Saturday, 31 December 2011

Happy New Year

Hello, you faithful few.

Sharman Prince would like to wish you a 'happy new year'!

May 2012 bring you much happiness in all its manifestations.

Fare thee well, 2011


Thursday, 29 December 2011

Whatever Happened To Christmas?

Having journeyed back to my hometown to spend the festive period with my family I have got to thinking as to the state of Christmas in present day. I talk not of the religious aspect of the holiday (the actual birth date of Christ has been much discussed) but of the human aspect; the feelings that the holiday engenders.
I’m sure we are all aware that the holiday has been vastly over-commercialised with the lead up to the day itself beginning as soon as the first of September but  I don’t know about you but this certainly is a major overdose and by the time Christmas week hits I am virtually Christmas-ed out.
This year, for the first time in a long age, I actually felt ‘festive’ and was greatly looking forward to December 25th. By the time it came around, however, it felt as though my mind had already moved forward in time to beyond Christmas.
Over the years, as ever, I have hoped for that same feeling that I experienced in my youth when Christmas was a time to be cherished and savoured, a time when the extended family, neighbours and friends would visit to celebrate with the inevitable parties and I still recall the food and drink that would be available. The spirit of Christmas was in attendance. Not so in recent years: Whilst I still enjoy the time with the family that sense of celebration and joviality is lacking and the closeness enjoyed by the family and friends is somewhat shattered. No doubt this is inevitable for as time passes people move away, new people enter our lives and death claims some of those close to us. What once was can never be again but surely we can recapture the essence of what we once had?
Or is it too late? Has society, and its attitude to Christmas, altered so much that those halcyon days longed for are simply a dream that can only ever be fondly remembered?
Beyond the day itself we are also seeing it become a precursor to the commercial sales which have moved, throughout my lifetime, from starting in January to Boxing Day. How quickly Christmas is forgotten once the day has arrived. Such realisation get me to thinking about the proposed return of the messiah; that the return would be at a time when the important lessons once learned and re-taught have once more been forgotten or abandoned. For a believer is this not the time? Certainly the ‘season of good will’ is dead. After all, a day cannot be called a ‘season’ now, can it?
But never mind my own personal experience and desire - social media reflects the modern attitude; one where ungrateful children tweet about their lack of an I-phone as a present and where the thought behind a gift is not the important thing. Is this not as far from the ‘meaning of Christmas’ as we have yet gotten? It saddens me that material gain has become so prevalent in our western culture that it overrides any sense of selflessness and charity at the one time of the year when they should be most prevalent. But there are European cultures that still treasure Christmas in a more traditional way, retaining the long held meanings. I can only hope that the future sees a return to the best of Christmas and what it can bring out in my fellow man. I also hope that when, eventually, I am settled I am able to go about celebrating Christmas in a way that reflects my memories with someone with whom I can build new memories and traditions whilst sharing those of old.

Friday, 23 December 2011

Seasonal Greetings and Merry Christmas to all!

As I write this I am packing and preparing to journey down south for the festive holiday: I am loathe to travel but it's a necessity when visiting family back home.

As I'm sure you are, gentle reader, I am hoping for an enjoyable Christmas whilst at the same time I'll be thinking of those who have reason not to be so merry. I hope that they can find peace and contentment, at least.
Let's hope it's a good one for all!

So I just want to wish each and every one of you a very Merry Christmas!

Saturday, 17 December 2011

'Priscilla Queen Of The Desert - The Musical', Palace Theatre, London, 15/12/11

For the second time I saw 'Priscilla' at the Palace Theatre in London which reinforced my feelings for this show: Once again I could not stop smiling from the overture through to the jubilant curtain call.

I finally got to see Richard Grieve as 'Tick' and was struck at how tall and handsome he is (he also has rather large feet!). He gave the role an elegant, assured voice and played the role with a sincerity and effortlessness that was something of a revelation. In short I fell in love with him from the get go.
Don Gallagher, Ray Meagher et al were as wonderful as before and Callum Nicol as 'Felica' was very good although Oliver Thornton who normally plays the role was missed; where Thornton has clearly perfected the role over time, Nicol has had less stage time in the role although the role is clearly an enjoyable one. Nicol's singing was top notch whilst his characterisation was clearly echoing that of Thornton (though no doubt this is how the character is written and directed) and the few individual touches that Nicol brought were enjoyable to behold.
Newley Aucett, who I'd previously seen as 'Tick' was excellent as 'Miss Understanding' setting the standard from the outset. Likewise Liz Ewing was brilliant as rough neck 'Shirley'.

The concept and the score work perfectly together and the book still comes across as sharp and succinct as before whilst the set and costume designs still remain something to be seen. 
It is still a shame that this joyous show is closing and will not be seen again (at least in this incarnation) as it has to be the most exuberant theatrical experience I've seen. I certainly can't recall any other show that makes me ache with smiling so much.

