Friday, 16 December 2016

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year

Sharman Prince offers their best wishes for the festive season to one and all ...

See you in 2017 if not sooner ...

Wednesday, 30 November 2016

"Kinky Boots", Adelphi Theatre, London, 25/11/16

My second return visit to what has become one of my all-time favourite shows proved just how astoundingly joyful and uplifting the show really is.
This is the first time I've seen the production since its first cast change and I think I noted a few minor little changes here and there, although I could, of course, be wrong.

'Charlie Price' reluctantly takes over the his family's shoe factory and must work to find a way to save the factory and its workers. Unexpectedly encountering drag queen 'Lola' an idea is born which may just be the answer. 'Lola' and 'Charlie' join forces and face adversity and bigotry head-on, both external and internal, leading to the realisation that finding and accepting one's self is as important as accepting each other.

Matt Henry remains from the original cast and he just gets better and better; his comic timing, his physicality, his glorious voice and the powerful emotional performance he elicits is brighter than ever and he truly deserved the Olivier award for his performance. He is magnetic as 'Lola' and the dimensions he brings to the role seem forever fresh.
David Hunter has taken over as 'Charlie' and he is simply perfect for the role. His everyday charm and warmth, his physical presence and his honey-like vocals, together with his natural appeal indicate that he was born to play the role and he manages to elevate the standing of 'Charlie' when next to 'Lola' with the energy and chemistry between the two perfectly attuned. Hunter fits even more naturally into the part than his predecessor and this is equally true of Elena Sky who has taken over as 'Lauren' who bestows a more naturalistic take on the part as does Alan Mehdizadeh as 'Don'. Michael Hobbs is another holdover form the original cast and his 'George' is even more enjoyable and humorous than before.
The entire ensemble, whether new or old members of the company (and including the young actors), all work together to create a powerfully effective ensemble and this is never truer than in the portrayal of the various 'Angels' who are the back-up singers/dancers for 'Lola'; each is a clearly defined individual and their interactions, even when not the primary focus of a scene, are little gems amongst a treasure trove of glories that constitute the cast of 'Kinky Boots'.

The orchestra is equally on fire and the sound they produce is one of the pillars that holds the production up so well. The sound design of John Shivers works perfectly in tandem with the musicians and I have a greater appreciation for the music and lyrics that Cyndi Lauper which prove to be irresistible and sublimely suited to the production. Harvey Fierstein's book seems to work even better than before and this may be due to the fresh influx of performing talent that performs it.
Gregg Barnes' costumes are as radiant as ever and are set off against the set design of David Rockwell which morphs effortlessly as required and is complimented and set off by the lighting design by Kenneth Posner who lights the cast stirringly.
Jerry Mitchell's direction and choreography is clear and concise allowing his performers, both new and old, to take ownership of their characters in the best possible way. His staging is sympathetic to the requirements of the story-telling whilst also providing a conducive environment for the company to thrive in. Mitchell's contrasting use of lively action and stillness is well executed and he handles the comedy with ease. Though, at times, it may seem that the production is a little light-handed given the plot and themes, this is ultimately not the case as Mitchell delicately and deftly balances the more frivolous aspects with the more heavy material and ultimately all is perfectly appropriate to the nature of the show.

There is such economy in the story-telling and staging and the music so ultimately uplifting that is hard to see how this cannot be classed as perfect entertainment material. The fact that the message behind the plot is deftly handled without being in any way preachy makes this a production that has many levels and one that can appeal to one and all.
I cannot shout loudly enough at how outstanding 'Kinky Boots' is and I cannot recommend it highly enough; it is a show that, for many a reason, should be seen by as many people as possible. Especially in this day and age. 
I have now seen the production thrice and I shall see it again. And again. And ...

So: 'Just Be!'

