SIX

16 Jan

SIX ****
BY Toby Marlow and Lucy Moss
This terrific Feminist Rock musical is simply six girls with stunning voices singing about their characters. The ex wives of Henry 8th.
The show begins as each girl introduces herself with
Divorced, Beheaded, Died
Divorced, Beheaded, Survived.
These are strong women – just as they wouldn’t have been when they were under the thumb of the Gross Monarch. They all protest that he loved them – except of course for Ann of Cleves who he divorced as soon as he met her because she didn’t resemble the picture that Holbein had painted of her. But the part gives the super wonderful Genesis Lynea an enormous opportunity to set the world on fire with her great numbers. First of all The Germanic House of Holbein and then her big solo I’m the Queen of the Castle as she makes a happy life for herself without the love of the ‘Dirty Rascal’ as she calls His Majesty.
All the girls have super voices and all have a chance to shine. Renee Lamb sets the ball rolling as Catherine of Aragon who put up with all his mistresses until Anne Boleyn (Christina Modestou) who Henry married after that first divorce. Boleyn was probably the most famous of his wives but she could not produce a son and became number two ex wife when she was beheaded. ‘What is the cure for a broken heart?’ was the question ‘A severed head ‘ is the answer. Jayne Seymour (Natalie Paris) with whom he had a loving relationship – she got a ballad to sing – but she managed to produced a son, but dies in the process. Anne of Cleves came next, but she was unsuitable as her face didn’t fit. Katherine Howard was vry young and the King was pretty old and diseased. No wonder she looked elsewhere and got the chop. It was up to Catherine Parr (Izuka Hoyle) to be his final Queen and she stuck it out until he died and she survived.
The music by George Styles is a great part of the show and the girls all in modern dress sand up a storm. Lotte Wakeham as director and Cressida Carre as Choreography work the cast well. And they are highly musical.
My problem with the show is the sound in the Arts Theatre, which is not kind to the dialogue which I believe is quite witty, but is not heard very well at the back of the stalls. I think I would have enjoyed it more if I had been in a better position.
Apart from this, the girls don’t put a foot wrong. They deliver the Politics and the History Lesson with equal energy and the show is greeted with screams of delight by the mostly youthful audience.

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HEARTBREAK HOUSE

12 Jan

Heartbreak House
By George Bernard Shaw
At the Union Theatre
Shaw calls this one of his Political Plays inspired by the works of the Russian dramatists. Heartbreak House represents the mood of Europe at the beginning of World War One. Captain Shotover, (James Horne) is a cantankerous owner of a large house which he has somehow remodelled into the bridge of a ship. He considers himself an inventor, is currently working on an antidote to Dynamite and keeps a load of it in a shed in his garden.
The Bohemian Aristocracy, who are living a life of indolence on money they don’t have to work for, indulge themselves in literature, the Arts and flirtations. The house is full of utterly charming people including Shotover’s daughter Hesione Hushabye (Helen Anker) who has invited to supper a young girl, Ellie (Lianne Harvey) who wants to marry Mangan (JP Turner), an elderly Industrialist. Hesione wants to dissuade the girl in her mercenary ambitions and even seems a little relieved when the girl admits her passion for Hesione’s own husband Hector. She explains that Ellie’s love for Hector is a waste of time. Hector (Mat Betteridge) is the kind of man who has to fascinate every woman he meets He is already flirting with her sister Ariadne who arrives with her dozy and ineffectual husband Lord Randal Utterwood. The final two members of the party are Ellie’s Dad who seems completely at home in the surroundings and a typical Shavian burglar.
My feeling about Phil Wilmott’s production is that the comedy in Act one is not exploited nearly enough. There is a lot of fun, many witty lines that somehow get overlooked. The actors seem a little too intense as if they have a foreknowledge of disaster. They should have no idea of what is going to happen to their cosy world. The second act is like a different play, as we start tomeet the characters individually and things happen. There is a charming scene between Shotover and Ellie which is played with sincerity. After this scene the whole cast seemed to settle down and act two works like a dream.
A fascinating play especially considering the political situations in which we find ourselves today.

