Brian Blogs – The Lost 18 months: What Rhiannon missed….

 

#Tweetingit – What no theatre for 18 months?! Culturally bereft, not natural is it? Let’s fix it then; lowdown on the highlights is a good place to start….

Eighteen months is a long time in the theatre, particularly when shows come and go in the blink of an eye and the only constants are perennial money trains that keep London theatre ticking over; no bad thing in itself; I can’t imagine the West End without Phantom, Les Mis or the Mousetrap; but what about the laboratory, the testing ground of provincial and fringe theatre?  I’m pleased to say Off West End is thriving with some brilliantly inventive productions ranging from musicals and plays to stand up and immersive theatre.  Jukebox musicals, however, remain the dominant genre with Mama Mia and Thriller Live (https://wordpress.com/post/playhousepickings1.wordpress.com/284) still going strong as is Beautiful, a show based on the genius of Carol King, and Motown the Musical currently tearing the roof off the Shaftsbury Theatre.

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It just reminds me how much theatre I’ve got to catch up on myself. But over the last 18 months I’ve seen around 50 shows and I think FOMO has seriously kicked in for Rhiannon, and here’s why. The top shows that Rhiannon (probably) wishes she had seen:-

The Elephant Man, Theatre Royal Haymarket @ElephantMan – Want a heart breaking tale of physical deformity and emotional beauty; with a Hollywood heavyweight thrown in for good measure? Bradley Cooper was simply brilliant as the legendary John Merrick, having nothing more elaborate than a walking stick to aid his performance. The reference point for any such portrayal is Sir John Hurt’s unforgettable turn in the David Lynch film. However, Sir John had the benefit of complex make-up, not a realistic option for stage work, which made Bradley’s performance even more of a towering achievement. During the run, he complained of a severe back problem; which is hardly surprising, contorting his body for two hours a night, seven nights a week must have been like locking himself in a suitcase. Cigars all round methinks.

The Merchant of Venice, Almeida Theatre @AlmeidaTheatre – Having seen ‘Merchant’ several times over the years, I quietly despaired at how safe and even boring some productions have been. How refreshing it was to enjoy director Rupert Goold’s glorious take on the machinations of Shylock, Antonio and Portia. The action relocates to Las Vegas with Elvis impersonators, skits on blind date, female characters with Dallas accents and the Prince of Morocco as an Ali styled sharp talking boxer. A top cast was the icing on the cake; Ian McDiarmid, veteran of three Star Wars movies was a cracking Shylock; but the star of the show was the beautiful, sexy Susannah Fielding as Portia.  Can’t imagine why she stands out in the memory so much?  

The State vs John Hayes, Kings Head Theatre @KingsHeadThtr – A one woman play is always a risk; holding the attention of the audience is a massive ask, let alone keep the story ticking over. But for writer/performer Lucy Roslyn, it seemed so easy. Set in a Texas prison, Lucy played an inmate on death row for murdering her husband and lover. The audience eavesdrop on her deepest desires and fears as the date of her execution creeps closer.  She took on the role of her husband, son, lover, prison governor, warden and alter ego of John Hayes, as key relationships were sketched out in a series of monologues. Powerful, thought provoking and in places very funny.  A dazzling performance from a significant new talent.

The Jest, the Vaults at Waterloo @TheJestComedy @thevaultsuk– Sketch based comedy has been waiting for someone to take over the mantle of Paul Whitehouse and Harry Enfield, and now they are finally here; the Jest, comprised of Ella Ainsworth, Tristan Rogers, Jack Stanley, Luke Theobald and Bryony Twydle were a complete revelation in their debut show. This immensely talented quintet raced through a plethora of characters, both real and imagined. From  ‘corrupt travel agents showing tourists around an Eastern Bloc state’ to ‘irritated ghost hunters trying to lose a spirit’, they presented some wonderfully absurd set ups. They also took pot shots at pompous history presenters with ‘historical misunderstandings’. Their finest moment was however recovering Imodium addicts teaching primary school children about the dangers of drugs; simply inspired.

You won’t succeed on Broadway if you don’t have any Jews, St James Theatre @st_jamestheatre  – Now check this out – a history lesson, Broadway tutorial and entertainment fest all rolled into one. It’s easy to forget just how influential Jewish composers were in the development of musical theatre.  A screen played short biographical films, while a talented company of performers ran through some of the greatest show tunes ever written. Then it hit me, virtually every successful musical had input from a Jewish composer; from Crazy for you, Porgy & Bess and Babes in Arms before the war; through Oklahoma, Guys & Dolls and My Fair Lady in the post war years; to Sweet Charity, Fiddler on the Roof, Cabaret and Chicago in the 1970s and Rent, Hairspray and Dreamgirls in the Noughties. I thought my knowledge of musical theatre was pretty decent, but this production proved me wrong over and over again. It’s also a useful reminder, if one was ever needed, how much harder a minority community worked for acceptance and success. Wow…I was informed, educated and entertained!