Wednesday, 23 November 2016

The Shawshank Redemption, Glasgow Theatre Royal, 21/11/16

Written for Backstage Pass:

Falsely imprisoned for the murder of his wife and her lover, Andy Dufresne faces years behind bars at Shawshank prison where he will encounter both uplifting joy and vicious horror at the hands of the various inmates and prison officials, including the enterprising Red and the corrupt Warden Stammas. Andy comes to find an inner strength and resolve and discovers that the true meaning of freedom lies within the unbroken spirit.

Based on the novella "Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption", from Stephen King's "Different Seasons" collection, and the 1994 movie, the theatrical version of "The Shawshank Redemption" is adapted by Owen O'Neill and Dave Johns and uses material drawn from both sources so feels fresher than if it were based solely on one or the other. The script is rather episodic in its telling of the plot and can seem a little heavy on the exposition at times which can be a little lazy and tiresome to watch. 

David Esbjornson's direction seems at odds with the episodic storytelling and his more naturalistic approach extends into the design of Gary McCann with these elements combining to create some uneasily paced moments onstage with the momentum often stalled and restarted, though this is more or less rectified following the interval to the benefit of the production. But together with the presence of dead space on the stage and cumbersome, slow transitions this all adds up to uneven staging and one wonders if a more abstract, Brechtian approach would be a more appropriate storytelling device. 

More successful was the lighting design of Chris Davey and the sound design of Dan Samson which was aurally effective and well balanced with great choices in the music selections played throughout the production (used to cover scene changes or to denote a change of era). 

Paul Nicholls as 'Andy Dufresne' is an attractive lead but his performance is unsure and is played at a stuttering pace in the first act. He does improve greatly in the second act, however, and begins to come into his own by the end of the play. Ben Onwukwe as 'Red' is far more successful, handling the exposition easily. His is the true central role and it is through 'Red' we come to know the other characters so Onwukwe's performance is the most important in the play. Thankfully he is adept at the task and, though a trifle restrained by the occasionally clumsy piece of direction, is deftly able to bring the audience along with him as the play progresses. As 'Warden Stammas', Jack Ellis is underused and is never really given time to make the impact required of the character. In the moments he has, however, he makes the most of them and is able to project the necessary elements of the role.

In what is, for all intents and purposes, something of an ensemble piece the remaining cast members are a boon for the production and they are essential in keeping the stage alive with each character a unique figure in a world that could easily be populated with non-entities. Andrew Boyer's moving 'Brooksie', Daniel Stewart's strong 'Hadley' and Nicholas Banks' energised 'Tommy Williams' are among those who make an impression but the whole ensemble is a strong and vitally necessary one.

"The Shawshank Redemption" is sadly let down by serviceable direction but performed by a cast that, for the most part, rises above this limitation to perform a script that shows real promise which, given a little revising, deserves a more appropriate staging. "The Shawshank Redemption" deserves better and hope springs eternal.

Thursday, 17 November 2016

"Little Shop Of Horrors", Glasgow Theatre Royal, 16/11/16

The popular cult musical makes a welcome return to the UK touring scene more than five years after the previous tour (produced by the Menier Chocolate Factory) in a brand new production co-produced by the dynamic Sell-A-Door theatre company.

Telling the tale of Skid-Row florist 'Seymour' (Sam Lupton), his love for the dizzy 'Audrey' (Stephanie Clift) and the magnetic plant he calls 'Audrey II' who turns out to be a blood-devouring creature from another world. Based on the 1960s Roger Corman film and featuring songs by Disney legends Alan Menken and the late Howard Ashman (who also wrote the book and directed the original production) the musical is an affectionate homage to the B-movies of yester-year and the musical styles of the 1960s.

