Elf The Musical – Dominion Theatre – Review

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Could I get in the Christmas spirit in Mid November? Well I tried with a visit to the stage adaptation of the film Elf. This show has been making headlines before it even opened due to its exorbitant ticket prices. So throughout the whole show, my mind was thinking “Is this show worth £200 per ticket?”

And as I left the theatre, I had to be honest, it’s just not worth the asking price and also pales in comparison to other shows in the West End. I was rather disappointed with the show. It has a bit of a cheap and tacky feel, the set and graphic backdrop are rather basic and the songs are all very similar. Sitting here less than 12 hours later, I honestly can’t really remember any of the songs.

The cast do a good job with the material they’ve been given, Ben Forster as Buddy the Elf carries and steals the show. Joe McGann as his businessman father plays the straight role well. Kimberly Walsh gives a good turn as the love interest but she only gets one solo number which was a shame as I felt she could have given so much more. Mark McKerracher as Santa was a bit of a let down, his accent flitted between English and American which was frustrating.

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There were two tap dancing numbers which were well choreographed and good fun, but as the stage hadn’t been miked up, we couldn’t get the full sound of the taps going and they were drowned out by the orchestra which meant the effect of the routines was lost.

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My biggest gripe was the complete lack of adapting this for a UK audience. Hundred of years of pantomime tradition totally ignored. There was NO interaction with the audience when on several occasions there were perfect opportunities to include the youngsters and those young at heart into the onstage action. Too many Americanisms in the script could have been adapted easily and I also think for a family show there were an unnecessary amount of innuendos.

It saves itself with a magical flying sleigh and snow falling on audience at the end which leaves you in the Christmas spirit. It’s worrying that I’m saying the best bits of the show are two technical elements rather than the actually content.

It had the soulless feel of all that’s wrong with the commercialisation of Christmas. If you’re contemplating taking your family to see a Christmas show in London over the holiday period there are much better (Slava’s Snowshow for example) and cheaper ones you can visit and a whole host of better non-Christmas shows in the West End you could see.

Sorry if I sound like Scrooge but I love Christmas and the theatrical traditions that go with it, but I hope this show doesn’t become one of them.

STARS: ★ ★

Into The Woods – Review

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ITW_1-Sht_v18_Lg2015 gets off to a cracking start with the cinematic release of Disney’s treatment of Sondheim’s musical Into the Woods.

I was fortunate enough to go to an advance screening in the West End earlier this week and Disney were excitedly telling us how this film has been a smash at the US box office (beating the opening weeks of Mamma Mia! and Les Miserables ). Anything that puts Les Mis in its place has got to be a good thing. Having seen the film there can be little doubt as to why this is doing so well over the pond.

Firstly it’s a Stephen Sondheim musical! So we can expect clever lyrics, crafted melodies and a story that keeps you smiling but also throws in plenty of surprises along the way. I had no idea what this story was about, other than it has a witch and is set in some woods. I don’t want to give anything away, suffice to say it’s a witty and clever retelling of some classic fairy tales.

Watching it I was struck at the skill Sondheim has and lamented that so much musical theatre is rather lazy in comparison to this. I’m always a bit concerned of film adaptations of stage musicals but Disney get this spot on, utilising the advantages of film to make this a much larger production than you’d ever get to see on stage. This is something to see at the cinema where you get the huge screen and surround sound system luxuries. This is an epic musical and seeing it brought to life on this scale is magical.

Meryl Streep is the poster girl and delivers a fabulous performance as the witch. Despite my concerns, that films that have lots of names in often don’t work, (I think that’s why the film adaptation of Nine didn’t work) this time the casting of numerous names doesn’t affect the film negatively.

Emily Blunt as the Baker's Wife is the real star of this film for me.

Emily Blunt as the Baker’s Wife is the real star of this film for me.

Emily Blunt blew me away as the Baker’s wife, it’s a brilliant performance. There are many stories being told throughout the piece but for me hers stuck out the most. Although why she suffers whilst Prince Charming gets off scot-free seems a bit unfair! James Corden plays her Baker husband and delivers his best performance since The History Boys.

My only personal gripe is the clash of accents throughout the film, this is most noticeable between Jack who is a little cockney rascal and Little Red Riding Hood who has a very acute American “twang”, It jarred with me, it seems odd that this wood has such a variety of contrasting accents in it!

