The Producers – June 2012

8/10

By Mel Brooks, book by Mel Brooks and Thomas Meehan

Directed by Nikolai Foster

GSA Graduate Company

Venue: Yvonne Arnaud Theatre

Date: Monday 18th June 2012

Steve and I had only seen the film of The Producers up to this point, so I was keen to see what the GSA would do this year following the excellent Fiddler last time. I wasn’t disappointed. It took me a little while to warm up to Max, but once Leo came along and their plot got started, I was completely hooked. The writing is superb, with lots of humour and some marvellous songs, including a Fiddler pastiche, a negro spiritual and many others.

I won’t go into the story; it’s different from the film, but still near enough for jazz, as my Dad used to say. The cast did another excellent job, changing from old dears to Nazi pigeons (had to be seen to be believed), office workhorses to dancing Nazis. One of the men was really disappointed to find he wasn’t allowed to be a showgirl, and in truth he did look stunning in his spangly red costume, but it was not to be.

There was a New York cityscape at the back, with a girder balcony in front of it. Underneath were central double doors (most of the time) which were mainly the entrance to Max’s office, but moonlighted occasionally for other locations. To emphasise the theatrical nature of the musical, the rest of the sets were created from big theatre hampers that they wheeled around. These hampers stored props, became desks, opened up to reveal posters, etc. – very versatile. I loved the looser feel these gave to the show, and I’m sure they made the scene changes much easier.

For the scenes with Roger de Bris, the director, a gold curtain swept across the stage, with only some stairs peeking through, while the whole stage was transformed again for the Springtime For Hitler performance, looking altogether more glamorous. We didn’t get to see the reactions of Max and Leo during the show, but the post-show trauma song, Where Did We Go Right?, was hilarious.

The individual performances were all good. Craig Golding was very strong as Roger de Bris, taking over the lead role of Hitler at the drop of a hat. Rob Eyles, who played his assistant Carmen, really caught our eye; his spot-on camp bitch performance almost stole the show at times. Brittany Field did well with the tall gorgeous blond Swedish character, but let’s face it, these bimbo roles are not the best parts that Mel Brooks has ever written.

Max Bialystock was played by Hans Rye, and he did remarkably well in such a tough role. Not only was he competing with the memory of Zero Mostel, he was also playing much older than he is, and given that musical performers have to take good care of their bodies, he was never going to look like a totally dissipated has-been just by turning up. He had to act the part instead, and after a few scenes I was happy to go along with his performance. He had me hooked long before his big number, Betrayed, which was excellent.

Rob Houchen may have had it slightly easier as Leopold Bloom, since that character can be younger than Max, but he was up against a master of nervousness in Gene Wilder. Even so, he managed to establish his own performance and maintained it superbly, with some of the funniest business of the evening. His singing and dancing were great too, while the standard of the whole cast was excellent. Good luck to everyone with their careers.

My final mention has to be those Nazi pigeons. Operated by the female members of the cast, they flew around, perched everywhere, sang a rousing song, gave Nazi salutes (with the armbands, too) and generally stole the show. (Never work with animals, puppets, animal puppets …… )

© 2012 Sheila Evans at ilovetheatre.me

Swallows And Amazons – January 2012

7/10

By Helen Edmundson and Neil Hannon, based on the book by Arthur Ransome

Directed by Tom Morris

Company: Children’s Touring Partnership/Bristol Old Vic

Venue: Chichester Festival Theatre

Date: Friday 20th January 2012

I think I would have been better off not to have re-read the book shortly before going to see this wonderful adaptation. It took me a fair while to adjust my ideas, much as I loved some of the staging choices, and I would have probably found it an 8/10 experience if I’d warmed up sooner. As it is, I was thoroughly hooked by the end, joining in the shouts of ‘plank’ with enthusiasm. The cast all did a great job, and I hope they have a great time on tour.

The stage was littered with all sorts of objects before the start, some of which didn’t become clear until they were used. There were four tall irregular-shaped pillars along the back of the set, which each had a large band of white on them – I noticed during the interval that these were painted, and looked like brick. There was a picture frame hanging centre stage, and some musical instruments over in the far right corner, including a piano. I don’t remember anything else specifically, and they brought so much other stuff on during the play that I’d be misleading myself to attempt any more detail.

