As a dance musical, Can-Can! is a high-kicking delight at the Union Theatre
“My cheeks are clenched”
Courtesy of choreographer Adam Haigh, there is some seriously impressive dance going on at the Union Theatre right now. You might expect some good moves from a musical Can-Can! but the full company sequences that book-end the show are full of verve and vitality and some jaw-dropping moments, which are all the more impressive for taking place on a stage as intimate as this.
Phil Setren’s production wisely scatters more dance performances throughout the show, ensuring that we’re never too far from a routine, as the rest of the musical is something of a mixed affair. A grab-bag approach to its construction means it often feels scattered – based loosely on Pinero’s Trelawney of the Wells but moved to Paris, its populated with both real life figures from La Belle Époque and fictional characters. Continue reading “Review: Can-Can!, Union Theatre”
“Laugh at the king or he’ll make you cry“
The ever-modest Sondheim considers Anyone Can Whistle ‘a laudable attempt to present something off-centre in mainstream musical theatre’, whilst trying to contextualise his first ever commercial failure. But be that as it may, it remains one of his lesser performed works for a reason (it was seen most recently in London directed by Tom Littler at the Jermyn Street in 2010 I think) as Arthur Laurents’ book strains so hard to be zany that it hasn’t noticed how fatally confused it is.
Corrupt Mayor Cora Hooper Hoover and her cronies plot to save their town from going bankrupt by faking a miracle, which attracts tourists aplenty and a bus load of patients from the local asylum who soon escape and mingle into an indistinguishable crowd. Then a fake psychiatrist turns up, who falls in love with a fake miracle verifier from Lourdes…concentrate too hard on this lot and you’ll end up in the asylum with them. Director Phil Willmott thus wisely focuses on the manifold strengths that his production brings to the table. Continue reading “Review: Anyone Can Whistle, Union Theatre”
“It’s just a photograph”
Despite their best attempts to pull the wool over my eyes with distraction techniques (see pics below), I’m afraid I wasn’t too much of a fan of Exposure the Musical. Stay tuned for my 2 star review for Cheap Theatre Tickets as soon as it goes live.
Running time: 2 hours 20 minutes (with interval)
Booking until 27th August
“Send us a pineapple for the wedding breakfast”
What was the last lie you told? How much was at stake and did you even think of the consequences? Such are the questions being raised at Briarwood Hall in Sir Charles Worrall’s talk on the study of lies and lying to which we’re all invited. And to illustrate his thesis and to break up the Greek philosophy, he’s employed his staff to act out musical scenes of a notable scandal of the 1820s in which his family was involved. So begins Phil Willmott and Mark Collins’ new musical Princess Caraboo in an amusing and inventive manner, which entertains right until the last porky pie has been told.
Based on real events, the Princess Caraboo was a woman who claimed to have been shipwrecked on the English shore and taken in by some well-meaning sorts in the Worralls, was able to inveigle her way into the heights of Regency society. But by highlighting this deception from the start, Willmott’s book is more concerned with the way in which such lies take hold and are promulgated by societal convention and the need to maintain a facade of propriety. It adds up to an effective and affecting piece of storytelling and reaffirms the Finborough’s commitment to supporting British musical theatre. Continue reading “Review: Princess Caraboo, Finborough Theatre”
“Carelessness and being free of care,
Aren’t they the same?”
Since its inception in 1999, Stephen Sondheim’s Road Show – with book by John Weidman – has undergone considerable rehabilitation, not least three title changes, and so has rarely been seen on this side of the Atlantic. John Doyle transferred his Off-Broadway production to the Menier Chocolate Factory in 2011 for its European premiere but this is the first UK revival since then, director Phil Willmott continuing a mini-residency at the Union after last month’s fine Fear and Misery of the Third Reich.
