Musical

A Year Without Blogging: A Brief Overview

It’s difficult to believe that it’s been over a year since I last published a review. For a very long time an essential part of my theatre experience was rushing home from the darkened theatre and pouring my feelings over my laptop keyboard. University, work and private life intervened and regular theatre-going and the fun of reviewing ebbed from my life.

You may be wondering if I have still attended the theatre during my unofficial hiatus. Of course I have. In an attempt to get my blog up and running again, here is a brief summary of the shows I have seen since my last publication…

The Royal Conservatoire of Scotland’s production of West Side Story was incredibly moving and memorable with its geometrical stage design. Matthew Tomlinson was particularly fantastic as Tony with deliciously smooth vocals. I cannot wait to see what he will get up to after he graduates. The show’s choreography, too, was a delight to watch.

The King’s Speech at the Theatre Royal, Glasgow featured a fantastic sound design and a modern visual staging. Gaining points for the use of a ‘true story,’ the show was engaging and I particularly enjoyed the sections featuring the ever mysterious Wallis Simpson, oozing with glamour and forbidden seduction.

The Lyceum’s Hedda Gabler was a fascinating production. I was simply mesmerised by scene transitions as Hedda’s fantasies came to life before my eyes, her dark thirst for power and domination a startling contrast to the Victorian values of her day. A play that begs to be analysed, Hedda Gabler is dazzling on the page and slightly less captivating on stage. Nevertheless, an interesting and thought provoking production.

Barnum at the King’s Theatre, Glasgow was a riotous circus musical for all the family. The relationship between Barnum and his wife Cherry is heartbreaking to follow in the midst of a show of so much fun. Linzi Hateley shone as the often forgotten yet essential Cherry Barnum, her vocals providing some of the best moments of the evening. Brian Connolly’s tightrope walking is the ultimate nail biter of the show, providing an ‘you could hear a pin drop’ moment to remember. The score is full of fun numbers and the use of reprises really builds on the construction of the relationship between the two leads. Overall a very enjoyable production although I personally would have preferred less audience interaction.

I wrote a full review of Dance Til’ Dawn at the King’s Theatre, Glasgow which can be viewed here (and I liked this one so much that I had to see it twice).

I also wrote a full review of The Straw Chair at the Tron Theatre, Glasgow. It can be read here.

The Woman in Black at the Theatre Royal, Glasgow was brimming with perfectly executed moments of suspense and jump scares. An essential ingredient to the success of The Woman in Black is, of course, the mysterious lady herself who should, at least in my vision of the show, achieve an ethereal creepiness by slowly pacing across the stage, almost gliding towards her victim, graceful yet deadly. Instead, a terrifying moment perfectly built up through levels of suspense and loud noises, was all but ruined by a clumsy and almost comical ghost sprinting across the stage at top speed, her knees up to her chin and her legs flailing everywhere. This error diminished my respect for the thriller aspect of the show. Had the spectre remained chillingly ghost-like and threatening then The Woman in Black would have been a remarkably thrilling and fascinating theatrical experience.

Anything Goes at the King’s Theatre, Glasgow was a bittersweet experience due to the announcement of the UK Tour’s early closure which was made public only days before I sat in the theatre to see the show. However, it didn’t take long after the curtain rose to realise that the early closure was forgivable. It is difficult to pin point what was wrong with the show; there was simply something missing. In a show that demands slick choreography for showstopping numbers, the dance routines seemed basic and repetitive. Zoe Rainey’s vocals, however, redeemed the show from monotony and the set design, too, was very satisfying.

I wrote a full review of Fever Dream: Southside here and this one was a cracker.

The War Hasn’t Started Yet, part of the Oran Mor’s Play, Pie and a Pint series, was a political piece filled with Brechtian techniques and comical sketches that explored society’s fears and insecurities. The three performers flitted from sketch to sketch with remarkable ease, contrasting characters being brought to life and fleshed out in seconds. Anita Vettesse was particularly memorable as the abused wife in the latter half of the show. This production was something quite different from anything I’ve seen before and it was an enjoyable, intriguing experience.

