The successful Broadway musical HAIRSPRAY — with music by Marc Shaiman, the lyrics of Scott Wittman and Marc Shaiman, and book by Mark O’Donnell and Thomas Meehan — came to the Magna Carta Arts Centre this week.
It was presented by The Performance Academy. The dance school that was established more than 35 years ago as the Lynne Davis dance school. In 2001, Lynne’s daughter, Annelly [James] took over the school and it became officially known as “The Performance Academy.” The show was directed by the talented local actor TJ Lloyd with lighting by Andy James, sound by Dave Gates and stage management by Nigel Martin.
We saw the show at the exceptional Magna Carta theater on Thursday.
The story follows the curvy teenager Tracy Turnblad’s dream to dance on The Corny Collins Show, and is based on the true history of the “Buddy Deane Show” broadcast by WJZ-TV Baltimore, and taken off-air mid-season due to problems relating to integrating black and white dancers. The theatrical show addresses issues of size and racism, as well as focusing on the love-life of adolescents and living in the big city in the 1960s.
Liezel Abrahams played the upbeat, pollyannaish principal female Tracey with style and gusto. The drag-role of mother Edna was played by George Hedges in the show we saw, and we thought George perfectly captured the part’s self-effacing and diffident nature. Callum Reynolds as the optimistic joke-store Dad/Husband was also noteworthy.
With an ensemble of more than forty talented showsters, often all on stage at the same time, this presentation was a hugely exciting event from start to finish. The cast handled the numbers with aplomb, style and spirit.
Villainess Velma (played by Neve Crossley) and daughter Amber (played by the Cilla-esque Fay Etson on Thursday) had some of the most ambitious songs to perform … but they pulled them off successfully. Aaron Hutton — wearing his Dad’s drapes & drainpipes as Corny Collins and Daniel Hann (Link Larkin) played the dapper male heart-throbs.
Worthy of special mention were: the the mega-talented and much-in-demand Helen Roper (who played by Penny Pingleton in the show we saw on Thursday with dynamic and zippy energy.) We were also captivated by the prepossessing Kola-Olukotan girls: Aliyyah (Motormouth) Ameerah (a member of the singing group “The Dynamites” alongside Leah Warmington and Katerina Saragoudas) and little dancer Aishah (ensemble).
The show was full of impressive drama, extravagant costumes, enthusiastic dances and sincere vocal performances.
The Magna Carta Hairspray Show was exhilarating from start to finish with enthusiastic support from all … and let’s not forget: You can’t stop the beat once it starts!
Tickets are still available for Hairspray The Broadway Musical at the Magna Carta Arts Centre Friday 22nd and Saturday 23rd February (inc matinée on Sat.)
SCHOOL OF ROCK is a rock musical with music by Andrew Lloyd Webber, lyrics by Glenn Slater and a book by Julian Fellowes, based on the 2003 musical comedy film released by Paramount and starring Jack Black and Joan Cusack.
This week we went to see the excellent production of the musical by The Performing and Visual Arts Faculty at the Magna Carta School, at Thorpe Road Staines, directed by Danny Gwynne, with Helen Claringbull’s musical direction and choreography by Riannon Stygal.
The musical follows the adventures of Dewey Finn, a jobless rock singer and guitarist who claims to be a substitute teacher at a prestigious high school.
After identifying the musical talent in his students, Dewey forms a band of fifth-grade students, in an attempt to win the next Battle of the Bands contest and “stick it” to his ex bandmates.
The musical at Magna Carta began with a hilarious performance by the band “No Vacancy” who are about to shelve their guitarist, Dewey, because he keeps upstaging the lead singer.
After the show we first meet Ned Schneebly, and his dominant wife/girlfriend Patty Di Marco at their pad. This is where Dewey crashes, rent-free. Patty wants Dewey out, but he receives a call from the private school at Horace Green who wants to hire Ned as a substitute teacher (“a temp?”) and Dewey sees there is a possibility of making some bucks (to pay his dues) so he plans to impersonate his friend and take “the gig.”
At Horace Green we first meet with the slightly testy Rosalie Mullins.
She sings the school anthem “Here at Horace Green” and we find she’s fussy about behaviour, competitiveness and quality.
In comes the disreputable Dewey character (pretending to be Mr. Schneebly) “Just call me Mister S...” He is not only doubtful but also lazy. “Got anything to eat?” he asks one kid. “Got any money? Go to Subway and get me something,” he yells.
Soon after this, though, he hears the kids playing in the school orchestra, and their relationship develops: the deficient teacher and the too-good-to-be-true, goodie-two-shoed, teacher’s-pets. He gets them to “Stick it to the Man” (Miss Mullins is the man… Donald Trump is the man...”) and they teach him determination and resilience.
One of the best scenes in the Magna Carta production was when Dewey discovers that Miss Mullins is a secret fan of Stevie Nicks and takes her to a coffee shop where she confesses (over beer) that she is a nightmare… and that’s why nobody likes her. This scene gives us the first inkling there’s electricity between them. A frisson that came over well in this great show.
Poppy Williams who played Tomika (vocals) was the definition of proficiency. Her soul-filled voice filled the auditorium and was worth waiting for.