The play began with an old lady walking on to the stage, and sitting on a chair in the middle. She’d been carrying a pair of secateurs and a feather duster with bright red, green and yellow sections, and put them down to one side of the chair. As she looked through an old album of photographs, the characters of the Walker family started appearing on stage, with Mother and Father posing together in the central picture frame, Mother holding Fat Vicky, and other picture frames being held up for the rest of the family to pose behind. The old lady herself turned into Titty, and the feather duster and secateurs became the parrot. So now we had the four children, the baby and their parents. Father sailed away, and the action began with Roger arriving, breathless, with the telegram which would give them Father’s answer – to sail or not to sail.

Before I go any further, I must point out that the casting was weird and wonderful. Roger, the youngest child, nearly eight, was played by the tallest actor, and there aren’t many eight-year-olds with a beard! This worked really well, and gave us some humour from the start. The other ‘children’ were mostly to scale, although Susan was a bit on the small side. I always find the telegram a bit sniffly – “Better drowned than duffers. If not duffers won’t drown” – so this got me going early on, and then they were soon through the planning stage and off to the island. This was a musical, and the songs were pretty good, although I couldn’t always make out the words. The packing phase was done to music, and Swallow herself was a prow, a couple of wheeled dollies, a mast with a sail, some ropes and some ribbons – blue ribbons which other members of the cast held out and moved around to represent the water.

The story was told briskly, and while some bits were dropped – going to the farm to get the milk, for example – we didn’t miss much, and it made for a good piece of theatre. Other characters came on as needed, and there was plenty of music all the way through – this is a really talented bunch. Titty’s experience near Cormorant Island was staged as a dream sequence, with lots of pirate types carrying lots of boxes and singing a song, while the two ship’s companies and Captain Flint found the box the first time they searched the island. For the attack on Captain Flint’s ship, they passed out sponges to the audience, and we were told to throw them on the command ‘attack!’ which we did, and a fine old mess it made of the auditorium – great fun. When Captain Flint begged for mercy we were merciless, calling for the plank as loudly as we could (told you I was well into it by then). He dropped down through a trapdoor for this bit, and when he came back up and all was forgiven, they were about to head off for a feast on shore when he decided to give Titty a present for finding his book. The parrot was duly handed over, and with a final rousing song we were done.

The Amazons were also very good; two women with war paint and feathered headdresses. Peggy in particular had a great voice, and Nancy was all scowls, even when you’d expect her to be happy! Titty’s spell alone on the island came across better than the book for me – the way she read out her log entries was very funny. When anyone used the telescope, a round frame was held up and showed what they were seeing, whether it was Captain Flint sitting at his desk writing or Mother on her way to the island. Captain Flint’s ship was represented by a massive prow at the back of the stage, and it had a large mast too which may have been lowered down – I lost track a bit during the busy times. The reed beds were very well done, with the spare cast members holding long sticks and moving around the Swallow to show the way the reeds separated and came together again. The charcoal burners were included, but only to give the message about Captain Flint’s ship needing a lock – we didn’t get to see the snake – and this also allowed us to see John’s embarrassment at being called a liar when he tried to deliver the message to the Captain. It was good to see the way these children learned from their experiences, and from each other’s way of handling things. I also liked the way they meshed their fantasy versions of the lake and its islands, with Nancy recognising that Rio was a good name for the town and the Walkers accepting the Blackett’s name for the island.

Susan was much more priggish than I remember from the book, but it worked well enough for me, and the storm came early in this version, during the night raid on the Amazon’s boat shed. The sailing terminology was used sparingly – terms like ‘leading lights’ were demonstrated down at the harbour – so although it didn’t feel quite as inspiring in terms of the sailing, it still had that sense of adventure and freedom to use one’s imagination which is so strong in the book. The cormorants were quite scary. They were made out of bin bags and garden shears, and flew around in an intimidating manner.

Quite a few of us older children stayed behind for the post-show, and there was much praise from all sections for their performance. There were many stories of children young and old being introduced to the books and loving them; one chap has only got one more book before his wife divorces him, apparently – I hope for his sake that she’s a slow reader. It all went quite well until one man asked a rather hostile sounding question about what they were doing to take this sort of show to disadvantaged kids who might never see a play or read many books. The cast handled it very well, explaining the purpose of the Children’s Touring Partnership, and we finished on a lighter note, thankfully.