Friday, 2 December 2011

'The Thing', Cineworld, 2/12/11

The prequel (not a remake!) to the John Carpenter film is an interesting, if somewhat pointless, journey through familiar territory. It’s certainly enjoyable (and loud) and it’s not just a mere rehash of the Carpenter film (well, not all the time, at least) throwing in some new and surprising aspects to the story of an extra-terrestrial visitor.
It’s quite obvious that director Matthijs Van Heijningen and writer Eric Heisserer have taken care to ensure that the details tie in with that of the Carpenter film (also called ‘The Thing’) and, for the most part, succeed. They are guilty of creating new plot holes which remain unresolved, however.
The cast including Mary Elizabeth Winstead and Joel Edgerton are very good even if they are filling in some familiar roles of the sci-fi genre. Likewise the plot is largely familiar (but, after all, what exactly can ‘the Thing’ itself do that’s totally new and that doesn’t break consistency with the Carpenter film? The same question can be asked of the human actions) though there are times when they take a new angle where you thought they were merely going to copy details from Carpenter’s plot. Sad to say it’s quite easy to lose track of all the characters in the confusion of events only for them to reappear to the viewer’s surprise. The claustrophobia, atmosphere and tension that Carpenter created so well is not so effective here although a little time is taken to get into the plot and acquainted with the (primary) characters (something almost totally alien in today’s cinematic world). Likewise the musical score is adequate though never matches that of Carpenter’s film. Indeed the music pays homage to the 1982 score at times, especially at the finale which leads into ‘The Thing’ of 1982.

‘The Thing’ itself begins as a barely seen silhouette, with brief glimpses once it comes to life. As the film progresses, however, more and more of the creature and its manifestations are seen and they do not have as much impact as that of the 1982 film. The creature’s forms are also almost run-of-the-mill by today’s standards and are reminiscent of a few other creatures from several other movies. Its final quasi-human form does look a trifle atypical Hollywood monster but serves to tie in with the Carpenter creature. The effects also have lost the viscous, horrific quality of those of the original (which still stand up today) and I wonder if this is perhaps because we are so used to seeing such things in numerous movies.

One of the more original aspects of this film is that we see the interior of the alien craft, usually something that never fails to disappoint. Whilst some of the design details of the interior are familiar to sci-fi fans the situation in which we find ourselves inside the ship it is also a nod to the original story and my main complaint with the film, and this goes for the alien craft, the Norwegian base etc. is that it’s too well lit: We see far too much and not just of the creature. Perhaps on Blu-ray and DVD we can alter the brightness and contrast to create a more atmospheric movie?

This is by no means a bad film, and certainly better than much of the pulp that Hollywood disgorges, but it cannot really match Carpenter’s 1982 film. That said it's an enjoyable horror/sci-fi flick and a person could see a lot worse at their local cinema (*ahem* Twilight).

Tuesday, 29 November 2011

'Ghost The Musical', Piccadilly Theatre, London, 17/11/11

From the overture, complete with a title sequence, it was clear that the film was never far from the creators minds (well, the screenwriter also wrote the book!), so much so that there were few deviations from the film’s details, save for theatrical purposes (there is no penny floating in the air for example, but what replaces it is simple, theatrical and succinct.).
Musically the score is enjoyable, though only one or two songs really stood out for me. That said it certainly suits the piece well since the whole production has a look and feel that is part musical theatre, part rock concert, especially where the lighting is concerned. Sadly, at times, the music obliterated the words though this was not detrimental to the understanding of the story.
Rob Howell’s design was fluid with moving floor sections (a tad overused in my opinion) and LED walls being used to present a variety of locations and effects. Speaking of effects, the magic effects (including the Blue Room Illusion) by illusionist Paul Kieve were truly engaging and well executed and  kudos must go to the lighting which aided in many of these. Likewise the projections served the production well.
The choreography by Ashley Wallen seemed quite alien at times in relation to what was happening plot-wise and served no real dramatic purpose at times though when used to comment on fast living NYC and the world of finance then it came into its own as did the chorus.
Caissie Levy was clearly the outstanding performer of the show with a great voice, subtle acting and believability as ‘Molly’ that removed any thought of Demi Moore instantly. Richard Fleeshman as ‘Sam’ fared less well however: He certainly looks good in the role but is let down somewhat by a voice that isn’t consistent; he breathes most of the lower notes, rendering them almost inaudible, and it seems that, at times, he is fighting with the higher notes. In his mid-range, though, he is quite effective. Otherwise he is generally believable throughout if a tad one dimensional at times.
Sharon D Clarke normally plays ‘Oda Mae’ but I saw her understudy Lisa Davina Phillip instead who played the role for every laugh possible. She had the entire audience in stitches and sang with an energy that stole every scene she was in. Hers is a role that contrasts with the more subdued leading characters and that contrast was well played. 
I also saw the understudy ‘Carl’; Paul Ayres seemed to be trying too hard and as such his character seemed to be a little bit of a caricature when compared to the others. I hope that as he performs the role more he will settle into the part. I was a trifle disappointed not to see Andrew Langtree in the role but such is life. The supporting characters were excellently played and the company performed well.
Matthew Warchus’ direction is fluid, sharp and his manipulation of the stage as a whole is amongst the best I've seen. Some of the more dramatic moments, however, feel a tad rushed and leave the audience with little time to empathise with the people they are watching before quickly moving onto the next piece of action within the scene. It is also worthy to note that the iconic pottery wheel moment is referenced to but in a clever way that is not a mere rehashing of the film’s scene. In fact it becomes one of the most honest and emotive points in the show.
Overall this is a most enjoyable show and certainly something special to experience live and I do believe this will appeal to an audience of a vast variety and I expect it to last a fair while in London.