Here Lies Love, National Theatre @NationalTheatre – Bit of a sleeper this one.  This is the story of local beauty queen, Imelda Romualdez who married Ferdinand Marcos and later became the Philippines’ first lady during a brutally turbulent period in the country’s history. The show’s creators David Byrne and Fatboy Slim broke new ground by confining the story to a nightclub setting. Oh yeah, we’re talking glitterballs, dry ice and strobe lighting; I was briefly thrown back to dimly remembered nights in the Ministry of Sound. A DJ had his own booth, as a three piece rectangular stage continually shifted in the round as marshals in pink jump suits steered the audience into position. Screens at either end aided the narrative with newsreel footage and transcript conversations.  David Byrne’s lyrics tell Imelda’s story with eloquence and insight. Fatboy Slim’s input was obvious as he plundered every club genre in the book; funk, disco, drum ‘n’ bass and house were all used to exhilarating effect. Surprisingly for a musical, a serious story emerged from the songs and eye candy

Close to You: Bacharach Reimagined, Criterion Theatre @CriTheatre  @CloseToYouLDN – Widely panned by critics during its run, but honestly, how could you not love the songs of Burt Bacharach and Hal David?  It’s all about opinions of course, although this may be the show that got away in the West End. Most people think of lush melodies, cool fanfares and passionate lyrics sung with sultry perfection by Dionne Warwick. But this show attempted something different, how would the songs sound with a stripped down arrangement, backed only with a guitar, bass, drum and keyboard line-up?  Just a great live band; rocking out with their reading of over thirty classic songs. By and large it worked brilliantly, although one or two grinding guitar solos may have buried some of Bacharach’s more subtle melodies. A great evening was rounded off as we waved to the man himself seated in the dress circle, and later watched him play piano as the cast sang raindrops keep falling on my head. So fab…so cool…so Burt, what happened to that Christmas card?
The Godfather Live, Royal Albert Hall @RoyalAlbertHall  – Over the years I’ve seen Coppola’s masterpiece countless times and thought I’d studied every word, glance and nuance in the definition of great storytelling. But I was wrong, run the film on a giant screen and get a live orchestra to perform the soundtrack and I saw it in a completely new light. The ever impressive Royal Albert Hall seals the deal with its unique dynamics and natural gravitas. Performances shine like beacons in the night; John Cazale, hysterically brilliant as the slighted older brother; Al Pacino, reluctant war hero sucked into the family business; James Caan, impulsive heir apparent (still looking cool in vest + braces, how does he pull that look off?); and Marlon Brando, brooding magnificently in the title role.  A new theatrical genre has arrived.

Kiki Dee and Carmelo Luggeri, the Pheasantry @pizzapheasantry– So where would you find a singer who had a chart topping million selling single with Elton John and also happened to be the first British artist signed to Motown? Well it’s obvious isn’t it, downstairs in the King’s Road branch of Pizza Express?! Yes, that’s where I saw the amazing Kiki Dee playing an acoustic set with accomplished guitarist Carmelo Luggeri. Well call me a snob if you want, but it wasn’t the appropriate setting for one of our finest singers. The venue may have its own special place in rock history (Queen and Lou Reed played early gigs there), but should Kiki have contended with customers quibbling over their bill?  That irritant aside, I felt privileged to witness an eclectic two hour set, including her biggest hits Don’t go breaking my heart, Amoureuse and the seriously funky I’ve got the music in me. But I do wonder whether the great British public deserve her.
Behind the Beautiful Forevers, National Theatre @NationalTheatre – I never thought the Mumbai underclass recycling rubbish to survive would be quite so riveting and funny. Just think Del Boy in poverty set to murderous bhangra beats and we got a stunning tale of hope fighting reality. The visual effects were stunning, created with nothing more sophisticated than plastic bottles and waste paper. A well-directed cast moved across the stage with real purpose and fashioned a convincing environment of slumdogs living in Mumbai. David Hare devised a remarkable script which makes you care about the characters fate.  The producers made the most of the theatre’s revolving stage and a functional set gave off a gritty aura. The ensemble cast delivered an excellent all round performance featuring the cream of British Asian actors; Meera Syal and Vincent Ibrahim maintained great chemistry from their work on the Kumars while Stephanie Street, a familiar face on TV provides a compelling character portrayal…and god bless the National Theatre for making £15 stall tickets available, three rows from the front; a brilliant show that made me proud of British theatre.

Let’s Be Careful Out There…

New Musical comes to St James Theatre, London

It hasn’t been a great time for musicals in the last year or so; Viva Forever, I Can’t Sing, Stephen Ward, From Here to Eternity and Love Never Dies all closing but here comes a new musical for just a few short days to tease your musical taste-buds.

Picture Perfect: A New Musical explores love and relationships using the songs of award winning Scott Evan Davis.

