Something Rotten!, St James Theatre – 04/08/2016

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With going to the theatre as frequently as I do, it can sometimes be easy to regard what many see as a special treat as a normal or mundane experience. I can occasionally feel like going to the theatre to review a show is a bit of a chore and I often don’t enjoy the experience half as much as I should. But all those feelings were kept firmly at bay as I (quite literally) ran up the stairs of the St James Theatre in New York to enjoy my first ever Broadway show, Something Rotten!

As is the case with so many Broadway shows, it is easy to become so obsessed and familiar with them without even stepping foot inside the theatre. This was exactly how I felt before seeing Something Rotten! – I’d been a big fan of the soundtrack and watched numerous videos of songs on YouTube, but not once did I ever expect to actually be lucky enough to get to see the show in New York. Something Rotten! is set in Renaissance England and follows two brothers – Nick and Nigel Bottom – as they attempt to create the world’s first musical and oust William Shakespeare as the world’s greatest playwright.

The show itself did not let me down with enough innuendos to last Scott Mills years and just the right amount of childish, random humour that it didn’t become irritating. It is also very clever in the way it weaves references to both other musicals and Shakespeare plays into the story – some of them so cleverly hidden that only a few audience members got the joke, but others so obvious that everyone was in stitches. My only real criticism would be that the second half is far from as good as the first, but it by no means drags down the show as a whole and in fact one of the final songs Something Rotten ! / Make an Omelette was one of the funniest of the night.

Everyone in the cast gets their moment to shine – from the incomparable Brad Oscar during A Musical to the ensemble’s fantastic egg dancing, clad in full egg costume, during Make an Omelette. Also fantastic is Josh Grisetti as the humble and endearing Nigel Bottom, along with his complete opposite Will Chase, who makes a confident and arrogant Shakespeare.

Musically the show is fantastic, with Wayne and Karey Kirkpatrick’s score incorporating so many jokes, references and styles that it’s almost hard to keep up. This level of variation keeps the show so entertaining and refreshing that you just have to go home and listen to the recording again (and again and again) until you’re word perfect. Favourites include the gospel inspired We See The Light and the tap-dance battle between Shakespeare and Nick Bottom (sounds ridiculous, but trust me it’s incredible) during Bottom’s Gonna Be On Top.

As if the show needed anything more, the costumes and staging are also incredible. This seems to be something typical of Broadway shows (well, based on the three I have now seen) even more so than West End theatre. The budget for these shows is clearly huge, and this shines through in the design. Set pieces appear and disappear almost out of nowhere to create a whole host of different locations. Gregg Barnes’ Renaissance inspired costume design never fails to delight, from large flowing dresses right the way through to huge egg costumes complete with fabric yolk which flies out when the actors’ heads pop out the top.

I really couldn’t have asked for a better first Broadway experience. I almost feel as if seeing Something Rotten! has reignited my love for musicals, and demonstrated that it can still be as exhilarating as the first time I ever step foot inside a theatre.

[5/5]

A Younger Theatre: On the Twentieth Century, Silk Street Theatre – 28/06/2015

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I visited the delightful Silk Street Theatre a couple of weeks ago to see On the Twentieth Century, a performance by final year students at the Guildhall School. While I didn’t love the show, the cast were excellent and the theatre itself was lovely with seats that were actually comfy!

‘On The Twentieth Century is a classic American musical that fits the stereotypical image of a Broadway show perfectly. Set on a 1930s train travelling from Chicago to New York, it follows the story of struggling theatre producer, Oscar and his attempts to bring Hollywood actress, Lily Garland back to the stage. Presented by final year students at the Guildhall School, this production showcases the talent of future stars of the stage, but the show itself is not without its shortcomings.’

Read the full review here.

 

A Younger Theatre: Forever Plaid, St James Studio – 08/04/2016

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The St James theatre is by far one of the loveliest in London, so it was with great pleasure that I visited it a couple of weeks ago to review Forever Plaid for A Younger Theatre. Although the show wasn’t my favourite, it made for a fairly relaxing Friday evening (asides, that is, from the audience participation).

‘The basis of Forever Plaid is so absurdly simple yet incredibly strange that I wouldn’t be surprised if the idea was generated in a primary school classroom. It follows The Plaids, an all male harmony group who are back to give a performance to remember – back, that is, from the dead. Yes, the idea here is that the young group was hit by a bus before a concert they never had the chance to give, and have returned tonight in order to sing to their biggest crowd ever. All this was explained during the first few minutes by an absent voiceover and left me feeling rather dubious about the quality of events to come.’