Lanky Alistair Scott (Zack, the guitarist) was also perfect on the night, uptight, tense & nervy, that is until he “stuck it to the man” (in this case, his Dad) and liberated himself through rock music. A great performance.
Amy Young (Katie on bass) was perhaps not so studiously inclined as her character in the movie, the Magna Carta version of the character was zesty and more polished. We liked this version a lot…
Daisy Lee and Sali Adams (Shonelle and Marcy) were exemplary, as was UmarAunghareeta (playing Lawrence on keys) and Sammy Austin (playing Freddie on drums.) But perhaps more could have been done with Dylan Oak’s character (Billy the stylist) and Ella Clark (Summer, the manager.) Both were great actors but their roles were underutilized (in our opinion) — but these are minor quibbles.
Great acclaim should go to the children who played the parts of the parents of students.
Each one played a superior and memorable cameo role.
And the ensemble and the orchestra was just fantabulisticcal!
Of course, the stand-out performance of the night was from Dewey Finn, played by Sebastian Hobden. He owned the stage — left, right and centre — our only comment being: “I wish he’d calm down and settle.” Jack Black was unflustered in this role, a calm influence on the kids and his half-asleep attitude and laid-back kinda style was commanding. But Sebastian opted to interpret the character entirely differently — as a spring-heeled cat on a hot-tin roof, with uncontrolled levels of untapped ever-fermenting energy. At times we just wanted him to be tackled to the ground by the crew. God love him! You couldn’t fault his earnestness.
The most notable performance was that of Katie Mack, who played Miss Mullins. She didn’t put a foot nor finger wrong. She sang with controlled emotion, spoke with excellent articulation and gave a very credible portrayal of the dispassionate and distant school principal who has an (invisible) heart of the liquid honey.
Big thanks must also go to the TMCS PVA Faculty, the entire production team (especially Lily Warnes for her excellent stage management) and the hairdressing and makeup teams, as well as everyone who made this show such a magical success.
Concorde Productions presents Little Shop of Horrors
This week we went to see the rock musical Little Shop of Horrors [music by Alan Menken] at the excellent Magna Carta Arts Centre in Egham put on by Concorde Productions, directed by Craig Howard.
Most people are familiar with the 1986 movie and recall Rick Moranis as Seymour and Steve Martin as the dentist. In fact, the film directed by Frank Oz features an assortment of recognizable faces.
This famous musical has lived an inverted existence… the story first came to the public as a cult film ( in 1960, with Jack Nicholson.)
This was later envisioned as an off-Broadway stage musical in 1982 and had a five-year run, with shows in London’s West End in 1983, then the big production movie in 1986 before finally moving to Broadway production.
The story is about a pitiful florist shop worker who fancies his glamorous but trashy co-worker, and raises a plant that feeds on blood and human flesh. The plant grows during the show and and although it resembles a classic “window-sill plant” cultivated by amateurs — a cross between a Venus flytrap and one of those avocados you try to grow from the stone — it eventually becomes a monster that dominates the entire stage.
The story begins in Mushnik’s Flower Shop in Skid Row where the audience is introduced to the miserly and miserable old shopkeeper (played convincingly by John Wesson.) The glamorous blond bombshell shop assistant Audrey (played by Georgie Glover) arrives late and with an injury on her face (it later becomes clear that the shiner was given to her by boyfriend Orin, the sadistic dentist played by Billy Reynolds.)
The hero of the story, Seymour (played by a lanky Christopher Blackmore who seems very Brad Majorish in this production) appears from the back-room where he’s been raising a little plant he discovered. It’s a surprisingly odd looking thing so Audrey invites Mushnik to put it into the shop window to draw-in custom. The moment they do, a woman comes in to enquire about the odd looking plant and, while there, places a huge order.
So the plant, baptized by Seymour as Audrey II [ voiced by Trevor Begley and with puppeteering by Shaun Lati] becomes a permanent feature in the window and its not long before it starts to bring good fortune to the store, and in particular to Seymour.
But, like a malicious genie, the talking plant soon starts to demand a price for the wishes it grants. And, because it’s a carnivore, the price is blood. To begin with, occasionally, its a drop from Seymour’s fingertip. But soon the cultivar gets more demanding and that’s when things get horrific.
This was an excellent production with great staging and superior music. We loved the Phil Spector-style Peppermint Lounge singing group comprising of Ronette (Helen Tang-Grosso) Crystal (Julie Antoniou) and Chiffon (Cate Baines) and who drive the story and act as semi-narrative detractors. The dance (choreography by Honor Lily Redman) was spot on. And their inflections clearly accentuated.
Georgie Glover played the bimbo with a heart and she was perfect. She never let us down, although the moving aria, Somewhere That’s Green could have been given more prominence.
But our favourite song from the show, the duet Suddenly, Seymour, was perfectly rendered.
The music is largely rock and roll and doo-wop and seemed to be far more Jewish-sounding at Magna Carta than I recall, making Mushnik a recognisable Fagin character. The voice of Audrey II and the puppet-work was impeccable. The only truly amateurish scene was the final song, where the cast return with petals around their faces and was perhaps supposed to be a whimsical mockery of music-hall troupes, but actually looked pretty lame.