The Songbook of Judy Garland at the Theatre Royal, Glasgow was a delightful showcase of Garland’s career, her signature songs revisited by a string of West End performers. Most enjoyable were the scenes featuring the fantastic Louise Dearman and of course it was a delight to witness Garland’s eldest daughter, Lorna Luft, pay tribute to her late mother. The finale was, appropriately, an emotional group performance of Somewhere Over the Rainbow, sending the audience drifting into the streets to remember the golden days of Hollywood and the troubled career of one of its greatest stars.

I’ve already written a review of my beloved Top Hat which I revisited (again) at the Sunderland Empire. You can read it here.

Swallow at the Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh was produced in conjunction with the Edinburgh Fringe Festival and was very well received by all who attended. A quirky script with hidden depth, Swallow was equally comic and tragic, exploring the desire to survive. The ever fantastic Anita Vettesse delivered an incredible performance as the troubled Rebecca and Emily Watcher, too, was shatteringly brilliant, the physicality of her performance was remarkable to watch. A well written play that somewhat let itself down with a cliche ending, I purchased the script for this show and cannot wait to read it at some point.

Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None will always be one of my favourite plays. The production that visited the King’s Theatre, Glasgow featured a gorgeous set design and a fantastic execution of Christie’s twisted tale. To my delight, this production revived the original denouement, producing plenty of audible gasps from the audience. Always a chilling and captivating show, it is one that I would revisit again and again.

An Inspector Calls at the Theatre Royal, Glasgow proved to be one of the best shows I have seen. Heavily focusing on the construction of family, society, and public appearance, the set design embodied the show’s attack on capitalism and the destruction of the upper class through the slow disintegration and collapse of the dollhouse-like home of the Birlings that dominates the set. A show that begs to be analysed, I loved getting my teeth into this J.B. Priestley plot.

The UK Tour of Rebecca was an interesting adaptation of the Daphne Du Maurier classic. Somewhat modernised and featuring an unusual score and puppet dog (!), one of my favourite novels was brought to the stage in a unique, quirky vision. Not my favourite adaption, this production still managed to capture the tension between the newlyweds and the deceased Rebecca in the midst of an absurd mix of dancing, puppetry and floating boats.

White Christmas at the Pitlochry Festival Theatre was the perfect Christmas treat. Martine McMenemey and Jamie Noar were stand outs amongst an incredibly strong cast in this faultless production that made me incredibly proud of the Scottish theatre scene. This was my first Pitlochry production and it certainly will not be my last.

As a fan of Tom Chambers, Private Lives at the Theatre Royal, Glasgow was a must see. This production was delivered with all the speed and humour of a typical Noel Coward play, overflowing with clever quips and quickfire bickering. Hugely enjoyable, this was a fantastic adaption of the Coward classic I adore.

Evita at the Barrfield Theatre, Largs was a surprisingly slick and innovative adaption of the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical. This amateur production featured a superb range of moving performances and it was a delight to hear my favourite score performed live once more. Perhaps the best On This Night of a Thousand Stars that I have ever heard and a heartbreaking finale as Peron collapses in emotional exhaustion over his wife’s coffin. A strong musical and a very strong production.

This Restless House was a Greek tragedy trilogy at the Citizen’s Theatre, Glasgow featuring haunting musical interludes that are still circling my brain. Pauline Knowles was incredible as Clytemnestra in Zinnie Harris’ modern take on The Oresteia.

Mary Poppins at the Festival Theatre in Edinburgh was one of the most spectacular performances I have ever seen. Elaborate set and costume designs complimented the many showstoppers which continued to build in size and theatricality, making this show a thrill to watch. Zizi Strallen was ‘practically perfect’ as the titular role whilst Rebecca Lock provided stunning vocals as the struggling Mrs Banks.

Annie at the Edinburgh Playhouse gave a powerful punch with a strong young ensemble of orphans. A glorious design a la Matilda, Annie was a delight to watch and was aided by the appearance of Scottish favourite Elaine C Smith as the nasty Miss Hannigan. A tale of hope and determination, this spontaneous theatre trip proved to be one of my favourites over the past few months and one I wish I could relive again.

