Thursday, February 26, 2015

REVIEW: Theatre Pilgrimage in London

In my recent trip to the United Kingdom, I managed to see 3 performances in Cardiff and 9 performances in London. Here is a ranking of my preferences of the shows I've seen in London:

  1. THE SCOTTSBORO BOYS
  2. WAR HORSE
  3. THE GRAND TOUR
  4. MISS SAIGON
  5. WOMEN ON THE VERGE OF A NERVOUS BREAKDOWN
  6. BEAUTIFUL
  7. CURIOUS INCIDENT OF THE DOG IN THE NIGHT-TIME
  8. MADE IN DAGENHAM
  9. SUNNY AFTERNOON


And here's my impressions of them:

MISS SAIGON
Prince Edward Theatre (London), Monday February 16


This must be my most anticipated booking during my trip. I have seen the original and the revival productions (2007 Melbourne) of this musical; and was excited to find out what is so great about this new production that the reviews were raving about. It was only when the show started that I had the inkling that it must be from the same director of the revival production that I saw and I was right.

This “new” version is the revival production in Melbourne on steroid. The helicopter projection that was used in the revival is now married with the original production. In short, the “new” version was not able to get away from the iconic huge helicopter set.

What was most apparent in the “new” version is that it was designed with the 21st-century audiences in mind. The American GIs were rowdier and meaner and Saigon was dirtier and grittier. The cast, however, was excellent; and it was the cast that truly gave this “new” version the freshness it needed. The cast gave the production a visceral and on-the-edge patina with their intense and dramatic renditions of the songs.
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Director – Laurence Connor
Set Design – Totie Driver and Matt Kinley
Costume Design – Andreane Neofitou
Lighting design – Bruno Poet

The Engineer – Jon Jon Briones
Kim – Eva Noblezada
Chris – Alistair Brammer
Ellen – Tamsin Carroll
John – Hughg Maynard
Thuy – Kwang-Ho Hong
Gigi – Rachelle Ann Go

THE SCOTTSBORO BOYS
Garrick Theatre (London), Tuesday February 17


Listening to the cast recording of this Kander and Ebb musical didn’t prepare me at all for this live performance. The music and lyrics are very typical Kander and Ebb, but the topic and the staging was what made this musical daring and brilliant.

The musical is the Scottsboro Boys trial and it utilizes the framework of a minstrel show. The juxtaposition of 12 African-American vs. 1 Caucasian; and 12 male vs. 1 female was for me very effective. The only female was quiet the whole show, alluding to a grieving mother until the very end when she appeared to be Rosa Parks. The single Caucasian played as the Interlocutor, who was friendly, but at the same time possesses quiet malevolence.

While the minstrel show tried to be funny, I found myself not laughing due to the underlying theme and plot of injustice; and it is this irony that makes this work disturbingly amazing.

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Music by John Kander
Lyrics by Fred Ebb
Direction and Choreography by Susan Stroman

Roy Wright – Joshua Da Costa
Haywood Patterson 0 Brandon Victor Dixon
Mr. Bones – Colman Domingo
The Interlocutor – Julian Glover
The Lady – Dawn Hope
Clarence Norris – Emmanuel Kojo
Ozie Powell/Ruby Bates – James T Lane
Charles Weems/Victoria Price – Dex Lee
Mr. Tambo – Forrest McClendon
Eugene Williams – Keenan Munn-Francis
Olen Montgomery – Rohan Pinnock-Hamilton
Willie Roberson – Emile Ruddock
Andy Wright – Carl Spencer

SUNNY AFTERNOON
Harold Pinter Theatre (London), Wednesday February 18


I don’t know The Kinks. Apparently, they were very famous in UK during their time. I went to see this autobiographical musical based on the music of The Kinks mainly because it got very good reviews and a friend of mine (who is in her 70’s) really enjoyed it. I managed to listen to the cast recording prior to my trip and their music is actually quite catchy.

At the end of the day however, good tunes were just not enough. Just like any jukebox musical, familiarity and association of the songs play a very important part of the enjoyment… and I don’t have that. The people sitting beside me though were bobbing their head and lip-synching all throughout the show. It was a good show, the performers were really good… but it was not a great show.

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Music & Lyrics - Ray Davies
Writer - Joe Penhall
Original Story - Ray Davies
Director - Edward Hall
Designer - Miriam Buether
Choreographer - Adam Cooper

Ray Davies - JOHN DAGLEISH
Dave Davies - GEORGE MAGUIRE
Mick Avory - ADAM SOPP
Pete Quaife - NED DERRINGTON
Gwen - CARLY ANDERSON
Mrs Davies / Marsha - ELIZABETH HILL
Mr Davies / Allen Klein - PHILIP BIRD
Eddie Kassner - BEN CAPLAN

WAR HORSE
New London Theatre (London), Wednesday February 18


There was the book, and then the play, radio adaptation and finally the Spielberg movie. I have been hearing a lot of good things about this play that was originally staged at the National Theatre. I seemed to always missed it because there was a musical that I prefer to see! Between a musical and a play, I will always choose a musical. This time however, I was so intrigued by the staging that I opted to go and see it... not to mention that there's actually not a lot of musicals that was in West End that I haven't seen.