Friday, 25 November 2011

'Priscilla Queen Of The Desert', Palace Theatre, London, 17/11/11

So, at long last, I got ‘round to seeing ‘Priscilla’ onstage. And boy am I glad I did! It is precisely the kind of show that is needed in these gloomy times where one enters the theatre and forgets about every trifle that the real world can throw at you.
The plot is pretty much that of the film - Sydney drag queen recruits two other performers for road trip for a performance engagement in Alice Springs with a few surprises along the way – though the staging is overtly theatrical and heightened but, even in the most ‘straight’ of scenes, never fails to capture the audience. Underlying all the camp, glitter and fun is a story about friendship, love and ‘coming of age’.

The production has an engaging concept with the show being a huge, elaborate, drag show that exudes an energy that grabs you from the opening announcement and glitter ball and refuses to let go until long after the curtain falls. I don’t think I’ve ever smiled and laughed as consistently as I did in the Palace theatre watching this show. The show is almost pure joy and happiness.
The cast were brilliant with Tristan Temple as ‘Miss Understanding’ setting the standard for the evening with her ebullient performance and quick asides. Oliver Thornton clearly relished his once-in-a-lifetime role as ‘Felicia’ and Don Gallagher was equally at home as ‘Bernadette’ and, whilst I was initially disappointed that there were several understudies on during the performance (Lucy Newton as 'Diva', Olivia Phillip as 'Shirley', Newley Aucutt as 'Tick/Mitzi' and Tristan Temple as 'Miss Understanding'), Newley Auckett , in place of Richard Grieve (who I would love to have seen), was a very sincere and truthful ‘Mitzi’ and not one cast member could be seen as a weak link and the ‘Divas’ were certainly guilty of being fabulous in all respects. Ray Meagher was also perfect as ‘Bob’ and was welcomed on almost all his entrances by cheers from the audience. The entire cast was almost upstaged, however, by the appearance of a little boy in a kangaroo suit in the finale where the large feet  caused him to waddle about the stage in the most adorable and cute way. Awww indeed.

I cannot understand how this show can be closing though, evidently, it must be declining from the producer’s point of view. All I can hope is that it has a life in the UK beyond the West End with, hopefully, a tour at some point to further spread joy. In the meantime, if you can, go and see it!

Thursday, 24 November 2011

To leave or not to leave?

That is the question.

Of late I have been feeling rather restless and frustrated with my current location, especially with it being so far from the theatres of London. Indeed it is rather a hassle (and an expensive one) to get down to those gold-paved streets.
Since my life seems to be stagnating in my current locale I have begun thinking about moving on though I am at a loss as to where! The obvious place is London but I have so many factors that I have to consider none more so than my health. The country I currently live in has been very good to me, health-wise, complete with free prescriptions which, in England, would cost me a bomb! London is also rather pricey (I've lived there before) and the most lonely of places, especially if getting out is difficult as it can be for myself.
Other things include access to various things such as shops, transport as well as other cultural pursuits.
One place I know I will not return to is my home town which is breathing its last.

So, I continue to mull it all over, never getting to a final decision.
At times like this I wish someone was able to just tell me what to do ...

Monday, 21 November 2011

'Sister Act', Edinburgh Playhouse, 2/11/11

I was never really interested in dragging my arse to London to see the stage version of Sister Act despite my enjoyment of the film. I’d heard one or two of the songs and they were enjoyable enough. I was also aware (since the first production several years ago in America) that the plot (and period) had been changed but I simply wasn’t entranced enough to dig into my wallet to fork out for this show out of all the others that exist.
Natch the show announced its closing and then a tour was announced. Between these events the show moved to Broadway in a revised and re-directed version. It was this update that was to tour the UK and its coming close to me (and the nagging of a friend who did want to see it) was a more attractive option.

The show is as exuberant as the best and was a very enjoyable night out. The production may not have all the trappings of a West End or Broadway production but the slightly altered set was effective, evocative and serviced the show well. Likewise all the other elements - lighting, costume and sound – were quite excellent. As was the orchestra and the musical direction which truly brought the music to life creating a pounding disco atmosphere that had the audience in thrall together with the laugh out loud script which had the sell-out audience in stitches. That revised script also fleshed out characters from the film and altered the plot sufficiently to keep the basics of the film’s plot together with fresh material to engage the audience.

The cast were flawless and, though it’s not always nice to compare, I felt they outdid those that feature on the London cast recording. Certainly Deloris (Cynthia Erivo) packed a punch both vocally and in her comedic skills, not to mention her creating a character that was not a mere rehash of the Whoopi Goldberg film performance. Denise Black as the Mother Superior shone a different light onto the hardened character bringing a husky, bluesy vocal quality that I really liked.
The production received a very well deserved standing ovation and I wouldn’t be opposed to seeing the show again when it comes even closer to my current habitat.