And so we are now up to date with all of my theatre-going. Admittedly, it has been several months since I last set foot in a theatre and I miss it terribly. Many UK tours are making their way to Glasgow over the next few months and I look forward to actively attending shows and getting back into the swing of reviewing the shows I love and hate.

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Rachel’s Theatre Highlights of 2014

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Private Lives, Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh

14th February – 8th March

Francis O’Connor’s spectacular designs were worth the ticket price alone for this sparkling Noel Coward comedy.


This-wide-night-Tron-Theatre-1

This Wide Night, Tron Theatre, Glasgow

20th February – 15th March

Funny and heartbreaking, The Tron Theatre Company’s production of Chloe Moss’ This Wide Night was an eye-opening production.


And Then There Were None, Dundee Rep Ensemble, Dundee

5th March – 29th March

Visually stunning, the Dundee Rep Ensemble’s staging of this Agatha Christie masterpiece was a spine-tingling experience.


Anita Vettesse and Scott Reid. Photo by Lesley Black.previewA Perfect Stroke, Oran Mor, Glasgow/Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh

31st March – 5th April (Oran Mor)  8th April – 12th April (Traverse)

After school rehearsals have never been so intimate and intense. A Perfect Stroke received a well deserved Best New Play nomination at the CATS awards earlier this year.


Beowulf, Tron Theatre, Glasgow

24th July – 2nd August

A fascinating set and a superb trio of actresses, this dramatic reading of Seamus Heaney’s Beowulf was a theatre experience to cherish.


Bu_klCKCEAEevRT The Addams Family, Assembly Hall, Edinburgh

31st July – 25th August

Creepy, kooky and hilariously funny, this was my highlight of the Edinburgh Fringe Festival 2014 – full disclosure!


Vanishing Point 1Tomorrow, Tramway, Glasgow

3rd – 11th October

A visual masterpiece in ways that simply cannot be captured in photographs, Vanishing Point’s Tomorrow was delicate and stunning.


XBuiOgFvIn Time O Strife, Citizens Theatre, Glasgow (tour)

14th – 18th October

Poignant, angry and beautifully staged with a blend of poetry and music, this play was a testament to Scottish theatre.


img_dancederby_2Dance Derby, Paisley Town Hall, Paisley (tour)

4th November

Beautiful, Brecht and thought-provoking theatre. I haven’t stopped talking about it yet.


top-hatTop Hat, Theatre Royal, Glasgow (tour)

2nd – 13th December

A thrilling reminder of the golden days of Hollywood. Visual splendour and superbly cast. Tapping through the UK until July 2015.

 

ED FRINGE: The Addams Family, Bette Davis Ain’t for Sissies, Sweeney Todd and The Odyssey: An Epic Musical Epic

The Addams Family, Assembly Hall

The Assembly Hall looms against the skies of Edinburgh, a fascinating venue which seems perfect as the host of Andrew Lippa’s spooky musical comedyPerformed by the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland’s incredible MA Musical Theatre students, The Addams Family is a delight from start to finish. 

Wednesday Addams has a boyfriend. A normal boyfriend. Her family are in despair. With boyfriend Lucas and family on their way for dinner at the Addams household, can Gomez and Morticia possibly save their daughter from becoming a normal, happy child? 

The cast give stellar performances throughout. Martin Murphy and Kristel Harder are particularly watchable as Gomez and Morticia whilst Andrew Perry and Cassie Muise give fantastic vocal performances as Uncle Fester and Wednesday. 

Chris Stuart-Wilson’s choreography is polished, Richard Evan’s design is atmospheric and effective. The show is performed with an impressive flair, the standard easily matching any West End production. A splendid production of a show that deserves more attention and recognition. Highly recommended.

Running until 25 August


Bette Davis Ain’t for Sissies, Assembly Rooms

Her heels echo throughout the darkened room as she makes her entrance. Her hair is pulled into a flattering formal style of pin curls and rolls, her jewellery flirting with the lighting that slowly rises before us. She’s Bette Davis and she isn’t happy. 