BANANA MAN

3 Jan

BANANA MAN
Book music and lyrics by Leon Parris
The Banana man is the latest and most powerful but terminally stupid Superhero of all time. His alter ego is teenager, Eric Wimp who, though a brilliant scholar, is, like all clever kids, a timorous victim of all the bullies at school. Despite the bananas printed on his underpants, Eric has really no idea is that all he has to do is to eat a banana to effect his metamorphosis as a Superhero in order to save the world from Dastardly villains like Doctor Gloom and General Blight and the Mad Magician.
The two vilest of villains Gloom and Blight are the first to appear, Gloom disguised as a dustbin and Blight as a red post box. It is in these guises that they begin to formulate their evil plan to disrupt the good citizens of Acacia Road.
The cast in this show really enjoy themselves and Marc Pickering who plays Gloom rather like Karl Marx and Carl Mulllaney as Blight give extra special comedy performances. Their disguises are ridiculous. Gloom wears an enormous coat made of leaves and deceives successfully as a bush whereas Blight carries in front of him a life size cardboard cut- out nude from a health and efficiency magazine.
Mark Newnham is loveable as the poor beleaguered Eric and his lady love Fiona – a would be news reporter is funny and beautifully sung by Emma Ralston. Mrs Wimp, Eric’s mother who plies her son with imaginatively devised sandwiches is played by Lizzie Hills last seen at this venue in The Toxic Avenger. Jodi Jacobs plays Eric’s friend The Crow – the speaking Bird!! A very special mention for the light footed and horizontally unchallenged Chief O’Reilly played by TJ Lloyd. An ensemble is made up with Chris McGuigan, Amy Perry and Brian Gilligan who play all the rest.
But towering over them all in his blue and yellow superhero costume is Matthew McKenna a crazy satirical recreation of every daft Superhero we have ever seen..
This show is literally a giggle a minute, with great production values, Mark Perry directs, with Mike Leopold as designer and Mal Hall as musical director.
This is a brilliant fun production – gently leading us out of the pantomime season into something for slightly more grown up children. Unlike the aforesaid pantos, It manages to be a totally clean show and a wonderful sendup of all those Superheroes we read about in the Beano and Dandy.

The Rat Pack live from Las Vegas

22 Dec

THE RAT PACK
Live from Las Vegas
Directed and choreographed by Mitch Sebastian.

The boys are back – well, not quite. The three main characters in this cabaret have good voices and can impersonate the three guys vocally. Although Sammy David Junior (David Hayes) is probably the nearest vocally and, if you shut your eyes, you can imagine Sammy – except of course for the fact that although facially he resembles him, he does not don tap shoes- and that is a real disappointment.
It is also worrying- probably only to me, that there are inaccuracies in the lyrics. Simple things that stand out “Faithful friends who are near to us will be near to us once more?” Maybe not everyone will notice – are they banking on that? Also “A hole in the head” is not the same as “a kick in the head”. The problem is that when you do a number – it is essential to think like an actor to make sure the words make sense.
These guys are at such a disadvantage. If you are a star personality it is quite fun to fool around, but if you are pretending to be someone else – a disadvantage to begin with – and then you start fooling around it becomes a waste of time.
In the same way Sinatra – who had years of experience hitting the notes right in the middle and learning all his lyrics – if he wants to fiddle around with the tune, change the words that is fun. If someone pretending to be Sinatra does it, it is irritating.
Dean Martin (Nigel Casey) is charming, with raffish good looks and a wonderful voice with unusual timbres. I suppose it makes sense for him to forget his lyrics. I would love to see him in something else.
Sinatra is the leader of the pack. Garrett Phillips’ first number is “The lady is a tramp”. He sings dice games instead of crap games = why? It adds nothing to the song. Was the word crap considered bad language in the fifties?
The orchestra is magnificent under the direction of Matthew Freeman who has devised some exceptionally effective musical arrangements. A joy to hear so much brass and members of the orchestra get chances to do solo work – much to the joy of the audience who save a lot of their applause for the musicians.
The Burelli sisters are a fictional group to give the show an excuse to have a little girl power and to accompany Dean Martin in his numbers. They are a fairly constant presence in glamorous costumes, harmonising the odd vocals and performing some dance routines.
It is important to realise that this is based on the Rat Pack shows set in a different age, but the script seems a little tired and it would have been better to pick a few more interesting gags that the cast would find more comfortable. They often seem to be making excuses for the jokes.
There are three Sinatras who appear in turn, two Sammy’s and two Deans. The producers have thrown quite a bit of money at this show. A brilliant band, great costumes and a star cloth. Next month they are adding an Ella Fitzgerald to the mix.
The audience seemed happy. It’s a big night out but for me it could have been better. I have seenthe similar show several times before and was more impressed.