© 2012 Sheila Evans at ilovetheatre.me

Sweeney Todd – October 2011

6/10

Music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, book by Hugh Wheeler

Directed by: Jonathan Kent

Venue: Chichester Festival Theatre

Date: Thursday 13th October 2011

I didn’t think I would enjoy this as much as I did, but it was a superb production, and although it’s not my kind of thing I’m glad I’ve seen it. Steve would have rated it higher, at 8/10.

I’m not sure I can even begin to describe the set, which was absolutely fantastic. The central roller door concealed the large square platform which had the barber’s shop on top of it (and space underneath for the bodies to be deposited). To the left was the pie shop, with the main counter pushed forward as needed, and the recesses behind, and on the right were a steam whistle and the oven for the pie shop! There was also a large set of stairs which came forward for Johanna’s song about birds and freedom, and a trapdoor through which came various items, including a sofa and a meat grinder (not at the same time, of course). There were electric lights everywhere, and the period for the costumes and set was the 1930s – an unusual choice, made deliberately to bypass the musical’s Victorian ‘baggage’. Personally, I think this period setting worked very well, and gave the piece a more contemporary edge.

The story was very well told, and I was surprised to find how much I sided with Mr Todd and his macabre accomplice in crime, Mrs Lovett. Knowing about the back story helped, and in this production they showed the rape at the back of the stage, up on the platform, while Mrs Lovett was describing it. It was tough viewing, but certainly won my sympathy for the revenge aspects of the story. Of course, I realised who the mad beggar woman was early on, so I settled back for an intelligent and dark Victorian melodrama to music.

And the music was excellent, too. The cast were all miked up, of course, but even so the singing was fantastic – Michael Ball was on great form – and the pie-eating song at the start of the second half was the highlight for me. The choreography for that bit was excellent too, with that delicious pause after the barber has cut another throat before Mrs Lovett announces ‘fresh supplies’! Imelda Staunton is never less than superb, and her Mrs Lovett was wonderfully creepy – she thoroughly deserved her final roasting. John Bowe was a good villain as the judge, and the whole ensemble worked wonderfully well together.

Although I enjoyed some parts of the evening, I found a lot of it quite boring, especially the young lovers’ sections. I found I could hear some of the sung words clearly, usually when there were only one or two people singing, but then the chorus joined in and it all became a jumble of sound. This was also true of the young lovers, who sang well but not clearly enough for me, and I lost interest as I couldn’t engage with them at all. The plot was pretty obvious, so there wasn’t a lot to hold my attention for most of the evening, especially when Imelda wasn’t on stage. And even then, some of the songs went on a bit too long, such as the fantasy human pie-eating. Still, I wasn’t as put off by the murder and cooking as I thought I would, and there was more humour than I expected, so the evening was by no means wasted. Not one I’d see again, though.

© 2011 Sheila Evans at ilovetheatre.me

Singin’ In The Rain – September 2011

10/10

Screenplay and adaptation by Betty Comden and Adolph Green

Songs by Nacio Herb Brown and Arthur Freed

Directed by: Jonathan Church

Venue: Chichester Festival Theatre

Date: Thursday 8th September 2011

I found I was humming some of the music from this show during the day, which is a good sign. I reckon Gene Kelly had put me off this musical – I just don’t like the guy, sorry – but now I’ve seen it on stage, I’ve really taken to it. I was certainly looking forward to another splash fest tonight, and as it turned out, the show had come on so much that I can only reflect my experience by giving it full marks. I’ve added in some corrections to my earlier notes, so here I’ll concentrate on some extra details and any changes I noticed.

Some things that were in the earlier performance, but which I forgot to mention last time include the two young boys who act out Don and Cosmo’s early days, the gorilla and Robin Hood walking across the sound stage just before Make ‘Em Laugh then joining in the song later, and the way that Cosmo gets the idea to use Kathy’s voice instead of Lina’s was from the ‘Yes, yes, yes. No, no, no’ section of The Duelling Cavalier, where the sound had gone out of sync, giving the man Lina’s voice and Lina his. This section came after Good Morning, when the three leads are lying on the ground in front of the bench; they come up with the idea for the musical, sing the song, then realise they have to contend with the problem of Lina’s complete lack of vocal talent.