The princes duet in the waterfall (you’ll have to see it to understand it) is one of the funniest scenes and again, I was surprised at the vocal talents of Chris Pine, he’s not just a pretty face!

Sondheim musicals are not easy to sing – the score is demanding and it’s a pleasant surprise to see these Hollywood A list actors rising to the challenge and deliver what for many of them will be one of their career highlights I’m sure.

We’re only a few days into 2015, I recommend you catch this as your first musical of the year. It will set the bar high but when so many musicals are lacklustre in their story and/or music I see that as no bad thing.

 

STARS : ★ ★ ★ ★ 

 

Thanks to Disney and Laughing Buddha for the advance screening tickets!

Porgy and Bess – Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre – Review

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I used to live near Regent’s Park but until last week had never made the trip to see a production at the Open Air Theatre. Shame on me!

Thankfully the weather in the UK is gorgeous at the moment and so my wife and I spent a pleasant evening enjoying it at the Open Air Theatre. The hot and sticky weather added an extra realism to the setting of the play in South Carolina.

Seeing songs that are now famous such as Summertime and It Ain’t Necessarily So in their original and rightful context was enlightening to see. The programme notes that this is the largest orchestra and company they’ve ever had at the Regent’s Park Theatre. Unfortunately having the orchestra behind the set, means the stage is pretty small.

The production is cleverly choreographed to use the space available. I was struck by how tragic and sad a story this is. No happy and jolly story is this. The sadness, despair and abject poverty of the characters touched me.

I really felt for Bess – a woman trapped and manipulated by the men around her. Until she meets Porgy, his genuine love breaks through to her, but in the end she breaks him. Undeterred he heroically seeks after her.

Nicola Hughes as Bess, Rufus Bonds Jr as Porgy.

Nicola Hughes as Bess, Rufus Bonds Jr as Porgy.

Nicola Hughes as Bess was perfectly paired with Rufus Bond Jr as Porgy. Their performances were emotive and caused a lump to appear in my throat a few times.

The story is wider than just Porgy and Bess though and the other characters are woven into their lives. It’s a raw piece of theatre. The soaring melodies of Gershwin communicate the thoughts, feelings and emotions of the characters without any veneer.

It’s a great way to spend a summer’s evening.

STARS : ★ ★ ★ ★ 

Dirty Rotten Scoundrels – The Savoy Theatre

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This show about 2 conmen has been causing a buzz in the West End since it opened a few weeks back. Mainly due to its stars Robert Lindsay and Rufus Hound.

They are clearly having a ball on stage, but this is no self indulgent show, rather with a nod to audience early on they welcome us into their world.

The cast give us 100 percent and attack all the big numbers with flare. Katherine Kingsley ratchets up the end of Act 1 with her stunning vocal performance as Christine Colgate.

Katherine Kingsley's performance stole the show for me.

Katherine Kingsley’s performance stole the show for me.

It has many laugh out loud moments. Spolied only by the uneccesary crude and vulgar humour inserted along the way (Act 2 especially goes for cheap laughs too often I felt). The quite literal slapstick routine in Act 2 is one of the comedy highlights for me we all winced as Rufus Hound is repeatedly hit.

You'll struggle to see a more effortless stage performance as Robert Lindsay gives.

You’ll struggle to see a more effortless stage performance than the one Robert Lindsay gives.

Robert Lindsay is laid back and guides the show effortlessly. Rufus Hound is a wonderful foil and the byplay between them is perfect. It’ll be interesting to see if the show has much of a life without them.

One of the stars of the show is Peter Mckintosh’s splendid set, that adds a whole extra dimension to the piece.

I saw this on a Wednesday night and it was a perfect mid-week pick-me-up.

STARS :  ★ ★ ★ ★ 

Thanks to http://www.laughingbuddhauk.com/ for the tickets!

The Light Princess – The National Theatre – Review

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Review in one sentence : This is one of the most inventive, incredible pieces of theatre I’ve EVER seen.

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Review in more than one sentence:

I was excited by the concept of this when I first heard it was being workshopped a few years ago. It’s been a while in gestation but it has been well worth the wait.

This is a Victorian fairy tale (which was new to me), told with an inventiveness I’ve only seen in a few other musicals and pieces of theatre (London Road and Once). All of the various parts that make this an harmonious whole piece; the score, lyrics, script, design, direction, choreography and cast have achieved that magical alchemy that theatre seldom achieves but when it does and you’re present to witness it, leaves an indelible mark on your life.