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

'The Phantom Of The Opera' at the Royal Albert Hall

This post has been in the works for ages and I am still not really happy with it. Nonetheless I shall post what I have but reserve the right to change it at a later time.
I declined to see this production in the flesh as I refuse to pay such stratospheric prices that were demanded. Add to the ticket price the cost of travel and accommodation and, frankly, I would have had to have started turning tricks to pay my rent and buy groceries for the rest of the year!
I saw Phantom 25 twice at the cinema; the live broadcast and the encore screening (which was the edited, final cut).
The live broadcast was incredibly exciting and was a sell-out. The camera work and sound were excellent with the orchestra thundering away in a way I never expected from a cinematic experience. The orchestrations, even the most subtle, seemed to come through as never heard before.
The cameras were able to get in real tight showcasing the cast perfectly, the only downfall being that the theatrical special effects were very obvious at times (after all they were designed for an audience who weren’t getting so close at the Albert Hall).
The encore, however, was a little disappointing with some editing choices being a mystery to me; whilst they were able to show things that were missed during the live broadcast (e.g. using a cover shot to show numerous things onstage at once instead of a close up) they chose to use some footage obviously from a different night to the soundtrack they were using meaning that the syncing of picture to vocal was a little off. They also cut some of the more ‘real’ moments e.g. during the live broadcast when Christine kisses the Phantom’s hand as she leaves as she pulls away a thin thread of saliva exists between hand and mouth. Not very nice, perhaps, but very real and raw and I hoped they would leave it in. they didn’t. They cut the shot just before the saliva thread is formed. Gutted. What the film version lacked (amongst other things) was truth and that saliva thread was a fine example of how Phantom 25 overshadowed the film version in most cases. Other editing choices also sped up the run of the show which, I felt, did nothing except make some sequences feel a tad rushed (the finale especially). Other editing choices I disagreed with include the first manager’s office scene where, in the live broadcast, we saw a lot of covering shots showed the staging well. The final cut depended more on close ups, robbing us of really being able to see the staging.
The music was also dulled in the final edit. Nigel Wright as co-producer of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s music for 20 years, has a knack for eroding the excitement out of an orchestration (just listen to the 1996 Jesus Christ Superstar album in comparison to the original – it’s too polished and sanitised) and he has done the same with this soundtrack. Where once the cymbals were pronounced they are now muddled in the mix. The same goes for a lot of the string sounds. The title song was incredibly exciting during the live broadcast thanks to the strings (which were heard a lot throughout the live broadcast – more so than I’d ever heard previously) but not so much here.
As for the production itself, well there was a lot to admire; true the chandelier was that of the film rather than the stage show (probably because the stage version would have looked tiny in the Albert Hall) and didn’t fall, true a lot of the set was suggested on screens rather than in actual existence but they served the production well and generally complimented Maria Bjornson’s designs, even when they weren’t used.

The costumes looked as rich as ever although I absolutely loathed the mask worn by the Phantom; as has been the case over the past 15 years or so the mask has tended to be shaded and detailed with a large ‘eyebrow’, evidently to create a sense of 3D. However I much prefer the simplicity of the original masks – white with no enhanced features – which are beautiful and add to the air of mystery that the Phantom requires. The mask in this case also looked over-sized for some reason and seemed to dominate the actor’s face at times. That actor being, of course, Ramin Karimloo, who displayed a fine voice and some tremendous acting chops – very much in evidence thanks to the camera close-ups. His Christine, Sierra Boggess, matched him with no effort adding one of the most beautiful voices I’ve ever heard to an acting performance that truly made Christine into a real person, more so than ever before.
The supporting cast was generally excellent, although not necessarily all the best at playing these characters: Meg is a rather sorry character to play and whilst Daisy Maywood performs well she looks a little too old at times to play the innocent dancer.
The managers are performed well with rounded performances that, at least in the live broadcast, highlighted their comedic element.  Opera tenor Wynne Evans lent an excellent voice to Piangi but I felt the direction he was given (to make him look inept) didn’t really help. Wendy Ferguson as a last minute stand for KieraGiry. Hadley Fraser was a more than competent Raoul but the character was altered from that of the original production in that he was directed to be quite a domineering and harsh suitor for Christine. One wonders how she could possibly have fallen for him and this characterization doesn’t gel with the lyrics he sings. The blame lands squarely with the director Laurence Conner who, I’m afraid, is no Hal Prince (the original director); he certainly presents a decent representation of the London production but his individual directorial touches often contradict those of Prince’s original staging – making Raoul and Christine’s relationship, and hers with the Phantom, different so as to tie in with the sequel Love Never Dies simply cannot work with the material that constitutes the original. Whether it was the director's decision or that of the producers the new relationship dynamic is against that set up by Prince and damages the production. Conner’s other touches render the Phantom less mysterious and frightening – we see him too much; from the overture, where we see him playing the organ (was that really necessary?) to his killing of Buquet high above the stage (a lift from the flawed film). Hal Prince always had  surprises strewn throughout the original production and many of these were erased (perhaps because of staging purposes in the Albert Hall – but then this should have been looked at from some other viewpoint) eroding the Phantom’s omnipotent presence and replacing that menace with more physical Phantom moments.
Conner is directing the ‘new’ production which will tour the UK next year (‘new’ despite retaining Bjornson’s costumes) and I do wonder how well he’ll do and which of his choices made here will be carried over?
Anthony Inglis’ musical direction was fluid and superior to when I saw him conduct the London show several years back. The orchestra, at least in the live broadcast, had never sounded better; even the film score paled in comparison.
While there is much I didn’t like in this production it was a fine production and, more or less, a good representation of the theatrical production. If anything it highlighted how good Phantom could be as a well-made movie.

