Review: A Damsel in Distress, Chichester Festival Theatre

“I’m a poached cake without a piece of toast
Yorkshire pudding without a beef to roast”

It’s no secret at all that I love a good old-fashioned musical but it is hard to feel that we need more of them in the world. PG Wodehouse’s A Damsel in Distress started life as a novel in 1919, has been adapted on both stage (with Ian Hay) and screen, where it was augmented by a suite of songs by George and Ira Gershwin, and now finds itself as a piece of musical theatre with a new book by Jeremy Sams and Robert Hudson and vibrantly directed and choreographed by Rob Ashford. 

With a cast that contains Richard Dempsey, Isla Blair, Nicholas Farrell, Sally Ann Triplett, plus the requisite Strallen (Summer, in this case), there’s little about which to complain. Yet I find myself grumbling a little, the bar at Chichester has been set so extraordinarily high with their recent successes, that even a very good production can seem a little lacklustre by comparison. And with so many great ‘traditional’ musicals of this form in the canon, do we really need new ones to be constructed?  Continue reading “Review: A Damsel in Distress, Chichester Festival Theatre”

Review: Carrie, Southwark Playhouse

“You’re not like the other girls…”

Carrie managed that feat in the late 1980s, though for the wrong reasons, when the moderately-received RSC production transferred to Broadway and swiftly became a multi-million dollar flop, lasting for just 16 previews and 5 performances.

Finally taking Stone’s advice after a long period licking their wounds, book writer Lawrence D Cohen, composer Michael Gore and lyricist Dean Pitchford – undoubtedly boosted by the show’s growing cult reputation – substantially reworked Carrie in 2012 and it is that version that is now seeing the light of day with Gary Lloyd’s production at the Southwark Playhouse – its London debut no less. Was it worth the wait? Did it deserve to flop? Does she make things fly? Does she get covered in blood?  Continue reading “Review: Carrie, Southwark Playhouse”

Review: The Last Ship, Neil Simon Theatre

“And when you become a woman of a certain age

You’ll find it’s difficult to trust a man” 

The signs for The Last Ship were not good even before I boarded – Sting stepping into a key role to shore up ticket sales over Christmas – and just days after I saw it, the producers decided to cut their losses and it posted closing notices for the end of the month. Indeed, this review comes too late to even persuade a last few people to visit as Saturday saw the final performance. And whilst I’d love to be able to say that it is a huge loss to the Broadway stage, to me it really didn’t feel like the complete package.

First things first – Sting’s score is genuinely excellent, binding together influences like Celtic folk and sea shanties to the more standard driving anthems and heartfelt balladry that one might expect from a big musical. Real emotion and a strong sense of character come flooding out of songs like ‘Autumn Winds’, the title song and ‘If You Ever See Me Talking To A Sailor’ and it is little surprise that the soundtrack made a strong concept album when released in 2013. Continue reading “Review: The Last Ship, Neil Simon 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: Viva Forever, Piccadilly Theatre

“Do you still remember, how we used to be…”

Producer Judy Craymer reinvigorated a whole new theatrical genre when she masterminded the ABBA jukebox hit Mamma Mia! to huge box-office success, and so proved the natural choice to steer a show featuring the back catalogue of the Spice Girls and a script by Jennifer Saunders into the West End. The resulting show – Viva Forever – is a story of a young woman who is forced to ditch her bandmates in pursuit of her reality show dreams, the mentor who is determined to exploit her in order to secure her own media career and her mother who is on hand to make sure she never forgets who she is. But it is one that doesn’t quite so much fill the Piccadilly Theatre with girl power as a sense of what might have been.

Crucially, the discography isn’t always sufficient for the task in hand of a jukebox musical. Delving into some of the lesser-known works of the Spice Girls isn’t as much as a problem (though front-loading them so is a curious choice as we have to wait a while for a stone-cold hit) as the way in which the lyrical content has to be shoehorned in, resulting in some awkward fits – ‘Say You’ll Be There’ suffers particularly here. But equally, there are moments that do work. The act 1 closer weaves together ‘Goodbye’, ‘Mama’ and ‘Headlines’ in a rather stirringly affecting manner as the three women reach crucial points in their journey; ‘Spice Up Your Life’ becomes a dazzling fiesta of a Spanish street festival; and the titular ‘Viva Forever’ is recast as a tenderly intimate acoustic ballad. Continue reading “Review: Viva Forever, Piccadilly Theatre”

Album Review: Act One – Songs from the musicals of Alexander S Bermange

“Every moment’s one to treasure”

Composers who put together albums of their songs, especially if they are up and coming talent who haven’t necessarily had a breakthrough show yet, are often in something of a bind. Do you go for as diverse a selection of your material as you can find or do you concentrate on showcasing your strengths – both approaches have their merits and their disadvantages and I don’t personally think there is any easy, or right answer. Act One – Songs from the musicals of Alexander S Bermange is probably closer to the latter option and sure enough, it has its strengths and its weaknesses.

