Thursday, 31 March 2011

'Mamma Mia' International Tour, Glasgow SECC, 30/3/11

Now we booked this a year in advance as the previous time the show came to Glasgow we couldn't get tickets! Still, upon arriving I was surprised to see a number of seats remained unsold - seats which weren't on offer when we tried purchasing! Hmmmm ...

Anyway, back to the show:
I came to 'Mamma Mia' via the film although I've been aware of its existence since it opened in London in 1999 where I was living at the time. I recall my initial reaction to the film, or rather reactions; when Julie Walters began singing to Meryl Streep under a toilet cubicle door I realised that the whole concept was far from serious and just switched off my mind and enjoyed. As the female members of the cinema audience began to clap and sing along, and eventually shout at the screen, I realised even further that this really was something else. For good or ill? I am not the person to quantify. But much can be the same for the show, much to my annoyance at times. I have no problems with the audience clapping along and such but when groups of rowdy women begin shouting the lyrics at the actors on stage before they have the chance to sing them then that begins to piss me off. 'Mamma Mia' is not 'The Rocky Horror Show' and is not a tribute act show! Sometimes I pitied the actors onstage, though I'm sure they were no doubt used to it.
The cast of this international tour was well led by Sara Poyer as 'Donna' with Charlotte Wakefield as 'Sophie', here vastly different to her appearance as 'Wendla' in the London company of 'Spring Awakening'.

The entire cast was quite excellent with not a weak link amongst them and I'll say here that every member of the cast had, in my opinion, superior vocals to those on the original London cast album (the 'Sophie' of which has always annoyed me with her whiny voice), the standouts for me, though, were Jennie Dale as 'Rosie' who milked the part for every laugh possible and Steven Potter as 'Pepper' who was portrayed as a lovable, incorrigible rogue with much exuberance and excitability. He was also quite cute too!

I thought the vast stage of the Clyde Auditorium would dwarf the production but this was far from the truth as the space was used well and gave the impression of the epic sweep of the Greek island on which the show is set. The set, as has always been, was simple yet more than effective with brilliant colours, the same of which can be said for the costumes.

The creative team of writer, choreographer, director and producer, the same as that of the film, have indeed created something that is fun, joyous and a celebration of the songs of 'ABBA' and the show contains numbers not featured in the film but they all served the plot better than I thought they would. It made me appreciate how much effort and work had gone into creating a piece that works so well. True, the plot is not the most complex but it works, as do those glorious songs.
The lighting was sharp and crisp and the sound design was excellent capturing the rock/pop spirit of the songs without sacrificing the dialogue.
It is no surprise to me why this show has done so well around the world, especially if each company is as good as this one. The show is certainly one of the better 'feel-good' shows and certainly builds to a rousing finale and party atmosphere encore!

Tuesday, 29 March 2011

'The Lord Of The Rings', Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, London, 13/12/07

This one will be brief. I saw this show as a birthday treat as I am a fan of both the original books and the movies. The venue was the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane whose auditorium was swamped by a vast network of tree vines that erupted from the stage. At the very onset the idea was that the audience were to be transported into the realm of Middle Earth.

As the audience began seating themselves Hobbits entered and began the pre-show business of talking to each other, catching fire-flies, and generally introducing us into the peaceful world of the shire. There would be several more moments throughout the evening where the audience would be drawn in ...
I ad wondered how they they would distill three novels into 2 1/2 hours and new that cuts would be made but before the interval, which came after the Balrog appeared amidst terrific wind and the fall of Gandalf, I thought that the play adhered very close to the book, sometimes more so than the films. however the second act (or more accurately Acts 2 and 3) showed obvious trimming and began to lack the coherence and drama that the first act displayed. Too little time was spent setting up the real threat of the ring - that of its potential to overwhelm Frodo - for it to be a serious dramatic element. The realms of Rohan and Gondor were meshed together and Eowyn, amongst other Rohirrim were excised, along witht the army of the Dead and the Mouth of Sauron, all of which appeared in the previous, Canadian, version. I felt that if they had kept the original running time of three hours they may have been able to develop the story and drama more than they did.
Musically I was quite impressed, although I agree with the producers who declined to market the show as a straight forward musical; whilst the songs and music came out of the story, they were a device in keeping with the overall theatricality of the piece. Most numbers stayed with me after the show, though the 'Cat and the Moon' number was quite irritating and I wish they'd replace it.
The magic effects, the set and costume design and the circus skills employed were truly thrilling, and even the somewhat underwhelming projection all gelled together to create a wondrous piece to observe. Set pieces such as the arrival of the Balrog, as a giant origami monster, the descent of Galadriel from above on strips of cloth, the appearance of Shelob as a giant wicker-like puppet, the destruction of the ring and the final farewells were well executed and often left me quite astounded.
But, ultimately, the book needed to be more dramatic and whilst I understand that edits need to be made for any adaptation, I felt they weren't necessarily in the right places.