Josh is graduating college and preparing for his future. Always unlucky in love, he ponder whether he will ever find the one for him. Ellie is on her gap year from her law degree and isn’t sure if she is making the right decisions either professionally or personally. Josh’s parents are also at a turning point in their lives as Harry, Josh’s father, begins an affair with a younger woman. Is anything Picture Perfect?

Picture Perfect stars the incredible talents of Charlotte Wakefield. Having just seen her in A  Spoonful of Sherman at St James Theatre,   I can attest that her voice is stunning and I have no doubt that she will be just as good  good in this production too.

She stars alongside many other West End favourites including Helen Robson ( Mama Mia and Sound of Music) and Jerome Pardon (Les Miserables)

For more information and tickets, go to http://www.stjamestheatre.co.uk/events/picture-perfect/

For my review of A Spoonful of Sherman please go to https://playhousepickings1.wordpress.com/2014/05/18/a-spoonful-of-sherman-april-2014/

 

A Spoonful of Sherman – April 2014

St James’ Theatre Studio

Originally Posted: http://www.whatsonstage.com/london-theatre/reviews/04-2014/a-spoonful-of-sherman-st-james-theatre_34264.html

#Tweeting it – My Verdict in 140 characters

4* This will take you back to your childhood – whatever age you are now. I defy anyone not to have a smile on their face during this show.

The Sherman Brothers are two of the most famous songwriters in film history. I doubt there is a person alive who can’t at least hum a song from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang or who doesn’t think about “A Spoonful of Sugar” whenever they’re cleaning. But what may be unknown is that the Sherman family have been writing songs for three generations and during “A Spoonful of Sherman” the audience are taken on a wonderful trip down memory lane and treated to an amazing cornucopia of some of the best of the Sherman family’s talents.

A Spoonful of Sherman features top West End singers, Stuart Matthew Price , Greg Castiglioni, Charlotte Wakefield and Emma Williams alongside Robert’s son Robbie – who is himself a writer of musicals. Robbie narrates the evening with a clear sense of pride. If you have a renewed interest in the Shermans following the recent Tom Hanks and Emma Thompson film, Saving Mr Banks about the making of Mary Poppins, A Spoonful of Sherman and the wonderful family stories about them really rounds off the tale perfectly. The heartwarming stories about his family, from Al Sherman, his grandfather, to his uncle and father Richard and Robert Sherman and on to his own life, really give a personal touch to the evening. Projections of family photos and memories of their lives give extra feeling and emotion to the songs as well as a wider understanding of how the songs and lyrics came about. It brings a new meaning to many of the lyrics when you understand their backgrounds and this makes the evening that little bit more special for the audience.

The most important part – the singing – is also rather beautiful. The quartet aren’t “just” singers but musical stars themselves. This brings a bit of vigor to these timeless classics as they interact with one another and really perform them, bringing the characters to life for just a moment. All of the company are fantastic singers and there isn’t a moment that is not enjoyable. However, the star of the show is the incredible Emma Williams; the original stage Truly Scrumptious. She has the most beautiful voice, she captivates the audience and adapts her voice wonderfully for the various styles of songs.  Having spoken to Robbie Sherman after the show and having Williams in the company is rather special for him. His father was big fan of hers and so Robbie believes this would have made him particularly happy – especially when she sings the shunned from the stage musical “Lovely Lonely Man” – one of Robert Sherman’s favourites.

There is something for everyone in this chronological skip through the Sherman songbook. Firstly are Al Sherman’s songs, some of which may be lesser known by the younger audience members but are still quite lovely. There will still be a few which most people will recognise including Lets Get Together from The Parent Trap. Next up are all the favourites from The Sherman Brothers themselves including a medleys from Mary Poppins, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, Winnie the Pooh and The Jungle Book. Don’t worry, all your toe tapping favourites are in there and you can even have a bit of a sing along. Finally are the compositions of Robert Sherman, some of which are from his musical Bumblescratch. Songs from three generations provides the perfect completion of the story of the Sherman family.

It was interesting listening to the songs out of the context of the musicals and also listening to them properly as an adult. The lyrics are quire stunning and the expertise and immense talent of The Sherman Brothers shines through. Their songs are powerful and emotive – they’re not all about sickly sweet Disney themes, these songs really are beautifully crafted. One particularly emotional moment was when Robbie Sherman took to the piano to play River Song from Tom Sawyer, written for him by his father.

I am not going to pretend that you will enjoy this if you are not a fan of Disney musicals or of the Sherman Brothers. You will not be turned around from disliking that sweet style that they produce. However, if you love a bit of nostalgia, enjoy flying a kite, singing with orangutans, feeding the birds or wondered what the wonderful thing about Tiggers is, you will have a Truly Scrumptious evening at A Spoonful of Sherman. Leaving the theatre with a spring in my step, I don’t expect my sugar rush from this evening to be over for sometime.