The technical side of things had also improved, as the water tank didn’t overfill before the first Singin’ In The Rain this time – no seepage – and I reckon there was less water in the basin than before. Adam Cooper focused much more in the dancing tonight which was great, although that didn’t stop him spreading the water far and wide in the process. One minor hiccup – the wind machine in You Were Made For Me didn’t work tonight, so the mist threatened to become a fog, blocking our view. I suspect they turned it off pronto because it soon cleared.

The biggest change overall was that the cast had grown into their performances tremendously. It was much tighter, the storyline was much clearer, and all the singing and dancing was just as fabulous as before. With a post-show discussion to follow, the audience was packed with many of the keenest Chichester Festival Theatre supporters, so we were a very friendly crowd and responded warmly throughout, applauding at the end of many of the scenes. I was particularly glad that we applauded Katherine Kingsley’s performance as Lina several times. It’s such an important part, and she did it magnificently, even better than the first time we saw it, which was only the second preview. Her singing of What’s Wrong With Me was clearer, and still dreadful without being so hard to listen to. The rest of the cast were brilliant too, and I only hope they can keep most of them together for any London run.

I loved every minute of tonight’s performance, and there was more! The post-show was held towards the back of the auditorium this time, as the crew needed to clean up the stage. In fact, they managed all that before we got started, but as we were settled they didn’t try to move us again. The choreographer Andrew Wright, the musical director Robert Scott and assistant director Luke Shepphard were on hand to get things started, and several of the cast joined us as well, once they’d dried off. They talked us through the original intensive creation period, and some of the problems they’d had with the flooring. It had to be able to handle all that water yet be suitable for dancing – a lot to ask – and they still don’t have an ideal solution. The control bits for the radio mikes were wrapped in plastic bags, apparently, and for the title song Don’s hat successfully keeps the mike dry.

We were surprised that Robert Scott hadn’t seen the film – everyone else had – but he does keep the music on his iPod, and listens to it constantly when he’s preparing a show. They’re hoping to transfer to London – no one would be specific about the venue – and there may be a cast recording – hooray! The cast’s stamina was commented on; they’ve got fitter with all the performances they do, but having the show in rep actually makes it more difficult for them, as they have to keep their stamina levels up during the off days. They seemed to be enjoying themselves a lot on stage, and they claimed to be a happy bunch of bunnies, with lots going on backstage to keep them entertained. Even the foyer area saw some action, with the final quick change being an eye-opener for any audience members who left early! On that revealing note, the post-show ended.

© 2011 Sheila Evans at ilovetheatre.me

Singin’ In The Rain – July 2011

8/10

Screenplay and adaptation by Betty Comden and Adolph Green

Songs by Nacio Herb Brown and Arthur Freed

Directed by: Jonathan Church

Venue: Chichester Festival Theatre

Date: Wednesday 27th July 2011

[with some corrections from seeing it again on 8/9/11]

This is a fantastic production, so good that it’s hard to believe that Singin’ In The Rain wasn’t a stage musical from the off. The set was great, the performances brilliant, and the staging had some lovely touches of the film about it without being a slavish reproduction. I don’t think I’ve seen the main house so packed for a long time, and despite the inevitable soaking for the front rows (we were in Row C and not out of range!) it was great fun. I’m not a huge fan of musicals per se, so I wouldn’t give it top marks, but I can understand why the musical aficianados were standing and cheering at the end. A great night out.

The set was both elaborate and simple. At the back of the stage there was a central proscenium arch frame with lots of lighting built in. This could act as the arch of a theatre or a general doorway, and there were sliding door panels or a curtain which changed the location instantly and effectively. Above this was the orchestra, largely obscured by the set but just visible through the gaps. Around the archway and to the sides were general building sections, which could look like a townscape or a film studio according to how the stage was dressed, and to the extreme sides, above the side seating, there were cut outs of hills, and on the left hand side the Hollywoodland sign. Other signs lit up on either side from time to time, but these were mostly out of my eye line, and I wasn’t aware of them so much.