There are several sub-texts lurking under the fundamental premise. One is the proposal that fame and fortune always costs. Sometimes the cost can be dear.
Another subtext is that when a man grows something its not so easy to control that thing and the thing can’t easily be pushed back into its container.
The story is also judgemental about the haves and the have-nots (although I couldn’t help thinking that if the musical was set in May’s Britain neither Seymour nor Audrey would still be employed by Mushnik or they would be signed to zero hours contracts.)
The other vituperative attack is on domestic violence and how, often, it’s the female partner who thinks she’s somehow “to blame” and finds it difficult to escape the brutality.
This was an exemplary spectacle, a fun evening, and a slick show. It had just the right amount of tongue-in-cheek humour and some excellent song and dance. Wonderful.
Formerly known as The Concorde Players the friendly amateur dramatics group called Concorde Productions was initially for friends and colleagues of British Airways. Following the closure of the Concorde Centre in Heston, they have now moved home to the Magna Carta Arts Centre in Staines-upon-Thames, Surrey for their productions.
It’s Lent so we decided to get “churched up” this week.
We headed to the excellent Wilde Theatre, at South Hill Park to see the Eagle House [ School in Sandhurst] present their GODSPELL.
The 1971 show with music by Grammy award winningStephen Schwartz [Enchanted ] and a loose script based on the Gospel of Saint Matthew ( originally re-envisioned by playwright John-Michael Tebelak) is a popular show for touring companies and has enjoyed many revivals.
The structure of the musical is a series of parables interspersed by rock arias that have been inspired by the Book of Psalms.
The original London production starred characters like Julie Covington, David Essex, Jeremy Irons and Marti Webb. We were fortunate enough to have seen the original West End Wyndhams production back in 1972. But we love to see new productions and were excited to see the Eagle House show.
In the Seventies the stage show was a fluid and conceptual performance. It borrowed elements from dance, music and circus to tell the story of “Christ’s Passion”.
In the early days of the stage-show the figure of Christ was dressed as a clown. His “tribe” were portrayed as a group of irresponsible, long-haired hippies.
Now the hippie clothing is gone, because today’s youth movements tend to be associated more with athletic trainers and sportswear. The younger elements of the Eagle House Godspell Team wore printed t-shirts with the hash-tagged “Godspell logo” while main cast members wore distinctive tartans.
The magnificent Wilde Theatre is perfect for this kind of innovative, unpretentious presentation. At Godspell the audience was seated on all four sides of the staging.
After the exultant sound of a brass shofar the audience and cast “Prepared” for the “Way of the Lord”. This first song was an exceptionally compelling and enthusiastic number, sung by the whole cast [all five teams] who circled the newly baptised Christ in a spiritual state. Followers were given rubber wristbands to show their affiliation and discipleship.
A characteristic of the earliest shows, and all theatrical productions since, has been topicality.
Once we saw Godspell during the period known as the Three-Day Week, this was in the “power-cut Seventies” and the big joke was that it didn’t matter how dark things got because the audience was “The light of the World.”
Similarly, during the storytelling from Eagle House we had mentions of Facebook, Premier Inn, Justin Bieber and Fake News.
And of course the big, rich baddie (before “All for the Best” ) was Donald Trump.
Ben Trunck, perhaps shorter in stature than we expected, played a fascinating Jesus character — full of vivid personality. While Mark Dickin interpreted Judas skulking presence perfectly.
Each year group of Eagle House wanted to stage their own parable and musical number — so this meant the show was a wonderful consolidation of excellent sketches — each interconnected with the next.
The overall experience, from the perspective of the audience, was a feeling of “loving community” that encompassed everything.
“Day By Day” always was — and still is — the most memorable song from the show and in Basingstoke the number was handled intelligently and with sympathy.
“All Good Gifts” was brilliantly choreographed and elegantly efficient. Also, at one point, after “Save the People” we had an army of scary zombies grabbing at souls…
There was humour, movement, excitement and tenderness throughout the show — with great dramatic use of simple objects, like the coloured blocks.
Our favourite song was “On The Willows” — it came after the Last Supper scene. Psalm 137 — from which the song is taken — has been set to music by several composers over the years and the lament found in Godspell is possibly the best of all of them. The Eagle House vocalists performed the difficult harmonies with distinction.
This was an excellent production.
All 128 cast members [ages 9 to 13] should be congratulated, as well as their staff at Eagle House and the committed parents who made it all possible.
Its the 25th anniversary tour of Shakespeare’s only rock ‘n’ roll musical.
For Those that did not strap themselves into their seat-belts on the UPC Albatross last time around – this is a chance to take to the stars – we urge you not to miss this one!
For Those Who are about to Undertake a maiden voyage on the Albatross we need to go through some pre-flight safety preliminaries:
The dialogue is Shakespearean. Yes you will need to pay attention
The story is loosely based on the Tempest
Moreover, the basis is also the 1956 film Forbidden Planet with Leslie Nielsen
The actors play all the instruments, they fly the ship and they move the story-line along
This is a jukebox musical so be warned (if you do not like this sort of thing)- but if you’re curious, let me add that this musical is like nothing else you have seen before!