Sam Lupton is a perfect 'Seymour' capturing his charm, awkwardness and devoted passion for the girl he works with. He is heart-breaking at times and effortlessly delivers a dynamic central performance that centres the production with a real sense of humanity. His appearance covers both the ideals of the geeky nerd and the geek-chic that allows us to believe that 'Audrey' could fall for him (as the audience must surely do).
As 'Ronnette', 'Crystal' and 'Chiffon' - essentially the greek chorus of the play - Cassie Clare, Sasha Latoya and Vanessa Fisher are pretty damned perfect and each possess powerful vocals and engaging stage presence.
The 'Mushnik' of Paul Kissaun is also welcomely underplayed with a very measured performance and vocal quality to match.

Headlining the tour is Rhydian Roberts who excels as' Orin Scrivello (DDS)' and other characters. His performance is dynamic, animated and he is able to adapt his vocals to the various persons he plays but as the sadistic dentist he is another perfect piece of casting. With each new production Roberts undertakes his acting becomes stronger and stronger and here he shines stunningly.
Stephanie Clift is not entirely successful as 'Audrey' in that hers is a somewhat uneven performance despite her rich voice. The problem really lies with the comedic elements required for the role - there are moments where her control of the comedy is perfect and others which miss the mark. That said she is still endearing to behold and her chemistry with Lupton is palpable.
Of course the major centre point of the show is 'Audrey II' herself and the puppet design is attractive and the performance especially alluring with puppeteer Josh Wilmott expertly controlling the larger puppets with apparent ease and gracefulness of movement confirming believability in the creature.

Tara Wilkinson's direction, whilst successful in most areas, does lack a complete understanding of the relationship between comedy and timing and she doesn't adequately mine the comedy gold inherent in the script and lyrics and she allows moments to pass by unmarked. For example; during "Somewhere That's Green" we are treated to the only use of projection in the production to illustrate the daydreams of 'Audrey' which, whilst charming to look at, does detract from the central performance of Clift as 'Audrey' which is where the audience's attention really should be focused rather than on the staging which it is at present. This, I feel, is partly the reason for Stephanie Clift's problems. Wilkinson could also do with re-examining the pace of the show which is near-hampered at times by some uncomfortable transitions and her staging does also have its clumsy moments and this is partly due to the comic design of David Shields which, whilst appealing to the eye, does create some awkward staging situations. The lighting of Charlie Morgan Jones also suffers from the odd misstep with certain corners of the flower shop often in some inappropriate shadow. All three of these production aspects are inextricably linked and it is testament to the strength of the writing and the strong cast that, for the most part, the show remains a powerfully engaging and enjoyable production. Matthew Cole's choreography is precisely attuned to the show and becomes so natural to the production that one forgets its existence as 'choreography'. The tiny band that performs the musical score is an exciting one and the musical direction is assured even if one or two of the numbers could do with a slightly faster tempo.

Despite the (very) few unsuccessful aspects of the production 'Little Shop Of Horrors' doesn't fail to entertain and is replete with a score and script that still feels fresh and engaging. This production is ultimately a fine presentation of a show that really does deserve to be seen more often than it has been in recent decades.

"Million Dollar Quartet", Glasgow King's Theatre, 14/11/16

A review composed for Backstage Pass:

Memphis, Tennessee, December 4th 1956. At the Sun Record Studios rock and roll history is made as Jerry Lee Lewis, Elvis Presley, Carl Perkins and Johnny Cash serendipitously converge and engage in an impromptu jam session which will go down in rock and roll history. Written by Colin Escott and Flloyd Mutrux, 'Million Dollar Quartet' dramatises this event and is a celebration of rock and roll music and the greats who performed and lived it. 

Each of the quartet members plays and sings live and their talent is a wondrous thing tobehold, each inhabiting their roles with unbridled energy, especially Martin Kaye as 'Jerry Lee Lewis' who is outstanding in the part, bringing much comedy along the way together with outstanding skills on the piano. Matthew Wycliffeas 'Carl Perkins' also shines with his portrayal of the professional rivalry Perkins has with the other quartet members is another stimulating aspect of the production. Ross William Wild and Robbie Durham, as 'Elvis Presley' and 'Johnny Cash' respectively, are equally gifted and all four are exciting to watch. Katie Ray makes a sizable impact as 'Dyanne', the only woman onstage, and her voice is dynamite. The cast are expertly supported by Ben Cullingworth on drums and James Swinnerton on bass.

