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!