Renée Zellweger is sensational in Judy, a deeply moving account of Judy Garland’s final months in London directed by Rupert Goold
“I just want what everybody wants. I seem to have a harder time getting it.”
As if there were any doubt, Judy is a phenomenal success, and should see its star Renée Zellweger add to her tally of Academy Award nominations, if not the award itself. Loosely based on Peter Quilter’s play End of the Rainbow, it recalls the final year of Judy Garland’s life as a roll of the dice sees her decamp to London to perform in a series of concerts that she hoped would reignite interest in her career whose light was seriously fading in the US.
But years of substance abuse and the relentless ride of showbusiness have taken a serious toll, even just turning up on time proves a struggle (hard relate!) and that iconic voice can no longer be relied upon. Thus Tom Edge’s screenplay takes a slightly more realism-based approach than the play to show us the riskiness that accompanied Judy’s every step towards a stage and the slow, crushing realisation of what her life has amounted to. Continue reading “Film Review: Judy (2019)”
Elton John gets in on the self-produced musical biopic game, meaning Rocketman is gonna take a long long time to get anywhere near the truth
“People don’t pay to see Reginald Dwight…
they pay to see *Elton John*!”
I always find there being something a little suspect about the subject of a biopic being intimately involved behind the scenes, that sense that you’re only being permitted to see a carefully curated version of this particular story (cf Tina the Musical, On Your Feet onstage; Bohemian Rhapsody most recently on film). And Rocketman ultimately proves no exception, with Elton John executive producing and husband David Furnish getting a producer credit, and Wikipedia thus offering up a substantial list of deviations from what actually happened.
You might argue that as the film, written by Lee Hall and directed by Dexter Fletcher, isn’t a documentary, it doesn’t need to concern itself with an absolute fidelity to historical record. But I just find it fascinating this need to embellish, so much being smuggled under the umbrella of ‘creative license’ that can’t always be explained away with the ‘needs’ of filmmaking. Things as fundamental as changing the inspiration for Reg Dwight’s stage name from his mentor Long John Baldry to John Lennon, or claiming that ‘Daniel’ and ‘I Guess That’s Why They Call It the Blues’ were the songs he auditioned for with Dick James when neither had been written yet. At what point does that creative license start being straight-up dishonesty? Continue reading “Film Review: Rocketman (2019)”
“Who could ask for anything more”
True to its name, An American in Paris premiered in 2014 at the Théâtre du Châtelet in the French capital to ecstatic reviews before transferring to the Palace Theatre on Broadway for another well-received (and Tony-winning) run there. It now rocks up at the newly refurbished Dominion Theatre, just ahead of another huge dance-heavy Broadway musical in 42nd Street, producers clearly banking on audiences wanting distraction from the realities of the outside world.
And that it certainly provides – director and choreographer Christopher Wheeldon’s reinvention of the 1951 film (new book by Craig Lucas) is an absolute feast for the eyes and ears. George and Ira Gershwin’s score is beyond classic (‘I Got Rhythm’, ”S Wonderful’, ‘They Can’t Take That Away from Me’ et al) and sounds luscious in Rob Fisher’s new arrangements musically directed by John Rigby, and Bob Crowley’s set and costumes look divine in all their old-school charm. Continue reading “Review: An American in Paris, Dominion”
“So ‘stead of just kicking me why don’t they give me a lift?”
The Menier Chocolate Factory’s extremely well-received production of Funny Girl has been as much beleaguered as blessed as it wound its way into the West End, garnering acres of extra publicity that the show barely needed given its impressive ticket sales and subsequently announced UK tour. But so relentless has the focus been on leading lady Sheridan Smith and her absences from the show whilst looking after her mental health, that you begin to doubt the maxim that all publicity is good publicity.
Doubtless, a conversation needs to happen about the expectations that are raised when a show is sold on the name of its star. You can argue convincingly that a production is always bigger than its star name, and understudy Natasha J Barnes deservedly got much acclaim for filling in for Fanny but the case is undermined somewhat when the producers put that name above even the show’s title on the publicity (on Broadway, you’re entitled to a refund or exchange if an above-the-title star is off…). Continue reading “Album Review: Funny Girl (2016 London Cast Recording)”
“I guess we’re both happy, but maybe…we ain’t”
As recently demonstrated with Adele’s 25, there comes a point where commercial success just trumps critical response even before the reviews have been published and digested. The Menier Chocolate Factory’s revival of Funny Girl broke box office records in selling out its entire run in mere moments, announcing its transfer to the West End and then selling a vast majority of tickets for the Savoy all before the show had even opened, such is the draw of star Sheridan Smith.
So in some ways it doesn’t matter that Funny Girl really isn’t a great show, one unseen in the West End for nearly 50 years. Musically, Jule Styne’s score front-loads its hits fatally and dramatically, Isobel Lennart’s rather insipid book runs out of steam well before the end, even with Harvey Fierstein’s newly introduced revisions. And for all of the strengths of Michael Mayer’s production, there’s little it manages to do paper over these cracks. Continue reading “Review: Funny Girl, Menier Chocolate Factory”
“Look at these reviews…”
There’s little point denying the economic realities of mounting a major tour of a big musical – famous faces sell tickets. That two of the faces on the poster for The Producers belong to Phill Jupitus and Ross Noble feels something of a stretch though, given that they’re playing the same role (the latter taking over from the former mid-May) something of a promotional sleight of hand there that perhaps betrays a lack of confidence in the production.
And you can’t help but understand why whilst watching it, and reckoning it is going to be a long four months of a tour. In all honesty, this felt like a misconceived, mis-cast and misunderstood mishap of a mess. Splashing the likes of Jason Manford, Louie Spence and the aforementioned Jupitus against this hugely well-received Mel Brooks musical ought to have been more effective but the Matthew White’s production misses the mark on so many counts. Continue reading “Review: The Producers, Churchill Bromley”
”You wonder where your heart can go”
As unlikely as it seems, there are still Rodgers and Hammerstein shows that have never been performed in the UK and in the hope of unearthing a little gem, Sasha Regan’s Union Theatre took on the 1955 flop Pipe Dream and given it the chamber treatment. Some of the songs may be familiar from State Fair which was recently very well-revived by the Finborough and unfortunately, it’s a comparison which does Pipe Dream few favours, as I couldn’t help but feel that this show had little to really commend it and pretty much deserves the obscurity in which it has languished.
Based on two John Steinbeck novels, Sweet Thursday and Cannery Row, the show focuses on the deadbeat end of society – prostitutes and layabouts populate this Depression-era world, an innovation which popular wisdom would have was too outrageous for 1950s audiences. The problem seems more to be the coyness with which Rodgers and Hammerstein treat this though – Suzy the heroine of the show works in the local whorehouse yet the conservatism of the writing never explains it properly, and this cripples her burgeoning relationship with marine biologist Doc which forms the backbone of the show, their pairing stuttering and staggering over obstacles which are never quite clear. Continue reading “Review: Pipe Dream, Union Theatre”