As the emotional core of the drama, Jason Donovan as 'Sam Phillips' maintains a strong presence amongst the excitement going on about him and he is able to centre the production whilst appropriately delivering the bulk of exposition; his central part in the culmination of the dramatic events enables its convincing execution to an emotionally appropriate end. If acting really is about re-acting then Donovan has nailed it in a role that utterly demands it.

Whilst a sizable chunk of the script by Escott and Mutrux serves as exposition and back story for each singer - threatening to become little more than linking material in doing so - it does become more dramatically resonant in the second act enabling the show to reach an appropriately sombre ending satisfyingly lifted by a rousing rock-out-finale that leaves the receptive audience on a high. 

Ian Talbot's direction is unfussy and clear, serving the script fittingly whilst allowing his cast to bloom and thrive and David Farley's compact unit set of the Sun Records Studio serves and functions well and is complimented by a sharp lighting and sound design, by David Howe and Ben Harrison respectively, that can barely be more appropriate for the production.

True, the script is a bit contrived at times and deserves more of a solid structure throughout but the musical quality and the cast make 'Million Dollar Quartet' a rousing, energetic production that seeks to risebeyond the ordinary jukebox musical, adding a dash of humanity and drama in the telling of a real-life event.
And it succeeds much better than expected. Much!

Saturday, 22 October 2016

'Chitty Chitty Bang Bang', Glasgow King's Theatre, 19/10/16

Written for Backstage Pass:

Based on the movie co-written by Roald Dahl from a book by Ian FlemingChitty Chitty Bang Bang follows the adventures of eccentric inventor "Caractacus Potts", his children "Jemima" and "Jeremy", and "Truly Scrumptious" as they strive to save and repair the eponymous automobile only to face off against the dastardly "Baron Bomburst", who wants "Chitty" for himself, together with his child-hating wife "Baroness Bomburst", who have kidnapped "Grandpa Potts" and whose kingdom, "Vulgaria", is kept clear of children by the monstrous "Childcatcher".

The production is  surprisingly realised and is bright and vivacious throughout with lively direction by James Brining and amusing choreography by Stephen Mear. The sound design needs some more work and better balancing but the orchestra is sharp and the costume and scenic design by Simon Higlett is charming and witty and amply supported by Simon Wainwright's Video projections which contain some of the most brilliant visuals raising the production's standard beyond the norm.

As "Caractacus Potts", Jason Manford proves to be a most amiable, warm and engaging musical performer, radiating confidence in both acting and singing and he is stirringly supported by Charlotte Wakefield as "Truly Scumptious" who lends an air of sophistication to proceedings with a glorious voice to match.  

Andy Hockley as "Grandpa Potts" is suitably dotty and endearing and is a fine example of how well the show is cast (for the most part) although it's unfortunate that Phill Jupitus is remarkably lifeless at times as the "Baron" and appears rather bored when not mugging, making Claire Sweeney's job as the "Baroness" all the more trying. Thankfully she is more than up to the task and manages to keep their onstage scenes alive whilst shining all the more brightly because of it. Her "Bombie Samba" is something of a star turn and she deserves it.

Jos Vantyler's "Childcatcher" truly is the stuff of nightmares and he is gloriously evil in the part and it really is a shame that he is not used more throughout the production (why was he not let loose among the audience in his search for children, for example?).

Sam Harrison and Scott Paige threaten to steal the show as "Boris" and "Goran", respectively, and their double act as the agents of "Vulgaria" is a highlight of the production. 

In any show featuring child actors they always shine brightly and this is true of Elliot Morris who plays "Jeremy" and Darcy Snares who plays "Jemima" and whose engaging personalities and verve are in clear evidence throughout.