The music is soulful rock ‘n’ roll – numbers like “Heard It Through the Grapevine”, “Young Girl”, “Good Vibrations” and GLORIA. You’ll be singing along – and the songs will stay sentinmentally locked secure in your cerebellum for days afterwards.
The cast are magnificent – so much energy and talent! And there are a lot of surprises (we will not spoil the show) – so you will feel entertained through the show and even before and after the curtain!
Slightly disappointing on this tour:
Seasoned voyagers might be disappointed with Ariel on this production. When we saw him he was not even remotely ‘electrical’
The actor playing the part didn’t roll about. Was this due to Health and Safety restrictions? Or it was it because he was an under-study?
The monster (no other spoiler here) is not as aggressive this time around. Just saying!
The George Goehring, Sylvia Dee song “Robot Man”
Cookie’s guitar solo in particular “Smells Like Teen Spirit”
The juggling microphone – there is only one mike to ‘go around’ so there are many comic moments, while the actors do their best to ‘get back the microphone.’
The Return to the Forbidden Planet is On at New Wimbledon Theatre23-28 March
Carnaby Street is a new musical, set against the backdrop of London’s Soho in the Swinging Sixties. It reveals some of the goings on at the famous Marquee club, the trendy fashions seen around the district of Soho, and some of the quirky characters of the time. This was a period of hope and freedom. When the world was changing at an astonishing rate and everything seemed possible.
Produced by Carl Leighton-Pope (and based upon his own experiences working in The Marquee club as a cloakroom assistant in 1964 ) it was directed by Bob Tomson (Blood Brothers, Dreamboats and Petticoats) and designed by Matthew Wright (Evita, La Cage aux Folles.)
Carnaby Street tells the story of Jude, a working class lad from Liverpool, and Penny (his on-off girlfriend).
The central premise of this jukebox musical is that these two young dreamers headed to London to find their fame and fortune. One day in an unknown year – 1964 is suggested – the kids arrive at the London street that was already famous worldwide as the focal point of the fashion and music scene in the Sixties – Carnaby Street.
Soon they meet up with Jack – a street -wise cockney recruiter who also acts as the show narrator. He quickly introduces the newcomers to Lily – a fashion store manager and society fixer. Through this meeting, Jude is able to connect with the rich and debauched socialite play-girl Lady Jane. And it’s not long before she invites him back to her place for some no-strings sex.
Meanwhile the C-ST band, a bunch of musicians fronted by a wild-man hairy ‘rocker‘ known as ‘T‘ is looking for a new guitarist. Jude auditions for the band, and soon becomes the group’s main attraction. Jack tries to organize a recording contract for the band with the sinister record label boss Sir Arnold Layne. His attempts fail, but socialite Jane agrees to ‘sell‘ herself to Layne, in order to clinch the deal. Layne agrees to sign the band in exchange for more sex with Jane .
The band is an unexpected runaway success. But ‘Wild Thing’ band-leader ‘T’ – who is already a drinker – starts to transform into a drug addict. He becomes unreliable and a liability. Jude is convinced by Layne to let him go. Soon a tour of America is planned – but only Jude ( with band manager Jack) will go on the trip.
Before departing for the the States, Lady Jane attempts to meet Jude to give him some urgent news. But when Jane and Penny see him off at the airport, they find that the new ‘celebrity’ has become conceited and arrogant towards them. Success has gone to his head. Jane never has the chance to pass on the important information.
Like of all these types of musicals – the show is only as good as its numbers. The good news is that Carnaby Street has a huge pile of songs to choose from. The bad news is that most of the songs that I remember most fondly (from that period) are missing.
And this is a big problem. I would have expected one or two Beatles songs in a show about the Swinging Sixties. But “Money (That’s What I Want)” and “Roll Over Beethoven” are only representative of the Beatles output. Significantly, they were not Beatles originals. This seems a bit absurd . Even the cast agrees that “The Beatles [had] five singles in the top ten this week.” But they don’t explain why they cannot sing any of them.
And even if I could overlook the lack of Beatles songs, I could not overlook the lack of ‘Rolling Stones’ numbers or ‘Who’ hits. American R&B numbers were missing too. The only ones to get into the show were the ones that had been covered by ‘British Invasion’ bands. ( For example “Do You Love Me” the Contours smash hit – was covered by the Tremeloes, the Dave Clark Five and The Hollies.) But there are no ‘Supremes‘ songs in the show. No Baby Love? How can that be? And a Sixties show without Elvis is unthinkable. How can this show properly represent the Sixties if there is no Elvis?
(And , by the way, “Arnold Layne“ was a real character and he could have been a wonderfully eccentric personality to develop. Moreover, there are no Pink Floyd songs in the show either.)
The magical time machine that is used by ‘Musical Theatre’ when it creates these kind of shows must have been playing up when they created the script for this. The audience is vaguely informed that Jude meets Lady Jane in 1964. And that would seem to fit in with the invention of the mini-skirt. By Mary Quant in that same year. But when Jane sees Jude off at the airport – about one year had elapsed. So “Mustang Sally” (from 1965) makes sense – but “Son of a Preacher Man” (from 1968) and the biker anthem “Born to Be Wild” (also from 1968) does not.