Laura Michelle Kelly as Galadriel was the standout for me. Her voice soared as much as she did and the director kept her presence throughout much of the play, almost as a narrator at times. The other cast were all quite excellent but since all the parts were quite two-dimensionally written it isn't really fair to comment except to say that the voices were good and they inhabited their cultures of Men, Dwarves, Elves and Hobbits well.
The set, based on a giant tree whose cross section was divided into several moving, rising parts was quite appropriate and the use of different materials and effects within the vined auditorium was something else. Costumes were really quite eye catching and some bettered the movie versions in my opinion.
Overall the director Matthew Warchus made a good effort but did make some atrocious decisions such as having the stilted Orcs enter the audience and growl. At that point it became a little bit like panto and became unintentionally funny.
It is a show I was overall impressed with and I hope the long-touted world tour comes to fruition, albeit with some more changes to the betterment of the show; including the correct pronunciation of the Elvish featured in the play - something which niggled me no end during the show and which endures on the cast recording!

Saturday, 26 March 2011

'Jesus Christ Superstar' at the Tony Awards

This clip from the Tony awards shows 'The Temple' scene and 'I Don't Know How To Love Him' as performed by the original Broadway company of 'Jesus Christ Superstar' including Yvonne Elliman and Jeff Fenholt.

Anne Marie David 'Le Chanson de Marie Madeleine'

A track from the 1972 French cast recording of 'Jesus Christ Superstar'

Tuesday, 22 March 2011

A few words of (Wisdom)

Destiny is the sum of the actions we take along the paths we choose.

Be well and happy,

Saturday, 19 March 2011

'Chess The Musical', Edinburgh Playhouse, 23/9/10

Here's a review I wrote last year.
As I shall be seeing this production again in a few weeks I thought I'd put my original views on the production up before I review it again:

I had eagerly been awaiting this production directed by Craig Revel Horwood as I am a long standing fan of ‘Chess’. Even despite some of my doubts when the idea of actor/musician was mentioned. Even when the first production shots appeared displaying costumes which wouldn’t look out of place inside a fetish club. I still needed to see this giant of a show which has too long been overlooked!
So what about the production itself? Well, it certainly is very different to any previous incarnations of ‘Chess’, and I think many of the elderly patrons of the theatre present (and there were lots of them!) were certainly taken aback with the look and attitude of the show.

Revel Horwood has directed a thrilling, exciting, funny, gripping and outstanding production which will certainly give ‘Chess’ a new lease of life in the 21st century.
It is, by no means, perfect but the production, as a whole, has a massive ‘Wow’ factor about it; veering away from the previous realistic presentations of the material Craig Revel Horwood interprets the musical with a visual flair and uses theatricality to the piece’s advantage. He uses his actor/musicians almost as a greek chorus who observe and interact whilst playing the intricate music faultlessly. Others have mentioned that the choreography (also by Revel Horwood) could have been executed more sharply but this really is a minor point. The orchestration by Sarah Travis is truly impressive. She manages to produce a sound that is as powerful as the original production whilst also giving the music a fresh lease of life. Again I applaud the cast who play seemingly effortlessly (and without the aid of sheet music) whilst acting, singing, dancing and assuming some rather uncomfortable looking positions (pity the cello players!). The instruments are also incorporated into the show as would-be props such as microphones and it doesn’t take the audience long to forget that the cast also acts as the orchestra. No mean feat with such a large orchestral compliment!
The set and costume design by Christopher Woods is also a refreshingly different approach and, though some of the costumes could easily be used in a live sex show, they work well for such an intelligent show. The idea of chess as a game and metaphor is reinforced throughout with references to ‘pawn’ throughout (especially on the video floor during Bangkok). Though the video designed by Jack James at times appears out of synch with the vocals it all still works well although one wishes that more had been made out of the 'newscasts' the last of which has no video whatsoever yet is still staged as if being presented to an off-stage camera.
The sound, at least where I was seated, was excellent. Clear, unclouded and quite stunning.
Lighting by Ben Cracknell used a lot of straight lines and square shapes with the only noticeable deviation to this idea being at the very end of the show (the idea of chess as metaphor certainly was reinforced in this production). The lighting design was quite appropriate and sympathetic to the show though during ‘I Know Him So Well’ especially I felt the stage was too well lit.
Revel Horwood also adds creative touches such as the ‘boxing ring’ scenario between Florence and Molokov. The Embassy officials, the merchandisers (with a musical reference to ABBA’s ‘Money, Money, Money’) are comedic highlights. The sexual relationships are also brought to the fore between the leads with onstage foreplay present which contrasts to ‘One Night In Bangkok’ which seemed quite tame to me. The dramatic element is also heavily present although Revel Horwood does let the production lose some coherence toward the end of the show.