It is true that the production has a few flagging moments and could do with some judicious musical trimming in the first act but this new touring version of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang does fly confidently and does so better executed than expected.

Wednesday, 12 October 2016

When is a 'UK' tour not a 'UK' tour?

Okay, this is going to be a bit of a rant but ti is something that increasingly annoys me:

Over recent years a number of touring production have advertised that they are commencing a 'UK tour' when, in reality, the said tour is touring only one constituent country of the UK (usually just England) or - perhaps even worse - a small part of one constituent country.
Now, in my eyes, when you hear someone say 'UK' you think of Great Britain and Northern Ireland i.e. England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales - the four nations that make up the United Kingdom. Even if you say 'Britain' or 'British tour' then one would normally think of the four nations.

Yes, there are those less intellectually inclined who think the 'UK' of 'Britain' constitutes little more than England (and vise-versa - there are those who say 'England' when, in reality, they mean the United Kingdom) but when it comes to business - even the one called 'show' - one would assume a professional attitude would be assumed and that accuracy would be paramount.
So it is with increasing irritation that I come across a production which peaks my interest and lures me in with the notion that they are touring the UK - i.e. the four nations - lulling me into thinking that, even if they're not coming to my city (I am fortunate to make my home in the largest city in Scotland), they will be touring somewhere near me, at least somewhere in the country in which I call home (in this case Scotland). But, when one looks at the actual dates and venues of the said tour, it turns out that rather than visiting all four nations the production is only visiting one or two. It's bad enough when an announced 'UK' tour omits only Northern Ireland but when a production is only touring one country then I feel duped. Surely using the term 'UK tour' is false advertising when it not a tour of all four countries?

There have been occasions when a proposed 'UK' tour advises that 'further dates are to be announced' when, initially, one or two countries are omitted and this is later rectified when additional dates are added. But this is not always the case and  one or two countries never receive the tour and I have contacted productions previously over this.

To me, if a production and its producer knows that the tour is only touring particular countries then it should be advertised as so (what's wrong with being honest and advertising as an 'England tour', 'Regional tour' or 'Welsh tour' etc.?).

The reason I bring this up is because the response I received from the Twitter account of the current production of 'The Boys in the Band' when I brought this notion up seemed to be rather flippant in my eyes. The full conversation (so far) follows:

Touring productions are important to me because theatre (art in general) is vital to society and the more variety there is available to people around the nations, the better. It isn't always easy leaving your local area to go and see a production that interests you; there are the cost implications, the time factors, not to mention that, for some people, their health prevents them from making the necessary journeys. So, bringing a production to a wide audience is always a plus.
Just labeling a production correctly will ease the irritation I feel. Sure, I'd be a bit annoyed if a production wasn't coming anywhere near me, but if it's advertised as an 'English tour' (or such) then I wouldn't be so annoyed as when I look into the venues for a 'UK' tour to find it is, in fact, only touring England.

I know I go on a bit, and I really don't like to rant, but sometimes it's good to vent.

Enjoy your days and enjoy the theatre that's available to you!

Tuesday, 27 September 2016

'Cats' the Motion Picture

A little while ago it was announced that Tom Hooper, director of the film version of 'Les Miserables', is working on a live action feature film of Andrew Lloyd Webber's 'Cats'. Universal Pictures has owned the rights for decades and an animated feature film was to have been produced in the early 1990s by Steven Spielberg's Amblimation who got so far as to produce concept art before the plug was pulled.
At the time 'Cats' was intended to have been classic 2D character animation on top of background models which would have been created from the concept art. Spielberg had apparently come up with the idea that 'Cats' was to have taken place in a Blitzed London of the World War 2 period and the concept work reflects this. The artists explored London (alongside the original designer of 'Cats', John Napier) to discover the unseen side of London replete with tip-sights and the remaining scars of wrecked London (no doubt, long since replaced).
It's also intriguing that noted playwright Tom Stoppard created a script that impressed Lloyd Webber.