The year is 1939 and Bette has received her third Academy Award nomination for her performance in Dark Victory. Arriving at the Awards ceremony, she’s more than prepared to scoop up another statuette to accompany Dangerous and Jezebel, her beloved Best Actress Awards. When a newspaper boy delivers a paper into Bette’s hands, an article containing the leaked voting results reveals that Vivien Leigh has won the Best Actress Award. Outraged, Bette leaves early. Returning home, significant memories from her past float to the surface of her mind: her days on Broadway, her early screen tests, her private relationships…

As Bette Davis, Jessica Sherr gives a compelling performance. Her profile bears a striking resemblance to the star. Her eyes are, for brief moments, startlingly similar. Her Bette is youthful, bold, determined yet sensitive and vulnerable. The script (written by Sherr) is humorous and engaging, providing an extremely satisfying 60 minutes of theatre. 

Running until 24 August


Sweeney Todd, theSpace on Niddry St

Stephen Sondheim’s musical thriller is an enthralling tale of love, murder and the worst pies in London. The ‘Iolani Dramatic Players of Hawaii bring their production of Sweeney Todd to the fringe, a satisfying adaptation of Music Theatre International’s school edition.

Sondheim’s score is complex and challenging, courageously tackled by the ‘Iolani School students. Quincy Brown gives a fantastic vocal performance as Anthony and Samantha Caps is excellent as the Beggar Woman. Carson Davis’ final moments as Toby are particularly haunting. Collectively the company, acting as a Greek Chorus, are strong although vocals are not always up to scratch and transitions between scenes can be noisy and distracting.

The production may not be up to professional contemporary standards and it lacks a certain charm yet the Players succeed to tell the gruesome tale with clarity, winning several gasps from the audience as the final elements of the plot are unravelled towards the end of the show. 

Running until 7 August


The Odyssey: An Epic Musical Epic, C Venues 

Geoff Page’s musical adaptation of Homer’s epic poem is fantastically engaging: a fast-paced romp through Odysseus’ journey home from the Trojan War. His ten year journey is condensed into a performance which lasts just under two hours, slickly delivered by a young company of performers. 

The musical numbers are superb. Incredibly catchy, informative and funny, each number is as entertaining as its predecessor and performed to professional standards. Props and set are limited, an element that is warmly embraced by the company: shields double up as the opening of a cave, aptly introduced by the shield bearers’ humorous chants of “Cave! Cave! Cave!” 

The young cast are consistently brilliant. Holly Masters is outstanding as Penelope. Under the wise direction of Peter Sayer, the production shines as a wonderful and promising new musical. A must see for anyone interested in musicals of silly and superb standards. 

Running until 9 August

JULY FAVOURITE: Sunshine On Leith

Dubbed as the feel good film of 2013, holder of several four and five star reviews and easily reaching out to audiences of all ages, I mysteriously avoided Sunshine on Leith during its cinema period. When I purchased the DVD earlier this year I realised what a mistake I had made. Sunshine on Leith, directed by Dexter Fletcher, is a delightful and joyous tale with tender heartbreak at its core.

When Davy and Ally return from their duty in Afghanistan they are welcomed home to Leith with open arms. Ally is in a relationship with Davy’s sister Liz; Liz thinks Davy would be the perfect match for her friend Yvonne. Meanwhile, parents Rab and Jean are planning a huge party to celebrate their 25th wedding anniversary. When an event from Rab’s past looms up in the present, it seems all three couples’ futures may be at risk. This is the story of hope and the power of love told through the music and lyrics of The Proclaimers.

The strong cast is headed by the superb Peter Mullan and the interlacing songs by The Proclaimers are executed with reasonable style and flair.  Although I am a fan of musicals, I feel Sunshine on Leith suffers from spontaneous and therefore cheesy dialogue to song transitions. The best transition is perhaps featured in the upbeat ‘Then I Met You’ performed by the quarrelling young lovers Davy (George MacKay) and Yvonne (Antonia Thomas). Many of the songs are recognisable and catchy; the instrumentals playing throughout dialogue scenes are simply stunning.