The finale was fitting with several Phantoms of past and present singing (including with original Christine Sarah Brightman, whose voice was mixed better in the re-broadcast, despite the producers still using the pre-recorded vocals at the end of the number which are from 25 years past) and Michael Crawford’s appearance was moving, if a little disappointing for ’Phans’ since he didn’t sing (save that final note of Music of the Night sung by the entire company – indeed his voice is still so distinctive it was very easy to hear him amongst them all). Oddly missing, however, was Richard Stilgoe who co-wrote the book and supplied additional lyrics whilst original director Hal Prince was otherwise occupied in America, although he did see the live broadcast. I do wonder what Prince thought of the changes made to the direction of the show, but I doubt we'll ever know.
So altogether I preferred the live broadcast to the final cut but it is still good to see that this wonderful show has life, energy and the power to move.
I cannot wait to see it in London again (and, yes, I will see the tour – after all curiosity is a fine thing).

Wednesday, 14 September 2011

'Journey's End', Glasgow Theatre Royal, 9/9/11

Originally seen in a 75th anniversary production in 2004 this production has been resurrected for another UK tour. Glasgow received the play immediately following a brief run in London's West End taking place in the middle of the tour.
I first became aware of this production when it reached Broadway in 2007 (where, despite an all too brief run it picked up the Tony award for 'Best Revival Of A Play') and from then I wished I had seen this particular production. All good things come to those who wait and at the beginning of the year I was made aware of a new UK tour for which I quickly snapped up a ticket.

The play itself was a powerhouse of a production with the writing being both funny, dramatic and, in turns, sombre and emotional. Perhaps more than one would usually expect from a play set in a dugout during the first world war?
Surprisingly, the play moved at a swift pace belying its 2 hour 40 minutes running time. I was taken aback at how well the play flowed, and how quickly, whilst the action onstage was never rushed or drawn out.

The direction of David Grindley was pretty much flawless allowing the text to do most of the work whilst allowing moments of silence and off-stage action to punctuate proceedings.
Set and costume design were as authentic as I'd like to see, the former being especially claustrophobic, utilising only a small percentage of the vast stage where the lighting was rightly dim and gloomy, surely to some discomfort to patrons toward the rear of the auditorium.
Sound design was used to such great effect that when the final, off-stage, action begins the sound is all you need to complete the picture. Indeed the sound became so intense as to shake the theatre and actively involve the audience as part of the finale. Such theatrical flourishes are what help make this outstanding production such a great success. It pulls no punches and isn't twee with the subject matter at hand.
The final tableau which also serves as the curtain call is quite, subtly, stunning whilst also refraining from being quite so in-your-face.

The cast were outstanding with not a weak link amongst them. Glasgow was the premier venue for two of the lead actors who showed no sign of this fact; '"Uncle Osbourne' played by Simon Dutton was the reasoned centre of the piece played with such finesse by an actor who reminded me of a subtler, superior Simon Callow while Nick Hendrix as 'Stanhope' was as assured and at ease with the role as other, longer serving, cast members were with theirs. The 'Raleigh' of Graham Butler and 'Trotter' of Christian Patterson were excellent in bringing the school-boy naivety and hardened humour, respectively, to the production. Simon Harrison as 'Hibbert' also perfectly essayed the fear and panic such condition produced. As I've said the entire cast was outstanding and served perfectly. The whole experience was one in which the audience was part of the journey, drawn in on many levels and left in awe at the experiences endured (mostly off-stage, too) by those on the stage. It is credit to the entire production that the emotional whammy that the play delivers at its climax is as powerful as it is - in lesser hands it could have been melodramatic and clumsy.
I urge you, if you have the chance, to see this production which is an almost perfect theatrical experience and certainly one of the most powerful I've experienced.
I shall remember this production for many a year!

(Sadly no production pictures of the updated tour cast have been released so the pictures here show the original 2011 UK Tour/West End cast, all but two of whom continue with the tour.)

UPDATE (9/10/11):
Here are some new production shots featuring the new touring cast:

Saturday, 10 September 2011

Forthcoming: 'Journey's End' review

I want to take my time over this one.
Having seen the play this past Friday I want to do it justice as it really was an outstanding piece of theatrical magic.
In the way that 'Love Never Dies' was emotionally overwhelming, 'Journey's End' was as powerful and moving in a more stately way. If that makes sense?

So in the next day I shall write about it in depth ...

Monday, 29 August 2011

'Legally Blonde', Theatre Royal, Glasgow, 27/8/11

Whilst 'Love Never Dies' sadly did, I enjoyed my evening watching the touring production of 'Legally Blonde' which is certainly a fun night out. The plot is well known and the show moves at a fair ol' pace and though its score isn't the most original out there it certainly boasts the odd catchy tune with funny, if obvious, lyrics.

The show itself is a stripped down version of the London production, meaning that some of the more elaborate set pieces are dispensed with and others simplified. Although I did miss the 'Delta Nu' sorority house, it really made little difference apart from making the show start a litter slower (the quick set/costume changes in the original production, e.g. from outside to inside the house, help give the impression that the show is racing along from the outset).
The company excelled and exuded incredible energy.
Most were younger than the typical London cast which is, perhaps, more appropriate since the show is set around Harvard University.
Veteran Dave Willetts was authoritve of stature and voice as 'Callaghan' whilst Faye Brookes sparkled as 'Elle' clearly relishing each oppurtunity given to the character. Iwan Lewis was a charming, sure-voiced and handsome 'Emmett' and the creation of his relationship with 'Elle' was pitched well.