Then there was the floor of the stage to consider. A raised pavement ran all the way round the outside of the stage, and this represented the Hollywood Walk of Fame outside the Grauman theatres, Chinese and Egyptian, both of which feature in the musical. The handprints I saw included Lina Lamont and Don Lockwood, the fictional stars of the musical, and also Charlie Chaplin (cameo appearance), Douglas Fairbanks (whose films provided research material for the creative team), and Tom somebody and his horse (one hand print, one hoof print) [8/9/11 – Tom Mix and Tony, the Wonder Horse]. But you had to go right up to the stage to see them. There were also light panels built in which were used during the initial Singin’ In The Rain sequence.

Inside this raised pavement was a boarded section which contained the water during the rainstorms. Just before each downpour, you could see water starting to seep up from underneath, and we realised that the tank below had to be full during the rainstorm or the water would all drain away instead of bouncing off the floor. This led to Cosmo Brown getting the back of his waistcoat wet when he lay on the ground shortly before the big number. The cleanup operation during the interval was pretty slick, and you’d hardly have known there had been so much water everywhere when they’d finished.

In fact, the whole production was very slick when it came to getting people and furniture on and off the stage for each scene. I found I rarely noticed the arrival and departure of even quite big pieces of furniture, such as desks and lampposts, and although it took a little longer setting up the filming set, that worked well as it would need to be set up anyway in the context of that scene.

One final thing to mention was the lovely airplane which flew across the auditorium at the start, trailing the banner advertising the new Lockwood and Lamont movie whose premier opens the piece. This was very cute, and also great fun. The costumes were all suitably glamorous, and fitted perfectly, both in terms of the cast and the time and place.

The overture had been choreographed, with the dancers showing us a film studio at work, which was a good start. Then we were into the real opening sequence, with Dora Bailey, swathed in a voluminous fur coat which must be hell in the heat [8/9/11 the coat only had a fur collar – not so bad], introducing the characters to us as they walked down the red carpet to the premier of The Royal Rascal. It was clear immediately that Lina Lamont was being kept well away from the microphone, and this helped to built up suspense for the first time we hear her speak. The first number, Fit As A Fiddle, was OK, and then we got a chance to see the two stars in action. The filmed bit of The Royal Rascal was wonderfully funny, and they got the style just right.

After the showing, the principals head off to the studio boss’s party. Lina’s first grating lines were delivered really well, or really badly if you prefer, and she’s clearly not the sharpest knife in the cutlery drawer either. She actually believes the studio’s publicity that she and Don are an item, and can’t grasp that he’s not keen on her at all.

With Don choosing to walk instead of taking the car, we move into Hollywood Boulevard, and his first meeting with Kathy Selden. They played this very well, with her being dismissive of his fame and talent while showing glimpses of being a fan, and him being smoothly arrogant and humble at the same time. We also get our first sight of the policeman at this point. The musical number, You Stepped Out Of A Dream, was pleasant enough, if a little bland, but then Don gets mobbed by the chorus of passers-by and escapes with a few tears to his jacket.

When Don finally turns up to the party, R F Simpson, the studio boss, presents him with a big surprise – a tower of champagne. Actually, it’s a dummy tower, which opens up to reveal a dancer, who’s then joined by a whole troupe to perform All I Do, which they did very well. The only thing is, the lead dancer is none other than Kathy Selden who was so snobby to Don earlier, claiming she was a ‘proper’ stage actress. This was a brilliant performance by Scarlett Strallen, as she not only danced and sang really well, but also included expressions of total embarrassment and outright anger amongst the dazzling smiles the piece required. I couldn’t take my eyes off her. Nor could Don, of course, and he grabbed her at the end of the number to stop her disappearing. When Lina walks in on their conversation a short while later, she’s just in time to get the perfect pie in the face from Kathy, who intended it for Don, but he ducked just in time. Lina’s attempt at a dignified exit was ruined by her foul-mouthed exit line, finishing with the word ‘ass’. [8/9/11 ‘Dignity my ass’]Very funny.