I suppose it’s fitting that the cast can ‘Look Back‘ to music that was created before the Sixties – so jukebox classics “Poison Ivy” and “Summertime Blues” – which were formidable hits in their day – could be fairly recollected by the characters. My only problem with this is that these two numbers are from the Fifties. And we do not exactly have a shortage of material from the Sixties to choose from. So why have two 1950’s songs in the show at all?
Often the plot in this kind of show is just a mechanism for introducing the next song. When devices are clumsy – and the audience can see the light of day between the beams – some of the magic is lost. The numbers were introduced quite efficiently in this show though ( I’ve seen a lot worse – in ‘We Will Rock You‘ for example.) And at least the audience could build up some sympathy for a few of the characters. This is despite the nagging feeling that some of the characters were hastily drawn.
Particularly galling was the cartoon transvestism portrayed by Lily the Pink. (And no, the 1968 Scaffold song was not in the show either – in case you ask. ) Apparently Lily is the only character in the street to have half a sense of style. Luckily, Lily is played with extreme passion and theatrical razzmatazz by the super talented Paul Hazel. He, single-handedly, raises this show from the doldrums with his over-the-top performances, colourful frocks and smooth, juicy vocals.
One of the things that I most liked about this musical was that the cast members could just pick up their instruments and play. Most of the characters did so, but special mention must go to Phoebe (Katia Sartini on alto sax) Debs (Rachel Nottingham on baritone sax) and Alicia (Jill Cardo on trumpet) who were all excellent. The horn/sax sounds really added an extra-lustrous texture and a sleazy fullness to the output.
But overall, the show was a disappointment. The acting was crusty. The set was uninteresting. The dialogue (especially those jokes from ‘Al’ the newspaper vendor) were often cringe-worthy. The vocal performances were sometimes weak ( Arnold’s rendition of The Trogg’s song “I Can’t Control Myself” was insipid.) And sometimes the acoustics played up : All of the songs performed by Mark Pierce (as ‘T’ ) sounded bass-heavy and heavily distorted. The song choices were not great. And the plot was not memorable . The slogan for the Carnaby Street Musical is “All you needed was a dream … and a guitar.” And maybe you should be sure of this sub-text before you approach this show. Only superficial people see life in this simplistic way. The Sixties were no different to any other period in our social history. Life was, of course, full of complications, emotions and anxieties. And things were never as easy as they seemed. In fact, the guitar was just another key to a whole new world of problems, frustrations and further entanglements. Never a solution in itself. The Wild Thing character ‘T‘ realized this early on. And so he tried to distance himself from it. Ultimately, it took him too.
I still love Carnaby Street. (The place.) Once a year I go to Soho and spend a day there. Just relaxing – letting the memories flood back. When my wife went to Carnaby Street – as a girl in 1968 – she bought one of those street sign plaques that almost everyone had – in those days – above their bed. It is still a treasured possession. Everybody wanted to be a part of the scene. They all wanted a slice of Carnaby Street. To take home. Carnaby Street was almost a sacred place. And it entered our hearts and became an essential part of our national identity.
Perhaps this musical is missing a trick. It never manages to connect with this deep-felt emotion. It doesn’t live up to the glamour and magic of the place. And it doesn’t jog your memory as much as it should do.
As a jukebox musical it is not bad. But there are better out there.
Bob Fosse’s original musical ‘Sweet Charity’ opened in 1966 but you will be more familiar with the 1969 movie version starring Shirley MacLaine. Based on Fellini’s ‘Nights of Cabiria’ and a book by Neil Simon, with music by jazzman Cy Coleman and lyrics by Dorothy Fields. It was a successful show in the late sixties. I went to see the 2010 West End revival playing at the Theatre Royal, Haymarket and starring Tamzin Outhwaite in the lead role. We are introduced to Charity Hope Valentine as she meets her new boyfriend, Charlie in New York’s Central Park – Charlie then steals her handbag and pushes her into the lake – starting off the string of events that leads to Charity failing, in ever more desperate ways, to achieve escape from her demeaning existence and find her idea of heaven … her ‘little white picket fences’.
The story is about the life of misery and disappointment that a girl has to bear. Charity is a taxi dancer at a Times Square dance-hall. Surprisingly, the ‘working girls’ like Charity in this story are more often than not optimistic, full of aspiration and expectation. Their hopes are so frequently and cruelly dashed upon the painful rocks of a life – that you would expect them to be cynical harpies full of hate for all men. But they seem totally unaffected by their futility – shaped for them by the total and abysmal failure of all the men that they meet to be honorable and trustworthy. Men are always exposed as liars, cheaters, thieves, charlatans or selfish oafs. Men are pigs at the trough. And women are the feed.
You will recognise “Big Spender” the Shirley Bassey hit directly the opening notes blast out. This is the big show number that introduces the ‘taxi dancer’ girls at the “Fandango Ballroom” where Charity works for a pittance. You know the song, ‘The minute you walked in the joint, (boom boom) I could see you were a man of distinction, a real Big Spender’. Although these “dime-a-dance” girls are genuinely one step up from the hookers described in Fellini’s film, it is not difficult to assume that girls who offer the patrons hotter and more sensual dances, for their ten cents, get to fill their dance cards quicker and get to choose their dance partners. So the competition amongst the girls is to go the extra distance to grab themselves a good punter. They don’t pop their corks for every man they see !
