen reference in amongst many others during Mark Heenehan’s ‘A More Humane Mikado’ and what a fetching Mikado he doth make too. Continue reading “Review: The Mikado, Charing Cross Theatre”

Blogged: S&S Award

“Find the words”

Set up in honour of and named after his parents Sidney and Sylvia, The S&S Award was created by Warner Brown as a celebration of new and as yet unproduced British musical theatre writing and held its inaugural award presentation at the St James Theatre on Sunday 24th November 2013. Don Black presented the prize to this year’s winners – Scott Gilmour and Claire McKenzie – for their show Forest Boy, of which we saw an extended excerpt but the audience were also treated to snippets from other shows in the running for this new prize.

Recent graduates of the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, Gilmour and McKenzie based Forest Boy on the true 2011 story of a boy who appeared in Berlin claiming to have spent the last five years living in the woods with his father. But rather than a straight retelling, they use song and dance – movement director Emily-Jane Boyce contributing some excellent work – to explore the psychological journey of the young man, the troubled relationship with his parents, and the power of the imagination to invent and/or protect, as the truthfulness of his fantastical tale is probed by officials. Continue reading “Blogged: S&S Award”

Review: Titanic, Southwark Playhouse

“Possibly she won’t go down 
Possibly she’ll stay afloat
Possibly all this could come to an end
On a positive note…”

Between them, producer Danielle Tarento and director Thom Southerland have been responsible for some of London’s best small-scale musical revivals of recent years, so it was with interest that their production of the 1997 show Titanic was announced as the Southwark Playhouse’s first musical in its new premises. It won Tony Awards though little critical favour on Broadway, yet timed itself well to ride on the coat-tails of the extraordinary success of James Cameron’s film of the same story which opened some six months later. And as such an enduringly popular tale, Maury Yeston’s music and lyrics and Peter Stone’s book thus have much to battle against to make its own mark.

Based on real passengers and the accounts of survivors, Stone’s book focuses in on a number of couples travelling in different parts of the boat, which means that the emphasis lands heavily on the class divisions onboard. A decent decision one might think but in populating the worlds of first class, second class and third class, all within the first half, the show already feels doomed to sink. There’s just simply too many characters for us to process, never mind genuinely empathise with, and though a hard-working ensemble strive excellently to differentiate their various characters (with some surely sterling backstage help) it does take a while to be entirely sure who is who. Continue reading “Review: Titanic, Southwark Playhouse”

Review: South Pacific, Barbican

“You can’t light a fire when the wood is all wet”

It will be interesting to see how many, if any, of the print critics make reference to one of the most significant aspects of the Barbican’s import of the Lincoln Center production of South Pacific: the ticket prices. The majority of the stalls is priced at £85, making the slightly restricted view seats a whopping £65 and you have to go up to the upper circle before prices start to drop. Not willing to spend so much, we went for the second-cheapest option, up in the balcony / gallery – £20 seats which were reduced to £16 with my membership – rather disgracefully the membership discount only being applicable to the first four performances, thus this is a preview being reviewed here. But credit where it’s due, the seats were just like the normal ones, comfortable with lots of leg room and you really are not that far away from the stage at all: it is so nice to find a venue with cheap seats that don’t take the p*ss out of the audience member and their comfort.

But to the show. This was an extremely well-received production in New York, winning a handful of Tonys and running for 2 years, and so Bartlett Sher has sought to recreate its success for this engagement at the Barbican ahead of a UK tour, even bringing over three members of the original cast. There’s apparently 40 people in the cast (though I counted a few less) and an orchestra of 25 so words like lavish and breathtaking are being thrown around, presumably to mitigate for the pricing, though it is not evident that much investment has gone into the set design… It is one of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s most well known musicals, last seen in London ten years ago at the National Theatre but that was before my time here. Continue reading “Review: South Pacific, Barbican”