Kathy runs off, naturally, and when we next see Don it’s a couple of days later at the studio [8/9/11 three weeks, actually]. He’s unhappy. He hasn’t been able to find Kathy anywhere, and Lina made sure she was fired from her job. To top it all off, Don took her criticism to heart, and he’s convinced he’s no good as an actor. Asking Cosmo for advice is a great lead into the wonderful Make ‘Em Laugh. It’s hard for anyone to follow the film version of this song, but Daniel Crossley did a pretty good job. He’s an excellent dancer, with good comic timing, but he has to perform this show time after time and can’t be hospitalizing himself after each performance, so inevitably it’s lower key than the film. Even so, they did a good job with the various ‘accidents’, and their homage to the wall sequence at the end was just brilliant. Two stage hands brought on a section of wall and held it mid-stage. Twice Cosmo ran towards it as if….. and then backed off. For the final attempt, at the very end, he completed the run up and then carried right on through the flimsy paper wall. It was a great way to end the song without doing too much damage.

The next scene shows us the filming of the next Lockwood and Lamont blockbuster, The Duelling Cavalier. A strip of grass, a bench, some flowers, and voila, we’re back in 18th century France. Such is the magic of film (and stage). The magic doesn’t extend to the dialogue though, as this is still a silent movie, so Don and Lina can indulge their bitchiness to their heart’s content while pretending to be rapturously in love with each other.

It’s a very funny scene, but things are changing in Hollywoodland. [8/9/11 During the post-premier party,] R F Simpson showed his people the shape of things to come with a short movie which actually includes spoken words! They mostly tied up with the presenter’s lips, but there was a bit of ‘drift’ which was funny, and reminded us of how things were in the very early days. There are lots of people who think the new technology is just a fad and for now, The Duelling Cavalier stays silent. But R F does start using the new technology, as the next scene shows.

Monumental Pictures is shooting a scene reminiscent of Flying Down To Rio, with lovely ladies perched on the wings of a plane, singing and dancing along with the pilot to the song Beautiful Girls. There’s lots of pink, soft mist (it smelled dreadful tonight), and plenty of dancing. It’s a lovely scene, with Kathy Selden well to the fore. Her talent has been spotted, and when R F turns up he’s asked to hear her sing, which leads us into You Are My Lucky Star. He likes her, and despite the pie-throwing incident, hires her on the spot, as long as she stays out of Lina’s way. Don had turned up during her audition, and now they get together for the love duet You Were Meant For Me; I think this is where Kathy is up a ladder for the first part with Don using the sound stage to create a romantic effect as he sings to her. Then they dance for a bit – it wasn’t the most memorable scene for me.

It turns out The Jazz Singer is a hit, and now R F decides to change to talkies, so his stars have to take elocution lessons to ensure they can deliver the lines correctly. Don is working with a diction coach when Cosmo turns up and starts turning the tongue-twisters into song – Moses Supposes. The dancing was really good here, with David Lucas, who’d played the pilot earlier, matching the other two throughout.

We also see (and hear!) Lina’s attempts to say her lines in a more refined accent – no luck, I’m afraid. So when the actual filming gets underway, it’s probably a blessing when things go wrong. This was a very funny section, and Katherine Kingsley’s performance as Lina was brilliant. To reproduce the effect of the sound cutting out when she moved her head away from the microphone, she had to deliver parts of her dialogue out loud and then mime the rest, and she did this to perfection. There were several takes, and the problems were many and varied. The microphone had to be moved several times, her heartbeat came through loud and clear – nice to know she has one – and finally R F himself trips over the microphone cable and yanks it out, complaining that it’s in the way!

When the sneak preview is underway, we see the stars watching from chairs in the middle of the stage, facing forward so we can see their reactions, and there are other audience members to one side. The film itself is shown on the screen behind them, and it’s as dire as we would expect from the filming that we’ve seen. The public start walking out before the end, making their views known, and apart from Lina, everyone knows it’s a big fat turkey. Lina has been chomping away on her popcorn, happy as a lark at her magnificent performance, but once she’s gone, Cosmo, Kathy and Don have a wander along the Boulevard, wondering what they can do to make the film work.