Every time I mentioned War Horse, my friends tended to tell me that they have seen the play and then the movie, but the play is better. I, on the other hand, saw the movie first; and I actually think that the movie is not bad at all. But it was only after seeing the play that I understand what they meant.

The play is better because of how it was staged. Seeing the big horse puppet and how effective and convincing they were was truly an amazing experience. More importantly though, the story was definitely clearer and the development of the story managed to have a cinematic pace that is even better than the movie! I would go and see it again.

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Author - Michael Morpurgo
Playwright - Nick Stafford
Director - Marianne Elliott
Director - Tom Morris
Designer/Drawings - Rae Smith
Puppet Fabrication & Direction - Basil Jones & Adrian Kohler
Lighting Designer - Paule Constable
Director of Movement & Horse Choreography - Toby Sedgwick
Video Design - Leo Warner
Video Design - Mark Grimmer
Music - Adrian Sutton
Songmaker - John Tams
Sound Designer - Christopher Shutt

Billy Narracott – Dylan Llewellyn
Arthur Narracott – Simon Wolfe
Rose Narracott – Lisa Stevenson

BEAUTIFUL
Aldwych Theatre (London), Thursday February 19


In the same line as SUNNY AFTERNOON, Beautiful is an autobiographical musical based on the music of Carole King. Peculiarly, I really like the show and I suspect that it is because I actually know all the songs (be it written by King or not) without exception.

The one significant aspect of this jukebox musical is that it didn’t only feature the music of Carole King, it also featured other songs of the era and in particular by friendly rivals, Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil. By doing so, it created context and depth to the music of King and to the musical respectively.

The cast was superb. The show was not about doing mere impressions but also creating personalities, building characters and heightened performances that would suit today’s audience. The problem of the jukebox genre of having too short a time for sustained drama is still there, and that got more apparent toward the end of the show... but who cares? I got to bob my head, sway and lip-sync!

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Book - DOUGLAS MCGRATH
Words & Music - GERRY GOFFIN, CAROLE KING, BARRY MANN, CYNTHIA WEIL
Director - MARC BRUNI
Choreographer - JOSH PRINCE
Scenic Design - DEREK MCLANE
Costume Designer - ALEJO VIETTI

Carole King - KATIE BRAYBEN
Gerry Goffin - ALAN MORRISSEY
Cynthia Weil - LORNA WANT
Barry Mann - IAN MCINTOSH
Genie Klein – Glynis Barber
Don Kirshner – Gary Trainor

MADE IN DAGENHAM
Adelphi Theatre (London), Thursday February 19


Finally, an original British musical!!! Not a jukebox musical, but with songs made especially for the story! This adaptation had the burden of being compared with the movie version and unfortunately, the movie was definitely better.

Overall, it was an entertaining musical and I enjoyed it. Having said that, I just can’t help but feel that it was over-produced. Either that or the songs were just not big and good enough to justify the production. Or maybe it was the casting. In short, the whole thing just didn’t gel well. The set was amazing. I do like the DIY toy templates used to imply the car factory. The songs however, were hit and miss. The performers were skilled, but the casting just didn’t fit very well. An example will be the role of Rita O’Grady. Unlike Sally Hawkins in the movie, Gemma Arterton was too pretty and bright in the musical to play the accidental heroine that Hawkins beautifully developed in the movie.
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BOOK - RICHARD BEAN
MUSIC - DAVID ARNOLD
LYRICIST - RICHARD THOMAS
DIRECTOR - RUPERT GOOLD
CHOREOGRAPHER - ALETTA COLLINS
SET & COSTUME DESIGNER - BUNNY CHRISTIE
SOUND DESIGNER - RICHARD BROOKER
LIGHTING DESIGNER - JON CLARK

Rita O’Grady - Gemma Arterton
Eddie O’Grady - Adrian der Gregorian
Connie - Isla Blair
Monty - David Cardy
Clare - Heather Craney
Barbara Castle - Sophie-Louise Dann
Hopkins - Julius D’Silva
Lisa Hopkins – Naomi Frederick
Tooley - Steve Furst
Harold Wilson - Mark Hadfield
Sandra - Sophie Isaacs
Beryl - Sophie Stanton

THE GRAND TOUR
Finborough Theatre (London), Friday February 20


This Jerry Herman musical has to be the biggest surprise in my trip. This 1979 flop was never performed in Europe until this premiere in Finborough on January 1. I have the cast recording of this musical and it was not bad, but one can see why it didn’t succeed and why it was never revived. However, this pocket-size production was effective because it took away all the trimmings and focused on the emotions and development of the story; and the result was a light and beautiful look into a dark period of human history.

This production worked on different levels. The space was intimate. The production design was simple, flexible and creative. The cast was extremely strong with no exception and the direction was excellent. I would see it again and again.

