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).