Many interior shots were filmed in Glasgow with outdoor scenes featuring the iconic landmarks of Edinburgh. Fletcher has captured a beautiful portrait of the capital city of Scotland and in true style of the title of the film, not one drop of rain is visible in any frame thus creating the ultimate feel good Scottish musical.

JUNE FAVOURITE: Heathers the Musical Cast Recording

Heathers the Musical is the hottest show off-Broadway. Graphics for the show are all over the internet so I decided to take the plunge and find out who those three mallet wielding, mini skirt wearing girls are and why they seem to be taking the theatrical world by storm.

My first stop was to check out the 1989 movie on which the new musical is based. Initially a box office flop but now a cult classic, Heathers is noted as one of the best high school based films around. The plot centres around seventeen year old Veronica who, at the opening of the movie, has successfully secured a place in the most powerful and feared clique in Westerburg High School: the Heathers. Beautiful and wealthy, the trio consists of Heather, Heather and (yep, you’ve guessed it) Heather. Regardless of her new-found power, Veronica quickly grows tired of the Heathers’ behaviour and, teaming up with the rebellious JD, decides to punish one of the Heathers who recently vowed to destroy Veronica’s reputation after she embarrassed the clique at a significant party. Heather’s punishment is death and a quickly forged suicide note is enough to throw suspicion away from Veronica and JD. The plot thickens with deception and additional deaths; Veronica ultimately escaping the evil glares of the Heathers and righting wrongs along the way. The plot may be extreme and unlikely but elements of the film are still relevant today and perhaps this is why the musical is proving to be such a hit with off-Broadway audiences.

Video footage is limited but the promotional photographs for the off-Broadway production are enough to convince that the show is easy on the eyes. Costumes are reminiscent of the eighties whilst remaining surprisingly trendy and edgy. The staging is minimalistic and modern.

Heathers the Musical‘s newly released cast recording boasts a collection of 20 songs, each track as strong as the previous. The book and lyrics were written by Kevin Murphy, the score was composed by Laurence O’Keefe (creator of Legally Blonde the Musical). Opening with ‘Beautiful,’ the show quickly summarises Veronica’s assent to power with convenient narration through Veronica’s diary entries. The audience is quickly introduced to the pre-Heathers Veronica who is somewhat “dorky” and therefore rendered as uncool amongst fellow high school students, several of whom are introduced in this number. The Heathers arrive and are duly introduced before they take Veronica under their wing and suitably make her over to become the fourth Heather. By the end of the number it seems we have already experienced an entire musical but anyone familiar with the storyline knows that this is just the beginning. ‘Candy Store’ displays the Heathers’ manipulation of power and marks the first of several frustratingly catchy numbers in the show. ‘Seventeen’ stands out as a significant duet between Veronica and JD yet it seems impossible to select an individual song as the stand out moment of Heathers the Musical. Each song continues to contribute to the overall impact of the cast recording which is incredibly easy to follow without any visual aids.

Barrett Wilbert Weed is outstanding as Veronica, her dialogue often sounding fascinatingly identical to Winona Ryder’s movie delivery over twenty years ago. Jessica Keenan Wynn gives a fantastic vocal performance as the ringleader of the Heathers meanwhile Anthony Crivello and Daniel Cooney threaten to steal the show with their rendition of ‘My Dead Gay Son.’Heathers the Musical will reconnect with the original target generation of Heathers and will also capture the hearts of younger generations. With the score on occasions sounding reminiscent of Legally Blonde the Musical it is guaranteed that any fans of modern musicals will appreciate this dark comedy of crime, relationships and popularity within the confinements of a clique-driven American high school.

REVIEW: Jersey Boys Movie

Several month ago, during a trip to London, I made a spontaneous decision to see Jersey Boys. Since that day I’ve been singing the show’s praises, blasting the original Broadway cast recording on car journeys and watching the tracks creep up my most played list on iTunes. When Clint Eastwood’s Jersey Boys film hit British cinemas last weekend I went along with high expectations and within the first few scenes I knew the big screen adaptation wasn’t for me.