You can see examples of the concept art here:

Of course, had that production happened it would, no doubt, look rather dated given that most animation these days is 3D CGI and while the art work produced offers a tantalising hint of what may have been, it may have long been forgotten as being a quaint piece.
Now, with the re-emergence of the live-action musical feature, 'Cats' is once again in the offing - though as a live-action feature rather than an animated one, which is perhaps the more obvious choice for feature film translation.
Numerous problems now face the new film-makers in translating one of the more inherently theatrical musicals into something that viably works on the big screen. How to resolve those issues are, no doubt, what the creatives are currently working on.

The biggest issue facing them must be the idea that the felines are to be portrayed by a human cast. On stage this is not really a problem given theatre audiences are more forgiving and readily willing to suspend their disbelief. This is not so when it comes to movies, so a way must be found for a film audience to buy into the human playing a cat idea. One answer is to have the human play the equivalent of a cat. Or to put it another way, have a 'real' cat (i.e. a filmed feline or CGI creation of one) replaced at some point by a human who would go on to portray that particular cat throughout the majority of the movie (assuming that the human reverts to the feline creature at the film's end).

Personally, I am a more forgiving viewer when it comes to film musicals but this is something I have occasionally pondered - hence my answer to the question above. On film, of course, a sequence must be created in order to establish that idea, to give a reason for its happening, in order to give the audience the chance to buy into the premise. The idea that sprung into my mind follows.

The plot of 'Cats' revolves around a tribe of felines meeting up in a junkyard on the one night of the year where their leader, 'Old Deuteronomy', elects which of them shall be granted a new life and ascension to the fabled 'Heaviside Layer'. Of course, on film, the plot may be substantially re-written (as has happened to other films adapted from stage musicals) though I do wonder to what purpose this route might be taken. Rather, let's assume that the plot remains largely intact, even the idea of the junkyard as the location. Naturally the junkyard can be composed of numerous areas of interest, rather than the basic location as used onstage, but this is really not that relevant at this point.

So, we have cats congregating in one place - cats of various backgrounds and from various locations around London (since London locations are predominant throughout T S Eliot's poems this would make sense).
We have the one night of the year, under the 'Jellicle Moon', when this happens.
We have the idea woven throughout a number of the lyrics and the original staging that gives the cats a mystical, magical property ('Mister Mistoffelees' being an obvious element, not to mention the idea of the 'Heaviside Layer') and I would utilise that idea from the start.

So ...