Bermange has quite a list of credits to his name but has arguably yet to really mark his mark on the London scene. I only really became aware of him recently when his show Thirteen Days had a small run as part of this year’s Arcola’s Grimeborn Festival. As a musical treatment of the Cuban missile crisis, it was a work of mixed qualities, not always entirely successful but one which equally showed intriguing promise, not least in the firmly old-school manner of rousing song-writing. And that is what comes across most clearly in this collection, which bypasses the post-Sondheim school to cleave closer to the likes of Schwartz and balladeer. Oh, and it features a simply sensational cast of sheer quality. Continue reading “Album Review: Act One – Songs from the musicals of Alexander S Bermange”

Finalists of 2010 Stephen Sondheim Society Student Performer of the Year

Ariane Barnes (Rose Bruford School)
Douglas Carter (Mountview Academy of Theatre Arts)
Jane Sullivan (Mountview Academy of Theatre Arts)
Danielle Steers (SLP College)
Lewis Oatley (runner-up) (Arts Ed, London)
Daisy Maywood (Arts Ed, London)
Jane Horn (Bristol Old Vic Theatre School)
Joseph Claus (Royal Academy of Music)
Jamie Szynal (Royal Scottish Academy of Music & Drama)
Jennifer Harraghy (London School of Musical Theatre)
Joe Jameson (Bristol Old Vic Theatre School)
Alex Young (winner) (Royal Academy of Music)

Host: Hannah Waddingham
Judges: Edward Seckerson (Chair), Sally Ann Triplett, Martin Koch, David Grindrod, Maureen Lipman

Review: Acorn Antiques The Musical, Theatre Royal Haymarket

Some shows you just know are going to get bad reviews but these are quite often shows that certain people are going to love no matter what and so it was with me and Acorn Antiques The Musical. I loved Victoria Wood’s sketch show from the moment I remember seeing it (I’m northern, it is in the contract) and so when I heard that she was writing a musical based on it, there was no doubt what my request for a birthday present would be: tickets to see it at the Theatre Royal Haymarket.

Directed by Trevor Nunn, Wood took on sole responsibility for the show, writing book, music and lyrics and managed to persuade many of the original stars from the show to reprise their roles: Celia Imrie, Duncan Preston and of course, Julie Walters. And when the show focuses on recreating the hilarity that was Acorn Antiques the show as we remember it, this has to be one of the funniest nights I have ever had at the theatre, I was helpless with laughter for so much of it. Continue reading “Review: Acorn Antiques The Musical, Theatre Royal Haymarket”

Re-review: Anything Goes, Theatre Royal Drury Lane

Not much more to say about this as the production is largely the same as that which we saw at the National but enjoyed so much that I wanted to take my little sister who was visiting for the weekend. The major change was a sadly enforced one as one of the actors Denis Quilley died of cancer just before the transfer opened, but there’s also a few new faces in the ensemble.

I think I might even have preferred it this time round, it suits the ‘proper’ theatre building it is now housed in and knowing what to expect meant my anticipation levels were sky-high (and fortunately met). This is definitely the kind of theatre I love and hope to see much more of now I live in London: who knows, I might even try and sneak in another visit to this!

Review: Anything Goes, National Theatre

Anything Goes is a Cole Porter show, directed here at the National Theatre by Trevor Nunn, which has to be one of the happiest, sunniest ways to spend an evening ever, this feel-good show really does work wonders and should be seen by everyone. Set onboard a cruise liner, there’s a tangled web of romantic intentions with singer Reno in love with Billy who loves Hope who’s engaged to an English Lord who just happens to be keen on Reno. Throw in people running from the law, a minor gangster and his moll and a bunch of tap-happy sailors, plus a generous dollop of schmaltz and everyone’s a winner.

Stephen Mears’ choreography which is played out on a relatively static set, the multi-level deck of the cruise liner, was probably my favourite element of the night, if pushed, the sheer imagination and skill on display is just breath-taking and magnificent to watch – the excellent tap numbers just make me want to learn to do it properly. But there’s no real weaknesses here and Porter’s music is just so full of classic songs that everything is just so irresistible, it really was one of those evenings where I didn’t stop smiling. Continue reading “Review: Anything Goes, National Theatre”