Charity meets some ‘big spender’ Vittorio Vidal- who uses and abuses her. She meets shy Oscar Lindquist in a lift liaison (after a daft romp and a frustrating wardrobe scene with the big spender) and this relationship also ends disappointingly. She goes to The Rhythm of Life church under the bridge, where her life is not changed or altered in any way by the charismatic black preacher… so that’s another waste of time and effort. The story is just about the grinding futility of her existence and the relentless search for a man- it doesn’t matter whether the man is good – or bad even – Charity is happy as long as a man (any man) is willing to spend a night with her, because he just might be her ticket out of this place. She runs her heart like some kind of cheap hotel for no-goods and rogues … she has “always got people checking in and checking out”.
The jazz and show tunes are great fun, but for most part, forgettable. The dance is hot and energetic. Tamzin was full of energy and fun and perfectly interpreted the two sides of the nature of Charity – the girly side, crushed, needy and mundane, and the get-up-and-dance side … the resilient business-woman who makes things work. The other female characters were portrayed in a similar way by the cast- some more severely cynical, others smarter, but they were all in the same boat. They were all used and abused.
The standout number in this show seems, to me anyway, to be set in entirely the wrong musical. The “Rhythm Of Life” song is introduced to us by Daddy Johann Sebastian Brubeck and Daddy’s All-Girl Rhythm Choir- and ought to be in the musical ‘Hair’ not in ‘Sweet Charity’. Even if you know this song (because it’s in your head for years after the first hearing) you will be surprised to find here. Sammy Davis, Jr. had a reasonable hit with this number back in 1968, and you will be humming it after the show, I guarantee it. “The rhythm of life is a powerful beat, Puts a tingle in your fingers and a tingle in your feet, Rhythm in your bedroom, rhythm in the street … Yes, the rhythm of life is a powerful beat.”
Ultimately, though, this show is built on disappointment and futility. Charity and Hope are the two virtues missing from this bleak world. And without hope and success, the show ends, in my view anyway, on a sour note – and leaves a hollow feeling in the heart. The companion songs to the two big numbers are not strong, and the farcical situations are sometimes tedious, if not frustrating, for the audience. The Theatre Royal was not half full on the night I saw the show, but the tickets started at £10.
If you like big song and dance shows, maybe you should try something else. But if you are curious about why this musical has been successful since the sixties – and you enjoyed the film – you could give it a try. Just don’t spend too much on tickets – unless you are some kind of a Big Spender!
It was a perfect spring afternoon in London when I went to see this new Diane Paulus production of the iconic swinging sixties musical “Hair” starring American 2009 Tony Award ® winning actor Will Swenson (Berger) along with Tony ® nominated actor Gavin Creel (Claude). I spent the afternoon in a pleasant amble around in Soho – browsing in Carnaby Street – before going to the Gielgud Theatre and revisiting my misspent youth. It brought back some kind memories for me. I was one of the hated ‘tribe’ of hippies. I remember my Dad telling me not to go out in the street wearing my love beads around my neck because they made me “look like a proper poof” (his words). Ah the sixties! This musical takes me back. I also remember when I finally cut my hair (like the character Claude has to do) and the look of sadness upon my father’s face when he realized that the free and innocent creature he had once loved was gone forever. It is an irony of the age that men and women like my Dad fought in the Second World War for freedom and for love yet looked on in despair when the fruits of that hard won freedom was a generation that was actually acting ‘freely’ – protesting against the ‘rules’ of a regimented society (in a gentle non-confrontational way) and seeking approval for their mantras of love, peace and harmony and the ‘abandonment’ of the materialistic world
There have been several attempts to reincarnate this rock musical – most fail – but this is, I believe, the right time to re-watch those hippies and what they represented and to sit back and enjoy the show. Although I was familiar with the musical, I was still surprised at how everything seemed to be so relevant. Subjects stand out like anti-war, pro-drugs, the results of ‘guilt free love’ and racial harmony and all have currency today. It is worth remembering how important and innovative this show was originally, with black and white actors on stage at the same time – sharing equal billing -long before anyone could imagine a man like Barack Obama would be living in the WHITEhouse. Eventually, skin-heads, punks and a New Wave of working class culture killed off the ‘middle class’ hippies (contrary to popular myth they were not all exterminated at the Altamont Free Concert of 1969.) And this musical was lost along-the-way, lost in the same way as our ideals for peace and love and our cheese-cloth shirts, cow-bells and Afghan coats. But the legacy of the Hippie culture still lives on and is found in environmental consciousness, whole food shops, music festivals, new age travellers, sexual liberation and tolerance, LGBT communities, ‘world’ music, and even the journey into cyberspace.