Tori Amos has crafted a score that is a welcome fresh newcomer to musical theatre. Several of the tunes lodge firmly in the memory when leaving the theatre. There are moments of drama, comedy and a few that send tingles up the spine and one that sends a tear or two down the cheek. Hurry up National Theatre and Tori Amos and release the soundtrack please!!!

2 impressive talent combine in this production. Tori Amos and Rosalie Craig.

2 impressive talents combine in this production. Tori Amos and Rosalie Craig.

Rosalie Craig as Althea (the Light Princess of the title) gives a performance that is extraordinary. Her voice soars as effortlessly as she does. Singing this score would be hard for any professional, yet she does it whilst spinning, floating upside down and swooping over the stage. Performance of the year goes to her for this without a shadow of a doubt. If not greatest female lead I’ve seen, ever!

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Nick Hendrix as her romantic suitor gives a powerful performance. Clive Rowe as King Darius belts out his tunes and he also gives a tender performance in one song that had me going for my handkerchief as he sings to his dying daughter.

Sometimes the set, choreography and theatrical trickery can detract from a piece. Here they add volumes to it. How they’ve got Althea to float all the time is bordering on genius and the VERY hard work of 4 acrobats. If I try to explain it, you’ll think it sounds impossible. So I won’t bother, suffice to say it is definitely the cleverest theatrical idea and implementation I’ve seen. Truly magical. You’ll have to see it with your own eyes.

Just one of the never ending ingenious creations in this show.

Just one of the never-ending ingenious creations in this show.

Add to this intriguing and ingenious puppets and puppetry, with a focused direction from Marianne Elliott it is really a very special piece of theatre.

I came out of the National feeling like I too was floating I was so overjoyed by this experience. My advice is stop whatever you are doing and make sure you book tickets to see this as soon as possible.

STARS : ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

Theatrical Sites of Stockholm

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I’ve just returned from a lovely holiday in Stockholm. Whilst there I took in a few of the theatrical sites, I saw Swan Lake at the Kungliga Operan a full review of that stunning Opera House and ballet will follow in a day or so.

After we’d decided to head off to Stockholm I consulted my trusty DK Eyewitness Guide and noticed that there was an August Strindberg Museum actually based in his finally residence, that went on my list of must sees, and in fact we visited it on our first day there.

Strindberg's Desk

Strindberg’s Desk

Following a trip up three floors in a “Thoroughly Modern Millie” lift as my wife called it, we arrived at the museum. Half of it is his apartment as it was when he lived there. It’s quite spooky to wander around his apartment and see his personal artefacts.

I studied Strindberg at college and found him an interesting if somewhat confusing writer. This museum opened up his life and world to me. It was set out in themed exhibits looking at various aspects of his life, such as his religious views and how they developed, his portrayal and views on women, his pacifism etc. This was a really good way of getting to grips with this multifaceted man.

He’s held in very high esteem in his native Sweden and this museum enabled me to see why.

Me with Strindberg statue outside the Swedish National Theatre

Me with Strindberg statue outside the Swedish National Theatre

The other “theatrical” museum I had to visit was Abba The Museum. It was a great chance to see their memorabilia and find out a bit more about the group via the guided tour you listen to recorded by Abba themselves. I was slightly surprised that there is only a passing mention to their musical, Mama Mia! A tiny display of the wedding dress from the show and as you leave the museum you leave via the bridge akin to the end of the musical. For a musical that has been so successful I was surprised they gave it so little promotion here.

Alas they wouldn't let me try these on.

Alas they wouldn’t let me try these on.

That's ALOT of records!!

That’s ALOT of records!!

It’s a wonderful city but theatrically the highlight for me was the Kungliga Operan – but I’ll save that for a future post!

Billy Elliot – Victoria Palace – Review

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Following fast on the heels of Billy Liar, comes my review of Billy Elliot.

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This year’s Radio 2 Audience Award Olivier went to Billy Elliot. Despite it running for 8 years, I’d never got round to seeing it. It’s Olivier win put it nearer the top of my list and thanks to the lovely folks at Shows In London I was able to see this splendid show recently.

Having now seen it, I can see why it got the Olivier Award this year. It’s an exhilarating piece of theatre. It’s the only show I’ve seen where the lead got a standing ovation at half time, another midway through act 2 and then one at the end! We had Tade Biesinger as our Billy. He deserved the rapturous applause he got throughout, an outstanding performance from one who’s only 13.