The laughs were played well by a cast more than comfortable with their roles but as comedy relief, within a comedy, Liz McClarnon was excellent as 'Paulette'. Though she may appear a tad young in the role that minor fact is quickly overlooked by just how good she is. She is funny, witty and sings much better than you expect her to. It's a good thing too because she was threatened to be upstaged by a camp employee of the beauty salon who made the most of his hips whilst onstage. 'Paulette's' love interest 'Kyle' was also well played by Lewis Griffiths and the two actors played well, and funnily, off each other.

Neil Toon as 'Warner', the catalyst for 'Elle's' foray into law was a considered performance and it was easy to see how 'Emmett' could eclipse him in 'Elle's' affections.
A good, funny, energetic cast together with a neat script and plunky score leads to a great night out.
Indeed, I think there are many a cast member in this production who would be a benefit to the London production.

Monday, 22 August 2011

I can't

In recent months I have been attempting to deal with and come to terms with my fibromyalgia. I have not been having much success.
Believe it or not I am a fiercely independent soul who loathes to be at the mercy of anyone else. Hence my frustration and deep dissatisfaction with my current situation.
When I was younger I had dreams and desires and whilst I was never in a hurry to fulfil them I now find that I am, and will be, unable to fulfil them in the future.
The limitations of this chronic condition is made apparent to me each day when the simplest, everyday, task can be an Everest-like hurdle to overcome. I won't ask for help. Call it pride, call it whatever, but I cannot bring myself to admit defeat.
The truly torturous thing about this condition is when I am reminded of what I have wanted to do, what I was once able to do, and what I can probably never do again.
These days it is more a matter of learning to live again within the limitations of my body and mind.
And that feels like death to me.

Sunday, 21 August 2011

'Love Never Dies', 20/8/11, Adelphi Theatre

I was never enamoured with the idea of a sequel to 'The Phantom Of The Opera' but when the album of 'Love Never Dies' emerged I was entranced by the score. It had its clunky moments but it certainly included some of the best material Andrew Lloyd Webber had written in years.
The evolution of the musical is well recorded and it had been revised several times over its opening year with the final version being quite different to the original album complete with revised book, lyrics and song order.

Though I never saw the opening version it is clear, just by listening to the album and comparing it to the final version, that the revisions were almost all for the better (I say 'almost' because they cut a short phrase that Christine sings following her confrontation with the Phantom which I always thought stunning. Its extraction from the score does not affect the whole though.) with the music certainly flowing better with more references made to the original 'Phantom' show.
The entire cast was sensational with Tim Walton playing 'Raoul' as a well rounded, and tragic, figure whose inner demons are destroying his life. Ramin Karimloo's 'Phantom' is powerful and, at times, pathetic, with a soaring voice. Karimloo's performance is well judged, emotional and precise with the addition of certain gestures and movements an echo of the first incarnation of the 'Phantom' as seen in the original show.

Haley Flaherty as 'Meg' is both childlike and world-weary presenting another precisely pitched performance. the same can be said of Liz Robertson as 'Madame Giry'.

Celia Graham plays 'Christine' with such grace and ease that she is almost otherworldly, as she should be. She presents a matured mother with an underlying echo of the naive child seen in the original show. Her voice is clear and beautiful, her diction sharp, yet, as her climactic aria arrives, she proves she has even more to give. Graham's is a well paced and polished performance and her vocals climax at the perfect moment when she delivers the title song; here 'Christine' rediscovers herself and her voice soars as never before enthralling the audience and mesmerising all.
The chemistry the primary trio has is also palpable and throughout the show there are moments which are so well presented by the cast that it is almost overpowering to behold.

The emotional power of this show was such that from the opening song sung by Karimloo's haunted 'Phantom' I was on the verge of tears. Throughout the remainder of the show there were many moments where the hairs on my entire body were on end until, finally, as Graham performed 'Love Never Dies' coupled with its simple, effective staging, the tears began to flow right through to the incredible finale.

The design is impressive, although a little stark at times, whilst the lighting and sound are quite perfect. The orchestra, conducted by David Steadman, sounded incredible and served the score perfectly.
It is a shame indeed that this show has had too brief a run as it does indeed deserve further intention but I am so happy that I managed to catch it before it closed, especially given that the finale was revised slightly only a few days before given the 'Phantom' the chance to recount what he wrote and what 'Christine' sang, reinforcing the emotional climax more powerfully.

This musical is probably the most emotionally engaging event I have ever witnessed and though the plot is more a sequel to the 2004 film rather than the 1986 musical the emotional journey is worth the ride alone.
Sad though the closing is, I can, at least, look forward to the future DVD release of the Australian production of 'Love Never Dies' which boasts totally different direction and design (which truly looks amazing). Nevertheless, witnessing the cast that I did, I am haunted by the London production and feel that it will be one of those theatrical experiences that will live with me for ever.