Whilst it is evident that some music and dialogue was excised (primarily to cut down the running time) it is, for the most part, done unobtrusively. Indeed, as much as I adore ‘Merano’ it wasn’t missed (although it was originally intended to be in the production) as the show ploughed ahead with almost breathless energy. Only toward the end were some of the cuts missed; I, for one, wished Revel Horwood had kept ‘You And I’ intact and let the show end there rather than having a truncated reprise of the afore mentioned number followed by an unexpected, and seemingly almost inappropriate, reprise of ‘Anthem’. There are, in my opinion, better places for cuts - the dance section of 'The Arbiter's Song' and the musical interludes in 'The Story Of Chess' serve no real purpose and would have cut the running time down and may have allowed for 'Merano' to be restored, at least in part. But anyway ...

The cast were sublime. The company excelled and it’s a shame to have to concentrate on the leads. But I shall.

James Fox as ‘Freddie’ was a revelation. Many have said Adam Pascal to be a perfect ‘Freddie’ but I really think Fox has the advantage. He presents the American player with a vitriolic temper which verges toward the violent in his interactions with ‘Florence’. Fox’s ‘Pity The Child’ was probably the most amazingly performed rendition I have witnessed. Full of emotion and pain Fox’s voice soared which was complimented by Revel Horwood’s simple staging. The only problem here was that, with the American’s big number transported to act I it almost leaves the character with nowhere to go (though it is staged impressively effectively and appropriately). When ‘Freddie’ sings the shorter ‘Pity The Child (Reprise)’ (otherwise known as ‘A Taste Of Pity’) following ‘The Deal’ it feels like an anti-climax and the lyric has no relevance. I might as well mention here that ‘The Deal’, always my favourite part of the show, was a brilliant piece of staging with excellent performances throughout.
Daniel Koek as ‘Anatoly’ brought a new youthfulness to the role along with a great voice. His portrayal made ‘Anatoly’ a more three dimensional character than is usually given. Here the Russian displays a darker, more selfish, side not seen before; making him more like the American than he would care to believe. It also lends credence to the choices he must make at the end of the show. ‘Anthem’ was a vocal triumph as was ‘Endgame’.
David Erik’s ‘Arbiter’ was a dominant force throughout, roaming around like some S&M M.C. whose shadow fell upon the proceedings of the evening. His physical and vocal flexibility added to the idea that a romantic game really was being played as if by the Gods of Olympus.
James Graeme and  Steve Varnom, as ‘Walter’ and ‘Molokov’ respectively, gave us rounded, interesting characters with Graeme revisiting a character previously played in a production of ‘Chess’ also directed by Revel Horwood (which can be heard on ‘Chess: the complete cast album’) but here he presents a radically different interpretation to that previously given. Here ‘Walter’ is presented with an Englishman but with all the slime required of the part. Varnom is an impressive figure and throws enough weight around to be a potential KGB agent. It’s interesting to note that all the Russians have an appropriate accent in this production.

As ‘Svetlana’ Poppy Tierney, who I’ve had the pleasure of witnessing in a production of ‘Aspects Of Love’ where she excelled, started off as quite a weak character upon her entrance with ‘Someone Else’s Story’ but soon presented a more vicious face during ‘The Deal’ and her interactions with her estranged husband. These interesting and different facets to an otherwise two-dimensional character were employed well.

‘Florence Vassy’ is certainly the primary role within the show and Shona White doesn’t disappoint. Although she is the only actor not to perform a musical instrument in the show she gives us a ‘Florence’ who is still something of a child, attracted to strong men (replacements for her long lost father) despite the fact that she knows they are no good for her. It’s almost as if we see ‘Florence’ coming to terms with adulthood and her past before our very eyes throughout the show. Her relationships with both ‘Freddie’ and ‘Anatoly’ each move from childish giddiness to full tormented realisation as the mist fades from her eyes in each case. White’s vocal delivery is well suited to the role and, though she can be a little nasal at times, she reigns supreme. ‘Nobody’s Side’ and ‘Anthem (Reprise’) were fine showcases for her abilities.
The show moves and flows effortlessly (again credit to the actor/musicians here) but I do feel the ending was a little unsatisfactory. It simply felt a little rushed and almost came out of nowhere. As I’ve mentioned before I would rather the final reprise of ‘Anthem’ had been cut rather than the sublime ‘You And I’ which would have offered more emotional insight into the end of the romance between ‘Anatoly’ and ‘Florence’.
I’ve also mentioned that I feel strongly that ‘Pity The Child’ (despite the incredible staging here) really should be in act II. And I think the same of ‘Heaven Help My Heart’ which rings as unbelievable when ‘Florence’ sings of loving the Russian who she’s just met. It would certainly make more sense for her to sing about these emotions a year down the line in act II.
But these are just my quibbles on an otherwise amazing production. A production which deserves to have a shot at the West End of London. With a little bit of tweaking in staging and design (the tour has a 5x5 ‘chess board’ which is of an appropriate size for a touring show but could be expanded to a full 8x8 board were it to be launched into a larger London theatre) the production has the energy, passion and talent to make it a deserving winner.
There is a part of me that would love for this show to recieve a live cast recording - to capture the glorious cast, the sublime sound the orchestra makes and the energy that only live recordings can deliver. I can hope.
I look forward to seeing 'Chess' again. And again.