The whole cast give powerful and passionate performances though. Billy may be the star but his cast are what help him to shine so brightly. Special mention must go to Ann Emry as Billy’s Grandma, Gillian Bevan as Mrs Wilkinson and Deka Walmsley as Billy’s Dad. This is a show with a strong story and high emotions. They keep the emotions high but never stray into the melodramatic.

The lyrics by Lee Hall and music by Elton John range from the melodic and moving The Letter, to the aggressive Solidarity, to the humourous Merry Christmas Maggie Thatcher. (surely a contender for Christmas number 1 this year?)

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The choreography throws a few surprises and there are some truly remarkable moments from Billy and the cast.

The biggest shock for me was the amount of bad language. I don’t expect miners to speak like they’ve attended finishing school. I do however think the swearing is excessive, especially from the young people. A shame, as for me it’s not the family friendly show it could be. Likewise the one dimensional left-wing bias is a shame.

The story is inspirational and uplifting and I enjoyed the nostalgic feeling for the 80’s the show gave me.

I can see why it won the Olivier Award this year. A worthy winner.

STARS : ★ ★ ★ ★

Viva Forever – Piccadilly Theatre – Review

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I’ll be brief and to the point, I’ve wasted 75 minutes of my life watching the first half of this show and I don’t intend to waste much more writing about it;
It is the worst show I’ve ever seen. Everyone from producers to cast and creatives should be thoroughly ashamed.

Instead listen to the original songs or watch the Spiceworld movie (which is better than this show, and that’s saying something!)

Do not waste your precious life and money on this piece of theatrical tat. Let’s hope it closes soon, there was a very poor turnout tonight,
so here’s hoping.

It’ll not “spice up your life” it’ll simply waste it.

STARS : not even worthy of 1 star.

Ps. For the record, I actually like the Spice Girls and their music, I even own 2 of their albums!

Once will not be enough. Once – Phoenix Theatre London – Review

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I had few preconceptions or expectations as I made my way to The Phoenix Theatre to see Once last night, I only found out it was based on a film at the weekend when a friend told me! All I knew was that it had won a slew of Tony Awards on Broadway and it was set in Dublin. A city I fell in love with when I visited it in 2011.

Once is a musical that is so emotionally, musically and theatrically different to anything else on a West End stage at present. Since leaving the theatre its melodies, emotions, images and thoughts have lingered like few productions do.

The cast are actor/musicians each playing a part and various instruments. The playing is superb and invokes the emotions the main characters Guy and Girl go through, whilst telling the story of the book.  It really is  an ensemble piece, each person has their own story which you’re drawn into. The ensemble stay onstage throughout and accompany the songs as applicable.

Declan Bennett as Guy and Zrinka Citesic as Girl

Declan Bennett as Guy and Zrinka Citesic as Girl

This is a  lyrical show and has a more relaxed pace in keeping with the people and setting. This was a refreshing change. It was lovely to sit back and be charmed by this gentle tale.

Bob Crowley’s set is one of the most simple, yet creative and clever I’ve seen. An effective use of mirrors and lighting takes us through various locations even though the set is a fixed Dublin bar. A nice touch is the bar is open for business before the show and during the interval if you fancy a drink onstage!

The pre-show onstage bar with cast playing for us, a brilliant idea.

The pre-show onstage bar with cast playing for us, a brilliant idea.

For me though, I finally feel like there has been a musical written for me,  about people, and emotions that are relevant to me, a youngish man in a city with his own hopes and dreams. I must also highlight that any men out there who say “I don’t like musicals” fear not if your other half suggests a trip to Once. It’s more like a shindig at your local with an emotional punch than a “jazz hands” musical you may have been dragged along to in the past.

Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova’s songs are gorgeous. I purchased the soundtrack straight after seeing the show, I was so keen to hear it again. On my way to work today listening to it in the car I was again blown away by the beauty of the melodies and lyrics. Being set it Dublin there are also a few that get your toes tapping too. The songs  If You Want Me and Falling Slowly have stayed with me like few melodies do after a musical.

This is a musical with soul. No superficiality, no glitz, no, this is an emotional tale told with raw heartfelt gusto. Just what the West End has been crying out for.

It’s a show about love and I’m head over heels for it. Once will not be enough for me I’ll be back soon to take it all in again.

STARS : ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

Tickets can be bought from : Shows In London