Claude, and his mate Berger, like all their friends of the tribe, struggle to balance the ideals of love, peace and harmony against a backdrop of the Vietnam war and those conservative middle-class parents (like my Dad) who think that the kids should have a wash, grab a haircut, land a job and just bloody well conform. The story is based around the decision that Claude faces – should he cut off his hair and go to Nam or should he dodge the draft and burn his papers? The consequences of both choices may well result in the ruining of his life (he may face a prison sentence for burning his papers – but at least he would be alive and unwounded. ) The tribe doesn’t have much but they do have each other and they have got their shared love. So they make love not war. And they ask us to give peace a chance.
“I got my feet
I got my toes
I got my liver
Got my blood”
The music by Canadian composer, Galt MacDermot – the Bantu beats and the funky rock n roll tunes, don’t necessarily conjure up memories of Sixties hippy music. For me, then, my music of choice was Jefferson Airplane, but I also liked the Jimi Hendrix Experience and Bob Dylan. In the musical there is no psychedelic rock or hard blues – though the cast talk about it plenty. (Though there was a nod to Jimi’s Star Spangled Banner.) Even critics at the time thought that the show music did not accurately reflect the counter-culture of rock. But the music of Hair is firmly in the tradition of big belting
show-tunes and musical barn-storming stompers. And the songs are good. “Aquarius” still makes my hair stand on end – and “Let the Sunshine In” [ a hit single for 5th Dimension] is still as gob-smackingly beautiful as ever. Other stand out songs are the Blur-ish ditty “Manchester, England, England” sung by Claude and the blaxploitation songs of Dionne (Sasha Allen) black boys / white boys (“ white boys are so pretty… ”)
In “The Trip” scene Buddhist monks, Catholic Nuns, Red Indians, Viet soldiers and even astronauts get involved in the slaughter of the innocent. It was no surprise to find that director Diane Paulus has also worked on dramatic operas like ‘Turandot’ because this scene and the ‘Eyes Look Your Last’ were visually stunning as well as emotionally moving musical masterpieces. Thanks must also be given to Karole Armitage for the breathtaking choreography.
Certainly, looking back, hippies were full of sh ** – gathering bits of religion along the way, with astrology and mysticism often as an excuse for sexual abandon, drug use and general laziness. Amongst the freedoms enjoyed during the Summer of Love was the freedom of nudity – and Hair still contains elements of this, but it now seems more artistic and almost twee against our modern ‘porn flick’ sensitivity. Previous Hair nudists have included (in no particular order) Paul Nicholas, Richard O’Brien, Elaine Paige and Tim Curry. Meat Loaf, Curved Air’s Sonja Kristina and even Donna Summer and Liz Mitchell (of Boney M) in a German production. The full-frontal nudity in the 2010 version is neatly and appropriately performed, swathed in gentle warm light – just before the interval – just seconds long. If you are thinking of going to see the show just ‘for an
eyeful’ then think again- the nudity is – shall we say – tame, by modern standards.
I recommend this production for a loving, warm and passionate evening of pure entertainment. Like the posters say, “Feel The Love” …
Let it fly in the breeze and get caught in the trees …. Hair!
I have to admit I have been a regular Frankie fan for over 30 years but I must say that this production of the cult Rocky Horror Show is one of the best I have seen.
Starring David Bedella as Frank ‘N’ Furter who, in my humble opinion, is the best Frank since, well since Tim Curry – this touring production is essentially the same show as the 2007/8 show but with a few tweaks and tassels here-and-there.
In this show we have Haley Flaherty as Janet (she recently toured in Mama Mia!) instead of Suzanne Shaw (from Hear’Say) … and if I am honest I think that Haley does a better job playing Janet – who has to transform from uptight hometown virgin to sexy vampish diva before your very eyes (similar to the character Sandy in Grease.)
Ainsley Harriott was our guest ‘criminologist’ (narrator) with his bulging eyes, chubby faced grin and none of the normal pomposity that comes with the character. As it happens, Ainsley did a very fine job and the crowd were delighted. Magenta was played by Australian Kara Lane, and she played the character with more slinky, sassy style and a darn sight more sexily than I have ever seen before.
Bright-as-a-button Columbia was played by Ceris Hine. Our Brad on the night was played by understudy Stuart Ellis and the small but perfectly formed Rocky was played by Dominic Tribuzio (High School Musical.) This glossy acrobatic Charles Atlas styled ‘monster’ bounced around the stage with enormous gusto. A nice touch was that Rocky first appeared to the audience as an ‘airfix’ model complete with Village People accessories.
It is hard to imagine that the Rocky Horror Show first came to the stage in 1973. Since then tens of millions of fans around the world have dressed up to act out, sing-along and heckle the actors in the show and also at special get together film showings.
Nowadays rice and water pistols are forbidden in the theatres (but I once went to a production in Key West, Florida where the management gave each member of the audience a large ‘party bag’ containing every prop needed for all the one-liners and the ‘in jokes’.)
But the show is not caught up in a celluloid jam- and this 2009 production is a spicy, fresh and frequently naughty jaunt into an erotic, freaky world … cool enough for the noughties audience to enjoy. It is a measure of the sophistication of the 21st century audience that the famous bed scene is now appreciated as a hearty joke for the whole family to enjoy, where internet-educated grans sitting alongside their teen grand-daughters, and chuckle along together to the sexual innuendos involving oral and anal sex and activity tantamount to rape. Back in the Seventies, when I first saw this show, the scene was considered to be shabby and scandalous enough to earn the show an ‘adults only’ stamp of disapproval.