Heavily inspired by the stage show, the narrative structure of the movie rotates from one Four Seasons member to the next, the actors often breaking the fourth wall to give insight to their character’s opinions or simply tugging the story along with several lines to help the transition between scenes. Although this technique is successful on stage, I personally felt that it did not translate well onto the screen and, much to my irritation, the narration continued throughout songs, overlapping vocals and drowning out sections of Four Seasons performances. Later, a song used as background music was layered in such a way that it was clearly audible whereas the necessary dialogue was increasingly difficult to hear. This difficulty was often enhanced due to the mumbling nature of some actors’ delivery of lines.

Without the restrictions of the stage, Eastwood attempts to explore the world of the Four Seasons in depth. There is greater insight to the illegal activities carried out by the band and there is a slight development of the relationship between Frankie Valli and his daughter Francine although this development does not contribute towards the overall impact of the final scenes. Without the time restrictions of theatre, the four leads gradually age throughout the movie, making the plot feel more realistic (even though Erich Bergen’s beard becomes slightly distracting – and not for the right reasons).

Performances throughout are incredibly strong. John Lloyd Young, who gained a Tony Award for his portrayal of Frankie Valli on Broadway, reprises his role with conviction; his delivery of the final monologue, featuring the line “But the four of us made that sound, our sound… when everything dropped away and all there was was the music… that was the best.” is stunning. Michael Lomenda is fantastic as Nick Massi meanwhile Vincent Piazza and Erich Bergen both give solid performances as Tommy DeVito and Bob Gaudio respectively. Renee Marino’s final scene as Mary is particularly moving.

Eastwood’s favourite Four Seasons hit is ‘Can’t Take My Eyes Off You’ and intriguingly this song is the only section of the soundtrack that disappoints. With an arrangement that strays somewhat from the Broadway cast recording, the brass sections of the orchestrations are somewhat unpleasant to listen to (perhaps this was due to the audio setting in the cinema theatre).

With a running time of over two hours, Jersey Boys feels incredibly long however the viewer is rewarded in the last few moments of the film when we see the youthful Four Seasons singing ‘Sherry’ under a street light followed by a rendition of ‘December ’63 (Oh What a Night)’ during which the entire cast are reunited to dance down the streets of New Jersey; a cheerful and upbeat number to put the fun back into Jersey Boys.

MAY FAVOURITE: Der Besuch der alten Dame

Der Besuch der alten Dame (The Visit of the Old Lady) was originally a play written by Friedrich Durrenment. It has previously been translated into English and performed on Broadway starring Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontaine. It has also been adapted into an opera libretto and several films have been loosely based on the original play. In the Summer of 2013, a second musical adaptation starring Pia Douwes and Uwe Kroeger premiered at Switzerland’s Thun Festival. It opened in Vienna in February this year and the “gesamtaufnahme” – better known as a cast recording featuring most (if not all) of the show’s dialogue – was made available worldwide. iTunes UK have priced the album at a steep £17.99 however I have enjoyed listening to the cast recording enough to justify such a price.

The town of Gullen is in trouble and in desperate need of funds to revitalise the community. An incredibly wealthy woman who grew up in Gullen, Claire Zachanassian (Pia Douwes), arrives home and offers to give a huge donation – on one condition: the townspeople must kill Alfred Ill (Uwe Kroeger), general store owner, most popular man in town and Claire’s lover many years ago. Aghast, the mayor refuses Claire’s offer but Alfred becomes increasingly paranoid when he realises many of the townspeople are buying expensive items in his shop and have presumably received payments from Claire. Fearing his life, Alfred decides to flee for Australia – but is it possible to escape the wrath of the bitter Claire?

Aided by many reprises, the musical numbers are quickly recognisable; many are upbeat and catchy whilst others possess beautifully haunting qualities. Pia Douwes’ numbers are outstanding although Masha Karell’s “Ich Schutze Dich” is also a stand out moment. The score consists of a fantastic range of ensemble numbers, showcasing all members of the cast. The numbers range from dramatic to touching, joyful to sorrowful. As visible in the show’s trailerBesuch has been staged to perfection. The sets and costumes look wonderful and the choreography contributes towards the overall impact of the dramatic musical numbers.