Read the full review here.

wonder.land, Olivier Theatre – 09/12/2015

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Inspired by Lewis Carroll’s well-loved ‘Alice in Wonderland’ and ‘Alice Through the Looking Glass’, wonder.land is the much anticipated musical child of Damon Albarn, Moira Buffini and Rufus Norris. Premiering in Manchester last June it has transferred to the National for a longer season, and aimed to put wrong the critics who were so underwhelmed by its initial conception earlier this year.

Damon Albarn’s songs are hit and miss; anyone coming to the National hoping for a musical soundtrack in any way reminiscent of Blur or Gorillaz will leave disappointed. Ideally I would namecheck a few that I liked here and a couple that weren’t so good, but as the song list has been omitted from the programme and is nowhere to be seen online I’ll have to settle for some abstract descriptions; the act one opener got things off to a good start, and the final fight song from act two was also impressive. However the rest of Albarn’s tracks stayed firmly in the ordinary, sticking to an unremarkably generic formula that didn’t really get much past mildly enjoyable.

By far the most impressive element of wonder.land is its production. Rufus Norris’ first musical as the new artistic director of the National stands him in good stead for the years to come, and if he can match this with a show better than wonder.land a hit will be on the cards. Rae Smith’s design is stunning, filling the vast stage of the National’s Olivier with huge projections and a whole host of exciting set pieces. Particularly enchanting was the bus made out of metal cages and the huge towers that emerged from the stage during the show’s final scene.

Costume design comes from Katrina Lindsay has a big part to play in creating the illusion of wonder.land. Immensely creative and a joy to witness, discovering what curious costume will adorn a character next is part of what saved the show from being entirely subpar. To describe the costumes would be to spoil the best part of the show, but just look out for the caterpillar and Alice’s shoes in act 1.

In terms of casting wonder.land can’t really be criticised – Carly Bawden was excellent as Alice (although after seeing her in Assassins earlier this year I wasn’t expecting anything less), Paul Hilton was equal parts funny and strangely endearing as Aly’s estranged Father Matt and Lois Chimimba is a future star. The only disappointment was that I really struggled to hear what the cast were singing at some points – perhaps down to where I was sitting, but that’s really no excuse for a theatre like the National not to sort out their sound levels!

Personally, I think the show’s biggest shortcoming was its script. I found a lot of the dialogue really cringey – most glaringly the confrontations between Aly and the school bullies which essentially felt like what a 40 year old thinks teenagers must speak like (in reality it was so unbearably unrealistic that I could hardly contain myself from sniggering). A real shame as the concept behind wonder.land and the execution of the production and casting are all top class. It’s just a shame it’s let down by arguably the two most vital elements in a musical; the music and the text.

Though it won’t be running for years to come, wonder.land is still an enjoyable watch. Go to be amazed by an unimaginable and exciting new world but don’t expect to leave humming the songs for weeks to come.

The Smallest Show On Earth, Mercury Theatre – 05/10/2015

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The Smallest Show On Earth is billed as a new Irving Berlin musical – a statement that becomes quite intriguing when you realise he died in 1989 and the show’s actually based on a film. It’s essentially a jukebox musical, but one that seems to work pretty well as a result of the wide range of songs the creators had to chose from (Berlin wrote around 1,200!) and the enchanting story which unfolds as the Spensers inherit the Bijou cinema. It follows the staff of the aforementioned cinema as they help to relaunch it, dealing with death, debt and drama as they battle it out with the Sloughbrough’s other movie theatre, the Grand.

First things first let’s mention easily the best thing about this show – Laura Pitt-Pulford. She’s a musical theatre force to be reckoned with; her vocals were absolutely sublime every time she was on stage and she captivated the audience with modesty and ease. The rest of The Smallest Show On Earth‘s cast are similarly talented (though somewhat overshadowed by the brilliance of Pitt-Pulford). Christina Bennington gets her chance to shine as Marlene Hardcastle and Ricky Butt is similarly amusing as the repulsive Ethel Hardcastle.

Also commendable about The Smallest Show On Earth is David Woodhead’s superb set and costume design. It’s not surprising to learn that both were done by the same person; the two elements seemed very intertwined and really gave the show a great sense of style. The costumes, in particular, were excellent and it felt has if a lot and care and attention had gone into each individual costume change.

The use of Irving Berlin’s music helped yet further to place the show in its 1950s time period. Big, upbeat numbers like Blue Skies and Shaking The Blues Away were beautifully balanced with more thoughtful pieces like Count Your Blessings Instead of Sheep. I’m usually quite firmly against the jukebox musical but this really seemed to work and didn’t feel like it sacrificed any of the story in order to shoehorn in some songs. At times some of the music didn’t really feel like it had much relevance to the plot, but as it was so well written I think I’ll let it off.