Wednesday, 17 August 2011

'Chess The Musical', Aberystwyth Arts Centre, 13/8/11

I've said quite a bit about 'Chess' in previous posts but I'll admit I was excited to see a new production of probably my favourite musical.
I was aware that this production was vastly different to that that recently toured the UK and before I set foot into the auditorium I expected a leaner, darker production. I wasn't too far off the mark.
Director and choreographer Anthony Williams clearly aimed for clarity in his production and he largely succeeds. Whilst not all his choices were to my liking, nor his choreography exceptional, he has created a production that was more dramatic and emotionally honest than the UK tour.
Williams has adapted the book and includes new dialogue which I found surplus to requirements. Whilst they tend to reinforce the narrative they don't serve to drive the plot forward any more than the already existing text although the ad-libs by Tim Rogers as 'Freddie' are the most successful of the additions.
Rogers is part of a superb cast which also features Tom Solomon as 'Anatoly' and both male leads handle themselves assuredly although Rogers tends to outshine Solomon with his charisma (I had previously seen Rogers as 'The Man' in 'Whislte Down The Wind' but here I realised that he's not as tall as he seems, adding to his charm).
Stephen McCarthy is perfect as 'Walter' handling the greasy TV exec with ease. As his political opposite James Dinsmore plays 'Molokov' with a knowing glance and a higher vocal range than normally attributed to the part.
Leighton Rafferty's 'Arbiter' is at once cool, charismatic and unmovable and he is blessed with a strong, commanding presence and voice.
Lori Haley Fox plays 'Svetlana' and gives the character dignity and class and blesses her with a wonderful voice shown off in her solo 'Heaven Help My Heart', normally a song for 'Florence', which the audience lapped up.
As 'Florence' Julie Stark has the weight of the show on her shoulders but she carries it with such ease it's a joy to watch. Stark can sing gently and belt like the best of them. Hers was a performance that was pitched perfectly. 'Nobody's Side' and 'Someone Else's Story' were stirring moments; the former a powerhouse number, punched out effortlessly, whilst the latter was delivered gently but with assurance.
And both ladies sing 'I Know Him So Well' to such near-perfection that I have rarely heard it sung better.
The (primarily young) Ensemble also handles themselves well adding to the blend of wonderful voices this production is blessed with. Kudos to the casting; the cast fit wonderfully together and their voices blend together excellently.
There was something a little incongruous with the costume but the set design of sliding panels which meet to form chess piece silhouettes was elegant and simple. Projections were also used sparingly and to good effect with footage of 'Florence' and 'Freddie' during happier times being a brilliant and moving juxtaposition to the song 'Someone Else's Story'.
Musical direction is by Michael Morwood who also arranged the score for the six piece band and whilst I do miss the full orchestra the simpler arrangements do not detract from the music which is otherwise handled with skill by Morwood.
'Chess' is not a short musical and Williams should have worked on scene transitions a bit more to shorten the duration but this is only a peeve of mine and does not detract from the enjoyment of the show.
Aberystwyth Arts Centre has created an excellent production of a difficult show and they are blessed with a great cast, so if you get a chance do go and see it!

Sunday, 31 July 2011

'Close Encounters Of The Third Kind', GFT, 29/7/11

I do adore these late night screenings at the GFT!
Sadly, this one was only half full which is a bit of a shame since this film is classic sci-fi!

The print was the original 1977 version which has never been released on video or DVD (the original theatrical release that has been released has scenes that were actually trimmed by Spielberg) and it's a film I've wanted to see on the big screen for some time.
It all holds up well, even the special effects which, although not as refined as today's standards, lend to the charm of the film. The detail seen in the model work is truly impressive when seen on such a large scale.

Again, what is really evident is how well Spielberg handles the human drama and delicately balances the human story with that of the special effects.
John Williams' music comes across better than before and the whole filmic experience is one to treasure.
I urge anyone who has the chance to go see a classic film, whatever the genre, on the big screen to do so - it is only when you've experienced them in their natural environment (sure, DVD is fine, but come on!) can you truly recapture the wonder and awe that cinema, at its best, can engender.

Tuesday, 26 July 2011

Use well the days. If you can.

Sometimes (often actually) I feel that fibromyalgia is winning the war on my life.
Today, as for the past few days, the sun has been shining down on us amidst blue skies. Summer!

I, however, have been feeling really quite terrible and find it a great struggle to even get to my kitchen.
Fatigue, lack of concentration and sluggishness are a few of the things I am combating each day and on such glorious days I feel like that I am so missing out on things. I am forced to endure memories of when I was able to enjoy the days and the nostalgia wracks me up!

I keep fighting against it but I fear that all my efforts are in vain as every small effort I make costs me more in pain and lethargy. So when I do attempt to make the most of the sun, I cannot.

It has not gone unnoticed that my social life has almost breathed its last. I imagine that it's at times like these that you realise who actually really gives a shit about you. Certainly in the last few years people have distanced themselves and fibromyalgia has cost me relationship wise.

As it is I am loathe to look out of the window, after all it only reinforces what I am missing out on in life.

I am aware that I am, perhaps, not as reconciled with this condition as I once thought I was ...

Sunday, 17 July 2011

Bobby Fischer Against The World, 16/7/11, GFT

Last night I saw the documentary film 'Bobby Fischer Against The World' at the GFT.
Primarily focusing on the infamous 1972 Fischer-Spassky world chess championship match in Iceland, the film uses archive footage, old and new interviews to give insight into the turbulent life of the great American chess player.

Informative, moving and humorous the film is well crafted with insightful commentary from the various participants involved. Non-chess players need not worry about being alienated as the film is not overtly concerned with the mechanics of the game, but rather deals with the obsession that overwhelmed Fischer leading to his paranoia and eventual fall from favour.