For those of you who have not seen the show (and I was sitting next to two older ladies who had never seen the show or even the film before – so they are still out there) the second half fairly zips along and is almost a ‘rock opera’ rather than a musical, using only songs and very few words to paint the pictures. The band, directed by Steve Hill (Wicked, Mama Mia! etc) is above and to the rear of the stage (rather than in the pit) and this elevated position is also used for some of the solos and gives the stage the atmosphere of a sleazy club. The band was vulgar and bold enough to get the audience hot and alive and very much in the mood for dancing. The band pushed out the sounds in great waves when required.
The big numbers of the show are the famous Time Warp ‘theme tune’ (you must have heard that) and Frank ‘N’ Furter’s entrance song ‘Sweet Transvestite’ but I have always also loved Eddie’s ‘theme’ (in this production Eddie is played by Nathan Amzi) for it’s sheer joyful celebration of rock n roll life. “All he wanted- Was rock and roll porn. And a motorbike.”
On the weak side (I thought) were Riff-Raff (played by Brian Mcann) who lacked the ‘other worldly’ quality of Richard O’Brien’s character and whose voice was a little too wispy for me, and Brad – who seemed like a little lost bunny rabbit constantly dazzled by the headlights.
This show is definitely value for money and I guarantee that it will put a smile on your face and a glow in your heart for days and days after … … one of the striking things about this show (which explains its longevity and it’s loyal fan-base) is that it truly brings out the best in people. Folk are never happier than when dressed up in silly pantomime clothes and joined together to sing and dance to some doo-wopping, good old fashioned rock n rolling show-tunes.
Oh, and if you if you intend to catch this show as it tours the UK, please please make an effort to dress-up … even if it is just by wearing a red feather boa. This advice is for your own good, because nothing, absolutely nothing feels worse than being the only ‘straight’ boy or girl (or as they say in ‘mortal’) at a Rocky Horror Show. You have been warned.
I must admit that I was a bit concerned about the choice that Peter Mulloy (Artistic Director, Carl Rosa Opera) had in mind to play the pompous desk-pushing first sea-lord (The head of the Queen’s Naveeee) Sir Joseph Porter in the latest production of Pinafore. Corrie Street butcher Fred Elliott was not a face that I had previously connected with the works of Gilbert & Sullivan. But the 71 year old actor, John Savident, had previously performed in Phantom of the Opera (as well as giving 11 years exalted service on The Street) and has enjoyed a brilliant career on stage, television and in film. In many ways he makes the perfect Sir Joseph Porter. Just the right amount of parody and pastiche.
Gilbert & Sullivan went to painstaking lengths to ensure the accuracy and authenticity of the original work, even going to Portsmouth to make detailed drawings of a real quarterdeck to be replicated by D’Oyly Carte. At the time (1878) the operetta was a huge box office success- and so it was with some pleasure that I noticed that the same kind of attention to detail was present (in production) in the new show at the New Victoria Theatre, Woking. I was also pleasantly surprised that the theatre was full.
Beverley Klein (Orlovsky: Die Fledermaus – English National Opera and Golde: Fiddler on the Roof – Savoy Theatre) presented a relaxed and rosy bumboat woman – Little Buttercup. Wyne Pencarreg (winner of the Erich Vietheer Memorial Award from Glyndebourne) played an efficiently capable Captain Corcoran. Perhaps baritone Gareth Jones (Dick Deadeye) could have been more forceful in vocal style and – at times- his voice was lost in the huge auditorium at Woking. But Josephine (Olivia Safe) was a pleasant and lightly agile soprano.
The best thing about all Gilbert & Sullivan operas is that they stand the test of time. When Sir Joseph sings “I grew so rich that I was sent – By a pocket borough into Parliament….I always voted at my party’s call” the audience cheered and chuckled. You could not help but be reminded of the ignominy faced by many of today’s ‘Sir Joseph Porters’ in a Parliament scandalised by a bunch of pocket-lining over-promoted junior clerks. Likewise, how many people do you know (family and friends) who, “In spite of all temptations – To belong to other nations – Remain (probably begrudgingly) English Men” ? Almost everyone I know is thinking of moving abroad for the sake of their own sanity!
And so the performance zipped merrily along – and all too soon- we found ourselves at the finale ‘Oh Joy, Oh Rapture. Unforseen’ and the jubilant celebration of right over wrong, good will prevailing over wickedness and a really English kind of muted successful conclusion – in other words a bit confused and bedraggled with everyone facing an uncertain future.
All in all, the show was light and frothy in all the right places but stern and stubborn when required. The choreography (by Steve Elias) was spot on – I particularly enjoyed the lines of pattern – almost like coiled ropes being rolled and unrolled on stage- and the gentler hornpipes, vortices and flourishes. Stage management was excellent and the costumes were efficient and convincing. The lively ensemble proved to have plenty of gusto and moved the show onwards in leaps and bounds.
Very highly recommended – whether you are a Gilbert & Sullivan ‘vet’ or new to comic opera – please try this show…