TOP HAT

18 Dec

TOP HAT by Irving Berlin
With book by Matthew White and Howard Jaques.
UPSTAIRS AT THE GATEHOUSE
Every year we have a big Christmas treat. The famous Gatehouse musical comedy. Top Hat is inspired by the film starring Astaire and Rogers and it has the usual idiotic, unbelievable and improbable plot.
Jerry Travers is a famous American song and dance man. He does his opening night in London to great acclaim and then rushes to Venice after a girl he fancies. So what happens to his next performance?. Does the understudy go on? Won’t the audience throw a fit? We do not worry over it, because we are having such a good time watching the dancing, listening to the beautifully rendered, mostly familiar songs and enjoying the wonderful Gatehouse band led by musical director Charlie Ingles
John Plews the director has of course, had years of experience in musical theatre and knows exactly how to work it. For this production, the audience is split in two and one can have fun before the show begins, waving to fiends on the opposite side.
The very lovely Joanne Clifton – one of the professional dancers from Strictly Come Dancing plays Dale Tremont, Her Italian couturier and crazy admirer Alberto Beddini is played by Matthew James. Horace Hardwick (Darren Benedict) the harassed producer, has an incredibly ridiculous man servant played by Samuel Haughton who only manages to put extra difficulties in the way of true love. Joshua Lay dances up a storm as Jerry. The piece is well cast and all are quite wonderful – and what a pleasure to see the incredibly talented Ellen Verenieks as Madge the wife of Horace. She carries most of the comedy in Act two and she delivers her comedy lines like a young Eve Arden. The Ensemble work together brilliantly and each has a role to play in addition to the splendid dance routines. Chris Whittaker has devised the choreography well adapted to the talents of the principals and the ensemble.
Emily Bestow has designed an adaptable set with a platform at one end with treads leading up to it allowing for interesting stage pictures. The period costumes are stunning. The girls look ravishing whether in their colourful evening dresses or with top hat, white tie and tails.
Here is an evening full of joy warmth and friendship. The audience are like guests at a wonderful party and that is what I think musical theatre should be all about.