I first became aware of Fischer due to my interest in 'Chess' the musical where the character of the American player is often cited to be based on Fischer. Whilst aspects of Fischer's personality are clearly visible in the American character this documentary clearly shows how far more extreme, complex and self-destructive the real person was. Tim Rice chose, wisely, to only use the appropriate aspects of Fischer in his creation of the fictional American for the musical, using his own imagination and other sporting figures to round out his creation. Fischer, as shown in this film, was clearly more repulsive a person than Rice could ever wish to create.

My only criticism with the film is that I wish they'd tried to look further into that period of Fischer's life, following his gaining the championship through to his re-emergence for a re-match against Spassky, where he simply vanishes for a decade.
But, regardless, the film is a fascinating look at the man, his life and the lessons to be gained from his failure as a socially productive human being.

If you get a chance go and see this film. There are worse things you can do, after all.

Jurassic Park, 15/7/11, GFT

Another late night screening of a classic movie this past Friday; 'Jurassic Park' - a movie I've not seen for nigh on eight years.
I saw this twice on its original release which would have been when I was about 13 years of age. It was impressive then and it remains impressive today.

The direction, cast, music and effects all hold up well nearly twenty years (!) later. The latter is surprisingly true given the advances in CG technology, but those 'early' effects actually stand up better than most contemporary computer effects. Maybe because they are used only when needed and not, as today, virtually everywhere. But for whatever reason, I am more impressed by them, and how good they are, than I am when I see a recent, special effect-laden film.

Again the GFT screening was pretty near full it's just a shame that the bunch of twatty students who elected to sit behind my party decided that it was a showing of 'The Rocky Horror Picture Show' and could talk (loudly) all the way throughout the film. They evidently thought it was a bring your own booze event too since they went through many a can of beer throughout the screening, leaving an array of litter behind them that I pitied the cleaners having to clear up.
It still puzzles me how people can have such a disregard for the other people that are attending and also for the property within which they sit. I also struggle to appreciate why such idiots would attend a film screening in the first place; they clearly weren't there to watch the film!

Thursday, 14 July 2011

Everything's Alright - Dana Gillespie, Stephen Tate, Paul Nicholas

Another video constructed from the London Cast album of 'Jesus Christ Superstar'.
This is one of my favourite songs from the show and this is one of the best versions I've heard.

Tuesday, 12 July 2011

Fibromyalgia Sucks!

Since I suffer with fibromyalgia I thought that I'd try and describe, every now and then, what it is like to live with it and how it affects my life day to day.

I am not medically trained in any way so I'll say here and now that sometimes it is quite difficult to accurately describe the symptoms but I can only do my best.

In my legs, especially in my shins most days, and joints I endure a pain that is like a dull, dental, ache which very occasionally becomes a sharp and sudden pain with no forewarning. I also feel a painful sensation akin to when one stretches a muscle and feels the ache. However, it's as if that ache just goes on and on with no release. It can seem especially bad at night when I am attempting to sleep. This may seem so because, without any other distraction to take your attention, you can notice the pain more. I may be wrong but it certainly is a form of torture, believe me.

The condition has also affected my mobility and flexibility. I was never the most bendy of people but I can say that once upon a time I was quite flexible. Nowadays, however, that flexibility is a distant memory. a simple example is that I find it painful and rather difficult to spread my fingers wide and straight and cannot create a strong fist. My grasp on objects has also been affected and I must take care when picking up objects. This especially makes things like cooking and showering an adventure!

On the funny side, my joints and bones pop and crunch when I move which can often amuse me. I have no idea why.
I guess it's better to laugh than cry, right?

Sunday, 3 July 2011

Strange Findings ...

Have you ever bought a second hand book, opened its pages, and found a little memento from a previous owner? A small photo, a scrap cutting or a small bookmark, perhaps?

I find it quite interesting to think about the story that lies behind such things, more so if there's a marking or a small piece of writing; 'to  ----, with love from ----' and so on ...

Friday, 1 July 2011

The Day

The sun can be a wondrous thing. Bright it was this morning, and hot too. As the day progressed it cooled and some clouds drifted in, but still it was a glorious day.
Kelvingrove park was alive and the river moved peacefully under the bridge on which I stood. And watched.
The way the water moves, in various directions, off varying obstacles. The reflection of the sun on the river's surface ...

It is so good to marvel at the wonder of nature sometimes.

don't you think?

Thursday, 30 June 2011

'Avenue Q', Glasgow King's Theatre, 29/6/11

'Avenue Q' was a show that I had no particular inclination to see whilst it was running in London. Since it came to the city where I live I thought I'd check it out. And I am actually very glad I did ...

The cast were excellent throughout and perfect throughout, many of them portraying at least two puppet characters. The puppets were handled flawlessly and it was very easy to believe in the puppet rather than focus on the visible puppeteers.

The animation was brilliantly retro and succeeded in evoking memories of a certain puppet orientated kids show, as did the lovely set, and was part of a whole that was an extremely amusing and entertaining show.
The plot is really about a central character attempting to find his purpose and all the pitfalls along the way. Of course, we learn that the journey is the important thing - and enjoyable that journey can be!
A friend of mine commented that this touring production was superior to the New York production; high praise for all involved here indeed!

I was a bit bemused to find young children in the audience given the adult nature of the show but I didn't hear many parents complaining.
There isn't much more I want to say on this show except that it really was an original, entertaining, funny and joyous production with nothing to really comment negatively about.
If you get the chance do yourself a favour; see it and enjoy yourself.