Night is falling over London. We are somewhere in the East End, some years before any urban regeneration takes place. The sun is setting amidst clouds as we see a cat leaving its human home via an open window. We follow it down little-used back-alleys, shadow falling all around.
Elsewhere, another cat crosses a road, cars flashing past. Another cat. And another. All of various types and sizes. They are moving with a purpose. One or two join each other in their journey.
We see the rubbish tip toward which the felines are travelling. It is in an undisclosed location in the East End and is littered with detritus from the numerous decades of its existence. Naturally it contains at least one prominent automobile wreck, a large tyre laying next to it. This prominent feature will come to form the centre of the cats' festivities. There are various level spaces of differing sizes (to fascilitate the forthcoming dances). The junkyard backs on to some old buildings that, at first, look derelict but are, in reality, inhabited by a human or two.
A dry thunderstorm is brewing, the cloud cover quite voluminous. Flashes of lightning illuminate the near distance as thunder rolls. The junkyard, inanimate as it is, seems to begin to thrum with energy, with life. Something is happening. The cats sense it too but appear undisturbed by the atmospheric events themselves. One by one they look up as the full moon is glimpsed through the clouds.
The cats get nearer and nearer to the tip which, if my mind is not wandering, appears to glow here and there for brief moments at a time.
Suddenly a huge crack of thunder and a searing bolt of lightning strikes the prominent automobile wreck, sending huge amounts of sparks out and across the yard. Simultaneously the 'Cats' Overture begins. The winds pick up, pushing the voluminous clouds away. As the cats wait at the edge of the tip the moon is finally revealed in all its glory, its ethereal glow illuminating the junkyard which sizzles with new-found electrical energy, creating an effect which pays homage to the strip lights of the stage-version. The cats sit up at attention, prone, waiting. The tip glows, releasing some sort of energy into the atmosphere as the moon's light does the same from the opposite direction. Beyond this sphere of light we begin to see one, two pairs of cats eyes peering through the darkness beyond. More and more eyes appear as the Overture builds. Throughout we see various parts of the junkyard, various pieces of junk which may, or may not, be used later. the ghostly light build alongside the music until, suddenly, a cat breaches the border between light and dark. The music ends as it does so. The magic illumination of the tip fades but the moon's magic light remains and as the cat crosses the light border we see a magical transformation: the cat's front paw is the first to enter the light and as it does it transforms into a humanoid hand, a humanoid arm. Bit by bit as the cat enters the light its feline body is transmogrified into that of a feline in human form. Once this metamorphosis is complete (and it is done so in a matter of seconds) the cat contemplates its form. As another cat begins to enter the light the Prologue, 'Jellicle Songs for Jellicle Cats, begins. As they enter the moonlight each cat in turn is transformed.

Of course the sequence could be inverted: we could see the junkyard first, the lightning strike and beginning of Overture. Throughout the music we see the supernatural events of the tip and the moon whist inter-cutting with the cats leaving their homes and making their way to the junkyard (which in this case would be emitting an illumination seen from a distance which attracts the cats).

Though the intensity of the moonlight will fade throughout the opening it will remain a potent force and on the odd occasion we will see the cats in their natural form again, when the cloud cover is great enough to obscure the moon. There may even be an occasion, during a more placid moment, when we see a cat or two transform to a natural cat and back again as a large cloud swiftly passes over. For it is the moon that is magical here. The moon that is so revered by these felines who, now and again, will glance at it in awe, until finally the 'Heaviside Layer' is revealed.

Now, I've no idea what the film-makers are planning to do but this is an example of how I'd approach 'Cats' as a movie. Naturally these ideas are mine and, as far as I'm aware, no one else shares them. All Rights Reserved and all that ...

Sunday, 18 September 2016

"Cats", Glasgow King's Theatre, 13/9/16

Review written for Backstage Pass:

Since its premiere in 1981 Andrew Lloyd Webber's "Cats" has become an iconic musical that sits firmly among the pantheon of musical greats. Heralding the era of the "mega-musical" at the beginning of the '80s due to its epic staging and design "Cats" could potentially look and feel rather quaint in comparison to recent musicals. As it is "Cats" really has nothing to compare to it and remains a powerful theatrical production. "Cats" has had many lives with various changes along the way and this current production is based on the incarnation that appeared at the London Palladium in recent years.

Based on T. S. Eliot's "Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats" the lyrics (i.e. Eliot's poems) are full of wit and pathos and Lloyd Webber's setting of them is, for the most part, quite exceptional. The musical contains some of his catchiest material and features what may be his most iconic composition, "Memory". Some of the changes made, including the updated "Rum Tum Tugger" and other reworked musical sequences, are not always for the better but the show still packs a powerful, mesmerising punch.

Set around the one night of the year when cats congregate for the "Jellicle Ball" we are witness to the various cats singing and dancing about their exploits in the hope that they will be the one chosen to ascend to the "Heaviside Layer" and attain a new life (ultimately a surprisingly moving moment onstage). There really is little more than that to the musical which is, perhaps, more of an experience to enjoy than a story to follow, but "Cats" has never pretended to be anything other than what it is and makes no pretensions otherwise. 