But where the episodic nature of Brecht’s storytelling worked well, Road Show is less successful in stringing together its vignettes of chasing the American Dream into something more affectingly substantial. The show follows the contrasting but always connected lives of brothers Wilson and Addison Meisner (per the programme) as they seek to parlay guts and gumption into something more, taking unsuspecting benefactors, love interests and easy marks along for the ride. Continue reading “Review: Road Show, Union Theatre”
“Justice is what serves the Germans best”
The title of Fear and Misery of the Third Reich might not seem like the most appealing at this time of the January blues but it is precisely this kind of complacency that Bertolt Brecht was cautioning against, and that Phil Willmott’s production for the Union Theatre highlights so effectively. Written by the playwright in 1938, this collection of inter-connected vignettes shows both remarkable insight into how prejudice and paranoia were manipulated to allow National Socialism to permeate all levels of German society, and an alarming prescience in how such behaviour might persist even today.
So in a series of scenes that jolt from farcical comedy to the darkest drama to pointed symbolism, Brecht takes us on a journey though the rise of jackbooted thuggery, overt anti-Semitism and bigoted political rhetoric. And the way in which people are browbeaten into submission – from the factory workers coerced into participating in fawning propaganda broadcasts to the parents anxious not to show their injured son too much concern after his release from a concentration camp lest they be reported for fraternising with the enemy – demonstrates the difficulties in trying to resist such a sea change, no matter how much one might recognise that it is wrong. Continue reading “Review: Fear and Misery of the Third Reich, Union Theatre”
“Wanna cry, wanna croon,
wanna laugh like a loon”
Suspension of disbelief is par for the course with musical theatre, especially the type of obscure revivals that the Union Theatre specialises in, and Finian’s Rainbow is no exception in that respect. A leprechaun who is slowly turning into a human, a twinkle-eyed Irishman determined to grow a forest of gold, a mute girl who communicates solely through the medium of dance…this is unabashed hokum of the top order, but the sincerity of Phil Willmott’s sterling production makes it a genuine delight.
For what it’s worth, the plot concerns the twinkle-eyed Irishman Finian McLonegan’s efforts to make his fortune in the Deep South having borrowed a crock of gold from a leprechaun and marry off his granddaughter Sharon in the process. The community of tobacco pickers where they end up welcome them and their money with open arms but a corrupt and racist senator has other plans for the land on which they toil, putting their future in peril. E.Y. Harburg and Fred Saidy’s book contains much more dry humour than you might expect though, jabs about immigration and bankers showing how little things have changed in many respects. Continue reading “Review: Finian’s Rainbow, Union Theatre”
“The biggest stinker is the one with the foulest stench”
Fate can be a funny thing. As anyone who has read this blog for a bit will know, I decided a while back that director and playwright Phil Willmott was going to be my new best friend after Once Upon A Time At The Adelphi melted my heart, but oddly enough that has yet to come to fruition! But being a very hard-working man, opportunities to see his work keep popping up and when a preview of his new musical Painted Lady – The Princess Caraboo Story was announced as part of the Finborough’s Vibrant festival, there was no chance I wasn’t booking my tickets. And sure enough, the man himself was there and after introducing the show, he made his way to his seat WHICH WAS NEXT TO MINE! Good times. Except, due to Chiltern Railways’ inability to notify people just when their engineering works were taking place making me rather late and needing to run to make the curtain and it being a ridiculously hot evening, it was practically like a sauna in the little theatre and so the only thing I could do next to Mr Willmott was sweat, a lot. And I am sorry to him for that. Goddamn fate!
Anyway, the show: Willmott accepted a commission for a brand new musical from the Bristol Old Vic for 2011 and this is the first airing of the material being developed for it, the first draft of an embryo I think someone described it as. After a week’s rehearsal, we were told not to expect too much and to imagine the dance routines in the big numbers, a tricksy way of lowering expectations because as a company of 17 filed onstage, they acted and sang and in some cases threw in a bit of choreography which looked quite practised and comfortable, all very impressive. As with other works-in-progress, this is more an overview though than an actual review. Continue reading “Not a Review: Painted Lady – The Princess Caraboo Scandal, Finborough Theatre”