THE BARRICADE BOYS

9 Dec

THE BARRICADE BOYS
Christmas Cabaret
At the Other Palace. –
OK EVERYBODY. This is THE ONE. Go to the Barricade Boys at The Other Palace to begin your Christmas with a swing. We know we are in for a great evening from the very beginning as they stroll on to the stage singing their exquisite version of Silent Night
These four guys are all West End leading men and as you may guess from the title of the group, they have all worked in Les Miserables so obviously here are songs from that show including, ‘One Day More’ and a rollicking version of ‘The Master of the House’.
There are some serious numbers like the Michael Jackson classic ‘The man in the Mirror’ and two heart-breaking Christmas numbers ‘I’ll be home for Christmas; and the wartime song ‘Bring Him Home’. Plus some idiotic ones like ‘Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer; complete with the practically unknown verse.
The company was started by two handsome young men Scott Garnham and Simon Schofield (who can also perform a neat Charleston if not prevented). The other two they have gathered are equally attractive and talented, Kieran Brown and Craig Mather. They are complete individuals, different from each other but their close friendship is obvious as they send each other up – apparently ad-libbing.
They are proving without doubt that operatic singers, musical theatre professionals and rock stars can doing anything they want – Their version of ’Great Balls’ of Fire got the whole audience rocking. Their greatest tour de force is their version of ‘The Bohemian Rhapsody’ – that unsingable song, which they perform brilliantly.
They are accompanied by their work by the wondrous fedora hatted piano player Noam Galperin and he is given moments of his own every so often to show off his amazing prowess on the baby grand. I believe the piano player will change from night to night and also the guest star – who on the first occasion was Michael Zavier who gave us a lovely rendering of ‘Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas’, after which he was thrust willy-nilly into the boys’chaotic version of ‘Twelve days of Christmas’.
The greatest pleasure I think of this show is the relationships the boys have with each other The songs are sung accurately, professionally but above all with Heart. These are numbers they love themselves and it shows in their enjoyment – how much they love doing them. The boys enjoy their work and show it. They have a good time and so do we.
. Love them all. Take the Victoria trip and be happy

The Woman in White

5 Dec

Woman in White
Adopted from the novel by Wilkie Collins
Music by Andrew Lloyd Webber
Lyrics by David Zipper
Book by Charlotte Jones
Another big press night at the Charing Cross Theatre and another triumphant opening for Thom Southerland, the resident Artistic Director.
It is a highly strung melodrama sung right through by a cast of extremely accomplished singers with a recurring musical theme to carry the dramatic events. To illuminate the lighter scenes there are some very funny panto style rhyming lyrics. Mostly effective in the ‘I hope you like it here’ Sung by Mr Fairlie (Anthony Cable) to Walter Hartwright who is hired to be drawing master to his two daughters Laura and Marion to
This is the first resurrection of this Andrew Lloyd musical since 2003. I saw it at this time and was not terribly enamoured of it. At that time Michael Crawford was playing Count Fosco – a huge sinister/comedy role and cohort of the villain Sir Percival Glyde Crawford played the part as an obese philanderer, suffered terribly from the discomfort of the fat padding, .and had to leave the production through exhaustion.
In Thom Southerland’s version, Greg Castiglione plays it as a rascally, but rather attractive would be seducer of the powerful heroine Marion. These days we have discovered that all villains are not ugly. He has a total stage to himself in his final number ‘You can get away with anything’ which he sings with his wonderful voice and some impressive vocal gymnastics that almost stop the show. Fosco is a man who believes in charm and he has a bundle of it, though he has no chance of getting away with Marian who is only teasing him to get information about her young sister Laura. Laura has married the evil Sir Percival (Chris Peluso) because her father thinks he needs a man to inherit all his fortune.
Morgan Large’s gothic settings are economical but extremely versatile The first scene is the misty gloom of a railway siding, where Walter Hartwright is warned by a sinister signalman that there is doom in the air. It is there that Walter first glimpses the mysterious ghostly figure of The Woman in White (Sophie Reeves)
Walter becomes the beloved of both Marion and Laura. The two girls are beautifully contrasted = beautiful wistful blonde Anna O’Byrne as Laura and the equally beautiful feminist Marion is Carolyn Maitland. All the singing is unusually magnificent and the actors are well chosen.
A special mention to Jonathan Lipman for the sumptuously gorgeous Victorian costumes and to Rick Fisher who lit it and created the atmosphere so beautifully.
I’m told that Lloyd Webber, Southerland and the rest of the creatives have adapted the story to work with modern day ethics and this turns a melodramatic thriller into an interesting political drama.
Yes, it is good news and I hope it will be appreciated. It certainly was on the first night.