Some other aspects of the show did seem to be more of a mixed bag. At times I felt my lazy teenage brain drifting off and feeling ever-so-slightly bored during the less exciting parts of the show (basically any time Laura Pitt-Pulford wasn’t on stage). Similarly, Lee Proud’s choreography had moments of brilliance (most notably in Steppin’ Out With My Baby) mixed in with some slightly dodgy movements that made me cringe at watching them being performed in front of an audience.

An enjoyable way to spend a couple of hours, but it’s not anything particularly life-changing. Go for a feel-good show with a decent plot and some pleasant songs (and to witness the brilliance of Laura Pitt-Pulford).

The Smallest Show On Earth plays the Mercury Theatre until 10th October before touring the UK. 

London Theatre Direct: Five Lessons We Can Learn From Matilda The Musical

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Last Tuesday I had the great pleasure of revisiting Matilda – a show I hold in very high regard – it’s the perfect mix of keeping kids entertained whilst still being genuinely funny for adults and a really technically impressive show. The first time I saw Matilda it was my last day of secondary school (aka the happiest day of my life), so I always worried that my judgement of it was swayed by the extremely good mood I was in, but after revisiting on a completely average day I’m pleased to report it really is brilliant!

‘I returned to the Cambridge Theatre on Tuesday to revisit one of my favourite shows on the West End: Matilda The Musical. After seeing it last May I have been hooked on the cast recording and it totally lived up to the high expectations I had now got for it on the second viewing. Adding to the excitement was the fact that majority of the cast were having their first performance – all were excellent and had we not been told I’m sure people would have been none the wiser! I think Matilda can teach us a lot, so here’s the five things I learnt whilst at Crunchem Hall on Tuesday night!’

Read the full review here.

Kinky Boots, Adelphi Theatre – 21/08/2015

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It seems like forever ago I excitedly woke up at 8am to buy tickets for the first preview of Broadway smash-hit Kinky Boots, so I could hardly believe it when the day finally came to watch the show I had been in love with for so long. As I am about to get into it I feel obliged to mention this is a review of a PREVIEW – there’s been a lot of drama going on at the moment about reviewing shows that haven’t officially opened and I don’t want to get accused of anything so please do bear in mind that things about the show will probably change, and I didn’t get to see a finished product. But as I’m going to tell you it’s the best show I’ve ever seen and recommend you all rush out and buy a ticket immediately, I didn’t think anyone would have tooooo much of a problem with me posting this!

Following the story of struggling Northampton shoe factory Price and Son whose fortunes are turned around when they start manufacturing high heeled boots for men, Kinky Boots is about as camp as they come with glitter, drag queens and sass in abundance. But at its heart it is an inspiring, uplifting tale of staying true to yourself and accepting others for who they are (and who doesn’t love that!?). There was an incredible atmosphere – everyone there seemed to be as excited as I was and had obviously prepared to come and see this first preview as they were prior fans of the show. I got chatting to the guy in the upper circle merchandise booth who had seen the dress rehearsal of the show and assured me that it was exactly as amazing as I had hoped which only helped to amp up the excitement levels further!

Cyndi Lauper’s score is honestly one of the most catchy and exciting I have heard for a long time. I remember first listening to the show and then being hooked on it for weeks – there are just so many brilliant pop-inspired tracks that you can’t help but have in your head for days. My favourite has to be Everybody Say Yeah which is the song that really made me love the show in the first place after seeing this Tony awards performance – Jerry Mitchell’s choreography is absolutely outstanding and almost defies belief. The use of conveyor belts in the factory is so fun and must take a lot of concentration to get right, but the cast made it look easy. I also love Raise You Up/Just Be, an uplifting closer that I couldn’t resist singing and dancing along to!

Kinky Boots’ cast was also incredible with everyone involved playing an important part. Killian Donnely was fab as Charlie, really shining during Soul Of A Man. I also loved Amy Lennox who played Lauren – her History Of Wrong Guys was absolutely hilarious whilst also showing off her impressive vocals. But the real star of the show is undoubtedly Matt Henry. Billy Porter’s Broadway portrayal of the role is surely a lot to live up to but Henry will certainly be giving him a run for his money – a total triple threat proved by the minutes of applause given after emotional climax Hold Me In Your Heart.

I absolutely loved Kinky Boots and can’t recommend that you go and see it enough. It’s one giant, fabulous party and it’s here to stay!

Kinky Boots is now playing at the Adelphi Theatre.

[5/5]