I forget what triggered it, but Cosmo is the one who comes up with the idea to use Kathy’s voice to replace Lina’s. He demonstrates this by having Kathy stand behind him talking or singing while he mimes, and when Don catches on, they soon have the plan in place – they’ll redo the film as a musical, and with Kathy dubbing Lina’s voice they stand a chance of producing a halfway decent movie. This takes us into the well known song Good Morning, which they staged really well, finishing up with a nod to the film version when they clamber over the bench and lie down on the other side. This leads Don and Kathy to get close again, and when Cosmo realises he’s a third wheel on their bicycle he slopes off, leaving Don to walk Kathy home. The storm clouds are gathering, however, and the water is already seeping up through the floor, so once Kathy’s gone, we can start to enjoy one of the most famous scenes in musical history.

This was so well done that I found I could almost forget the Morecambe and Wise version. When the rain came down, it came down heavy, and in no time at all there’s quite a lake in the middle of the stage. Apart from the occasional person running across the stage to get out of the rain, and the policeman, of course, Don has the stage to himself, and he splashes away to his heart’s content, soaking many in the front rows on the way. I didn’t mind the water myself – well, we weren’t in the front row, so we were hardly touched – but if I have one quibble it’s that Adam Cooper spent so much time splashing the audience that we didn’t get to enjoy as much of his dancing talent as I would have liked. This is an opportunity for the leading man to show off his skills, and it would have been nice to have had more of that, but he was so focused on wetting us that I felt the scene became all about that instead of the dancing. Mind you, it was good fun, so it’s a fairly minor complaint. There was nice touch at the end with Don putting his hat full of water on the policeman’s head and then realising what he’d done – oops!

With the place dripping wet, the interval had to be taken after this number – no surprise there – and then the restart quickly takes us into R F’s office where Cosmo finally persuades him to try their plan to rescue the movie from turkeydom. We see Kathy dubbing Lina’s part for both song and speech, and then there’s a scene in Lina’s dressing room, where we see her being told about Kathy’s presence on set and then hear her croak her way through What’s Wrong With Me?, which concludes with her determined ‘nothing’. So much for Lina’s softer side.

As they’r reworking the film, RF decides he wants a big dance number in the show. After some thought, Cosmo comes up with the idea of merging 18th century France with modern-day New York, via a dancing hopeful who gets hit on the head and wakes up as a French aristocrat – entirely plausible! As he starts to demonstrate his idea to R F, Don steps into Cosmo’s place, and then he and the company perform the Broadway Melody section, including an extended dance section featuring Ebony Molina. This was well done, and I do like this style of dance. At the end of this, Cosmo steps back into Don’s place, and R F gives the go-ahead.

With the film remade, the premier gets a wonderful reception, and Lina is determined to claim the limelight. She insists that Kathy will do her voice from now on instead of having a career of her own, which threatens to ruin everything, but Cosmo has a sneaky plan. With Lina out front unable to carry a tune, the audience are starting to get restless, but then Kathy’s singing kicks in and all is well. Then Cosmo raises the curtain behind Lina so that the audience can see who’s really doing it, and the fraud is exposed. Happiness all round, except for Lina, of course. There’s a rousing chorus of You Are My Lucky Star, and then the cast come through in small groups to take their bows, rushing off immediately afterwards. The water has started seeping again, so we know we’re in for another soaking.

Sure enough, the cast return wearing raincoats and carrying umbrellas, and proceed to dance their way through a reprise of Singin’ In The Rain. With the stage so full, the water travels much further – are they trying to set a record for how far back the water goes? Finally they’re done and take their final bows, and we can head out into the dry night, humming happily to ourselves.

The whole production was great, and the cast looked like they were having a good time too, even with the soaking they all get. Sandra Dickinson and Michael Brandon as Dora Bailey and R F Simpson respectively were good in their roles, and the dancing and singing were top class. We’ve booked to see this again in September, and I’m looking forward to it, even if we are in Row C again!

© 2011 Sheila Evans at ilovetheatre.me

Fiddler On The Roof – July 2011

9/10

By: Joseph Stein,  Sheldon Harnick and Jerry Bock

Directed by: Kenn Oldfield

Musical direction by: Martin Waddington

Company: Guildford School of Acting Graduate Company

Venue: Yvonne Arnaud Theatre

Date: Friday 15th July 2011

This was a three-hanky production, and very enjoyable with it. I started sniffling during Tevye’s first monologue, and then I was wiping my eyes loads of times. The graduates from the Guildford School of Acting were superb, and I do hope they go on to have good careers; they certainly have a lot of talent.