John Napier's famous junkyard set is still a sight to behold despite being somewhat squeezed onto the King's Theatre stage (the dancers cope effortlessly with any spacing issues) and Napier's costumes remain equally as exciting and original whilst the lighting by Howard Eaton (original lighting by David Hersey) is dynamic and integral to the production. 

The sound design is en pointe and the orchestra is strong, albeit a little thin when compared to the original's orchestrations, and manages to convey most of the nuances in Lloyd Webber's score.

Trevor Nunn's direction and Gillian Lynne's choreography (essential in the story telling) still hold up with sequences that continue to thrill and move the audience with Lynne's dances remaining some of the most stirring to appear onstage (Bill Deamer is credited with the "Gumby Cat" tap choreography, one of the recent amendments, which fits well with the rest of the production).

The production is blessed with a cast who sing and dance confidently and with seaming ease. It is perhaps unfair to pick out any one performer but Marianne Benedict's "Grizabella" is the emotional heart of the show and her performance is an artful display of the former glamour and regality of the cat's past infused with the tragedy of her present. Benedict's powerful voice created a stirring "Memory" that prompted applause from the audience well before the song had ended. Matt Krzan's "Munkastrap" is a confident leader and the "Old Deuteronomy" of Kevin Stephen-Jones is a noble and gentle creation.Greg Castiglioni's "Gus" is a moving and tender portrayal and welcome respite amongst the frenetic action throughout. Shiv Rabheru as "Mistoffelees", Joe Henry and Emily Langham as "Mungojerrie" and "Rumpelteazer", not to mention Marquelle Ward as "Rum Tum Tugger, Lucinda Shaw's "Jennyanydots" and Lee Greenaway as "Skimbleshanks" are among the many shining lights of an energetic and kinetic company that is filled with engaging performers strong in voice and body. 

It may be a product of its time but "Cats" remains one of those awe-inspiring theatrical experiences which will truly live in the memory (pardon the pun) "now and forever" and I hope it continues to capture the imagination of audiences young and old.

Sunday, 4 September 2016

"Kinky Boots", Adelphi Theatre, London, 29/7/16

Joyous, ebullient, engaging and thoroughly entertaining, "Kinky Boots" is a wondrous musical experience that lifts the spirit and rejuvenates the soul. Based on the film - inspired by a true story - the musical tells the story of Charlie Price who reluctantly takes over the failing family shoe factory in Northampton following his father's death. In London he encounters Lola, a drag queen, who inspires him to reinvent his product to save the factory and its workforce. Along the way Lola and Charlie discover love and acceptance and overcome prejudice and fatherly expectation.

The score by Cyndi Lauper may not be the most musically complex but it perfectly suits the tone of the show and is a major element in the uplifting power of the show. Harvey Fierstein's book follows the original movie quite closely, adapting the plot well for the stage. Though the plot details are streamlined somewhat this is all to the benefit of the show's focus: Charlie and Lola and their relationship. Only in such a musical could the detail omitted be acceptable and yet the story remain so very clear. This is, of course, due in part to the director and choreographer, Jerry Mitchell, who works the stage really well, supported by a set design that looks perfect and costumes that light up the stage.

The cast are nothing short of excellent and one must feel a tad sorry for Killian Donnelly who plays 'Charlie' as his role - and perfect acting - is naturally overshadowed by Matt Henry's 'Lola', a dynamic force of nature if ever there were one. Together the partnership is a dream and the contrast between parts is perfectly attuned and each presents a three-dimensional character who elicits a strong response from the audience. The supporting roles are equally as charged and Lola's 'Angels', the drag queens who support her, are beyond entertaining and their use throughout the show is brilliant.

"Kinky Boots" is a truly uplifting production and a show with a message that, while not exactly subtle, does not overpower the show in any negative aspect. In a turbulent world "Kinky Boots" is a pure joy and exactly the entertainment needed to remind us how wonderful people can really be.