Review: Annie Get Your Gun, Churchill Bromley

“Even with a turkey that you know will fold
You may be stranded out in the cold”

Blessed with one of the almighty scores of Broadway history, you’d think that productions of Annie Get Your Gun would be the simplest of gimmes but given that it is very much a piece of writing of its time, it’s not quite as easy as that (as I discovered recently in seeing Carousel for the first time). The gender politics therein are dubious at best and the treatment of Native Americans also speaks of severely outdated attitudes, so directors are faced with something of a conundrum. The Young Vic just went bizarre with it back in 2009 and now a major UK touring production by Ian Talbot opts for the ‘play within a play’ route, the framing device often used in The Taming of the Shrew to address similarly thorny issues. 

Elements of the show have also been removed and tinkered to further redress the gender balance but in all honesty it feels like a step too far – applying both of these patches detracts from their intentions. If it is a bit of meta-theatre, then surely it can just be played as is, as we know not to take it seriously; or if we’re reinventing the story for 21st century eyes, then just rewrite it wholesale. Instead we’re left with something which never really achieves either aspect on a dramatic level, something exacerbated by the limitations of a touring set design. Fortunately, the production sounds like a dream with a superb orchestra though and has some cracking performances in it from a cast who deliver the utterly timeless score by Irving Berlin with all the panache it deserves. Continue reading “Review: Annie Get Your Gun, Churchill Bromley”

CD Review: Words Shared With Friends

“I’m not a man who finds gestures of affection the natural thing to do”

Over the past decade or so, writer and lyricist Robert Gould has worked with a wide range of composers from across the globe and amassed quite the contact list of performer friends, so the progression to recording a collection of his songs feels like a natural one. Words Shared With Friends thus takes in collaborations from the USA to Sweden and Israel, with excerpts from eight different shows and some stand-along songs, and features a roll-call of exciting musical theatre talent including the likes of Laura Pitt-Pulford, Kit Orton, Joe Sterling and Rebecca Trehearn. 

The 16 numbers range from impassioned musical theatre to straight up pop-rock songs and through the diversity, it is the British composers who shine most. Sarah Galbraith and Kit Orton duet gorgeously on ‘I Cannot Lose You’, a newly written song from Orton’s own My Land’s Shore; Joe Sterling breezes through the effortlessly perfect pop of ’Reasons’ from the self-penned Roundabout; and Ben Stott captures the bruised fragility of Ben Messenger’s ‘Here It Comes Again’, a ruefully beautiful ballad of self-reflection and resignation.  Continue reading “CD Review: Words Shared With Friends”

Review: [title of show], Landor

“We can’t just keep adding in everything that happens to us…”

The very thing that makes [title of show] uniquely entertaining is also the thing that limits it to a niche-shaped bubble which never really takes flight. It’s a fringe-theatregoer’s delight, a meta-theatrical concoction aimed squarely at fans of the genre and so laden with references, in-jokes and geek-outs that it is hard to imagine your everyday audience member getting that much pleasure out of it. Which is why it is very well suited to the Landor, one of London’s hotspots for small-scale musicals yet hardly that well known amongst the wider public and yet even there, didn’t have the full house one might have expected (at least on this night).

The show is, and pay attention, a musical within a musical about writing a musical – Hunter, Jeff, Heidi and Susan are dissatisfied with their mundane lives and so set about putting together something to submit to The New York Musical Theatre Festival but lacking any kind of inspiration, they simply use their struggle to come up with a musical as a subject for a musical. It’s simpler than it sounds and while it is still fresh, the concept is an engaging and highly amusing one which riffs off, parodies, fanboys, satirises and downright copies all kinds of aspects of musical theatre, even adapting its topical references to shows just opened in the West End.  Continue reading “Review: [title of show], Landor”

Review: Chess, Union Theatre

“But nobody’s rules are the same”

With music from Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus  of ABBA and conceived by Tim Rice who also contributed the lyrics, the 1980s musical Chess had grand ambitions which have never really come to fruition as it remains a show that has been revised as often as it has been revived. This new production at the powerhouse of intimate musical theatre that is the Union is a version which has been sanctioned by Rice himself as the definitive version of this story of a love triangle in the world of international chess competitions set against the backdrop of the Cold War. But the potency of an intimate venue has to be carefully captured in order to make it truly work and this is where Chess comes a little unstuck.

Ryan Dawson Laight’s design has recast the Union into a shallow thrust, the size of the theatre meaning that most of the seats end up on the sides. Not an issue at all in and of itself but Laight has a large platform take up most of the space at the rear of the stage and so much of the action is forced forward and this, combined with co-directors Christopher Howell and Steven Harris having the performers play predominantly straight ahead, results in a production that too rarely engages with the vast majority of its audience. For the handful of eight or so people facing the stage head-on, it must be marvellous but if the theatre were full, more people would actually see Florence’s back than her face during the bruisingly raw final scene – that two directors can misuse such an intimate space this way is certainly problematic.  Continue reading “Review: Chess, Union Theatre”

Review: Steel Pier, Union Theatre

“Men and me are like pianos – when they get upright, I feel grand”

Steel Pier is one of Kander and Ebb’s lesser known works: its initial 1997 run (featuring Kristin Chenoweth’s Broadway debut) lasted just a few months and it is only now that the show is receiving its professional European premiere at the Union Theatre. In some respects, it is not hard to see why: David Thompson’s bland book lacks any sort of dramatic drive or interest, and Kander and Ebb’s score misses the deliciously dark edge that characterises much of their best work. But this highly energetic production from Paul Taylor-Mills has a dancing charm which lifts the entertainment factor.

We’re in Atlantic City in the midst of the Great Depression, where exploitative Mick Hamilton is running a marathon dance competition where the last couple dancing will win a cash prize. His secret weapon is veteran of such competitions Rita Racine, but she is tired and determined that this will be her last danceathon and her partner has failed to turn up. Stepping in at the last minute is mysterious flyboy Bill Kelly and as they progress through the contest, Rita finds her attentions and affections torn between these two men. Continue reading “Review: Steel Pier, Union Theatre”