The set was the regular one, with lots of wooden slatted buildings, a milk cart and the marvellous sewing machine. The choreography also seemed traditional, appropriately enough. The cast involved us in the story right from the beginning, and although it was obvious that a number of them were much younger than the parts they played, I wasn’t put off at all by the false beards. Of course the music is fantastic, which helps, and the small band also did an excellent job, which made the evening just about perfect.

There was plenty of humour, although I do find myself wondering with this musical whether I should really be laughing at some of the jokes, especially between Tevye and the Constable, but the spirit of the piece and the resilience of the characters are just too infectious. Despite their suffering, I always feel uplifted at the end of Fiddler. Long may it be performed.

People to single out – Jacob Baumila as Tevye did a very good job. I was just a little distracted at first because he looked so much like someone I know, but his singing was excellent, and he delivered the lines very well. Natalie Lipin played Golde, his wife, and she was very good, though it took me a little while to spot that she was the mother as she looked a bit too young to begin with. The daughters, Tzeitel (Alia Grace), Hodel (Alys Metcalf) and Chava (Charlotte Mason-Apps) were all good. Alia Grace had more acting to do, and was very good at that, Alys Metcalf was a very good singer as well as actor, while Charlotte Mason-Apps danced as well as sang and acted – she should go far. Of the rest, I particularly liked Ben Riddle as the rabbi, ever ready to say absolutely nothing, Joe McCourt as the student, Pieter de Groot as the young Russian soldier who falls in love with Chava, and Louise Olley as the matchmaker. They were a great ensemble, and it was a very strong production.

© 2011 Sheila Evans at ilovetheatre.me

She Loves Me – June 2011

6/10

Book by Joe Masteroff, Music by Jerry Bock, Lyrics by Sheldon Harnick

Directed by: Stephen Mear

Venue: Minerva Theatre

Date: Thursday 16th June 2011

This was an excellent production of an above average musical. As we’re not great fans of musicals, I haven’t rated it that highly, but I don’t want to imply any lack of professionalism or talent on the part of the performers – they were all top-notch, and managed some amazing dance routines on a very cramped stage. The singing was excellent too, and other audience members were clearly enjoying themselves enormously; at the post show, several had seen the show at least once before.

The story is the familiar one of two people who think they don’t like each other gradually realising they’re in love and getting together. It’s done via letter-writing through a dating service, so although they work together every day, they don’t know who they’re writing to until an arranged meeting which leaves one of them still in the dark. Around all this is wrapped the story of a shop which sells all sorts of potions and creams to beautify women, and the characters who staff this shop. There’s some good songs, including one which uses Ravel’s Bolero as part of the tune, and a fair bit of comedy, although I found I didn’t laugh as much as the person behind me, who clearly loved the show.

Set: circular tiled pattern on floor, echoed by circular curved wheel structure above with globe lamps. The backdrop of a street perspective is screened by another curve, this time windows with a central door. The windows also have elaborate curved patterns on them, with bird images and coloured bottles on shelves creating a stained glass effect. The words above the shop door were “Maraczek, Parfumier”. The shop front was on a revolve, and there was another counter-revolve outside that, so the location could be changed pretty quickly, but from the post-show I gathered the cast needed a lot of practice to be able to walk on them. Most of the action takes place inside the shop, but we also visit a hospital room and Amalia Balash’s flat. The band was split between left and right balconies. The setting is an American version of a European city in the 1930s. The accents used were mostly American, as this fitted better with the dialogue, although the names were middle European and the prices shown were good old LSD! Such is the magic of theatre that we didn’t particularly mind.

I particularly liked Annette McLaughlin as Ilona Ritter, the good-time girl shop assistant who finds one man who’s disgracefully unfaithful and another who’s more the marrying kind, and Steve Elias as Ladislav Sipos, the only married shop assistant who has some of the best lines. His comment about the anonymous letter – next time, I’ll name names! – was really funny. But there were many good performances, though sadly, no more chances to see them as no transfer has been arranged. Shame. This was a good start to the season at the Minerva though, so if the rest are up to this standard we’re in for an excellent summer.

© 2011 Sheila Evans at ilovetheatre.me