'Little Shop Of Horrors', Glasgow King's Theatre, April 6-11 2009

This production I saw nearly two years ago, but thought I’d share my thoughts as it was a truly enjoyable, funny show.

Originally produced at the Menier Chocolate Factory London (above), and transferring to the West End for a season this was the first West End revival of Little Shop, and one long overdue. The plant, Audrey II, was completely redesigned to appear more like a venus flytrap (whilst giving it a more phallic shape) and the puppet was one of the most expensive and experimental aspects of the production and one that worked excellently. The production securely established the Chocolate Factory as a force to be reckoned with. As the production started out in the limited confines of the Factory itself, any embellishment to the subesquent versions was in keeping with the ‘less is more aspect’. The set was enlarged, enabling the ‘downtown’ environment to frame the shop but the entire design by David Farley (who also designed the plant) was coherent and appropriate to the nature of the production.

Direction by Matthew White and choreography by Lynne Page was executed well and the performances from the actors, who included Seventh Doctor, Sylvester McCoy as Mushnik, were energetic and exciting and whilst some had less than brilliant ‘singing’ voices there was no weak link in the entire production. I do feel, however, that any actress to follow Ellen Greene as Audrey has a tough act as Greene created a unique interpretation that defined the role. However Claire Buckfield, avoiding a mere re-tread of Greene’s portrayal, was strong, sympathetic and vibrant. Alex Ferns played on his Eastenders character and was brilliant casting as the masochistic biker dentist. The lead of Seymour was played near-perfectly by Damian Humbley whilst the three urchins were brilliant and kept the show thundering along with their Supreme-like voices.

I was glad that I was able to catch the show as it isn't often produced these days and, having missed it in London, it is a sad state of affairs that tours are not always produced. The Menier Chocolate Factory would later produce the revivals of A Little Night Music and La Cage Aux Folles both of which I missed and neither toured, although it was announced that the latter would only to be cancelled.

RED Productions present 'Steel Magnolias', 10/3/11

This little review was originally written 11/3/11:

Okay, so last night I attended a performance of the charming play 'Steel Magnolias', which I'm sure is better known from the film, although I think I prefer the play, which has a smaller cast (six women) and single unit set of Truvy's hair salon.
Apparently this is the first major production from RED although you'd be hard pressed to notice.
In the small space of the Wallace Bennett Theatre the intimacy of the piece is evident in spades and the cast perform exceedingly well considering their audience is less than half a metre away at some points - a daunting experience for any performer!

Production design, costume and even music selection is well considered and led confidently by director Keegan Friel as the play flows easily and the humour and pathos are explored well by both director and cast, the latter having a wonderful chemistry between the lot of them. It's hard to single out a stand out performance, so I shan't try, but will say that each has numerous moments to shine, although it's probably true to say that Julie Hutchison probably gets the out and out funnier moments.

I laughed. A lot! And it was delightful to be reminded how funny this play is and how charming, gentle and emotional theatre can be.

Nothing is perfect in life and whilst the production has the odd grey hair, nothing can really detract from the overall shine that exudes from this well tended theatrical bouffant. I imagine any dents in the 'do' will be rectified as the production continues.
Continue to break those legs, girls, but don't let the hair go flat!

Friday, 18 March 2011

The shape of things to come

I thought it might be good to let the constant reader know what is to come shortly on this blog:
It is my plan to write about some of the theatrical productions I have winessed in the past recent years, I shall also discuss a book or two I have read.

For your reading pleasure I shall be talking about the following in due course;

I will also discuss one of the most incredible books I've yet read:

So until then ...
Be well and happy,

Thursday, 17 March 2011

In the beginning

Okay, so here's the first post. The sole purpose is to say 'hi' and that this blog is in early development.
Here is where I shall post my opinions on artistic material, primarily concerning theatrical productions but, no doubt, delving into other avenues of creativity. It'll probably contain other totally unrelated matters, also.

So, stay tuned ...