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Direction by Thom Southerland
Choreography by Cressida Carré
Musical Direction by Joanna Cichonska
Set Design by Phil Lindley
Lighting Design by Derek Anderson
Sound Design by Max Pappenheim
Costume Design by Sophia Simensky
Presented and Cast by Danielle Tarento.

S. L. Jacobowsky - ALASTAIR BROOKSHAW
Colonel Tadeusz Boleslav Stjerbinsky - NIC KYLE
Marriane - ZOE DOANO
MICHAEL COTTON
LAUREL DOUGALL
ELIZABETH GRAHAM
NATASHA KARP
VINCENT PIRILLO
BLAIR ROBERTSON
SAMUEL J WEIR
LIZZIE WOFFORD

THE CURIOUS INCIDENT OF THE DOG IN THE NIGHT-TIME
Gielgud Theatre (London), Friday February 20


Among my friends, the opinions are polarized. Those people who like it, like it very much and those who doesn’t… well… Personally, I am somewhere in between. While I am glad that I have seen it, I will not exactly recommend it and I wouldn’t mind not seeing it again.

The production design was fantastic. The story was inspiring. The cast was most talented. One would have thought that if they were put together, a synergy would have resulted. Instead, it begs the question on whether the smart production design is actually needed. Did it add to the substance or did it take away the focus. Entertaining it was, but I can’t help but feel that it was overdone.

I haven’t read the book, but I intend to. Until then, I can only look at the work as a play or theatrical piece trying to tell a story. This reminds me of the Oscar-winning film Rain Man; and I wonder whether the film will benefit from additional special effects and explanation. I suspect not.

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Based on the novel by Mark Haddon;
Adapted by Simon Stephens
Director - Marianne Elliott
Designer - Bunny Christie
Lighting Designer - Paule Constable
Video Designer - Finn Ross
Movement Directors - Scott Graham and Steven Hoggett, for Frantic Assembly
Music - Adrian Sutton

Christopher Boone - Graham Butler
Siobhan - Sarah Woodward
Ed - Nicolas Tennant
Judy - Emily Joyce
Vivienne Acheampong
Sam Bond
Daniel Casey
Penelope McGhie
Roxanne Palmer
Mark Rawlings
Abram Rooney
Gay Soper
Paul Stocker
Tony Turner
Victoria Willing

WOMEN ON THE VERGE OF A NERVOUS BREAKDOWN
Playhouse Theatre (London), Saturday February 21


I like the Broadway cast recording of this Pedro Almadovar musical. I have never seen the movie in which it is based on though. David Yazbek’s Hispanic-inspired music and lyrics are expertly crafted; thus the curiosity of why it didn’t work in Broadway.

After seeing the show, I still do not understand why it didn’t work in Broadway. Personally, I think it is a good piece of theatre. The only thing that didn’t meet my expectation was that some of the performers didn’t sing as well as their Broadway counterparts. While I believe that the story is inherently more effective as a lively farcical play or movie, adapting it into a musical has its own merit as the songs magnified the emotions.

It is only after seeing the show did I finally find out that even though this London production is directed by the same director as the Broadway version, Bartlett Sher; the London version is a radically-revised one and I would like to believe that it is a better version.

I particularly like Tamsin Greig’s delivery of the role Pepa. Though her singing was average, the intensity and subtlety of her acting was most effective in communicating Pepa’s desperation amid struggle to be tough and professional. Haydn Gwynne was the perfect Lucia and her number Invisible was the most convincing in the show. Anna Skellern was an effective Candela, but I can’t help but yearn to see Laura Benanti (Broadway’s Candela) in the same role.

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DIRECTOR - BARTLETT SHER
WRITER - JEFFREY LANE
MUSIC & LYRICS - DAVID YAZBEK
MUSICAL SUPERVISOR - MATTHEW BRIND
CHOREOGRAPHY - ELLEN KANE
SET DESIGN - ANTHONY WARD
COSTUME DESIGN - CAITLIN WARD
LIGHTING DESIGNER - PETER MUMFORD

PEPA - TAMSIN GREIG
LUCIA - HAYDN GWYNNE
IVAN - JÉRÔME PRADON
CANDELA - ANNA SKELLERN
PAULINA - WILLEMIJN VERKAIK
TAXI DRIVER - RICARDO AFONSO
MARISA - SELINE HIZLI
CARLOS - HAYDN OAKLEY

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REVIEW: Theatre Weekend in Cardiff

In my recent trip to the United Kingdom, I managed to see 3 performances in Cardiff and 9 performances in London. Here is a rundown of the shows in Cardiff and my impressions of them:

ARMONICO CONSORT WITH NICOLA BENEDETTI
St. David's Hall (Cardiff), Friday February 13



Though I have been to Cardiff several times, this is my first time in the St. David’s Hall, which is known for its great acoustics; and indeed the acoustics was balanced and clear, though the facility do really need refurbishment.

Christopher Monks, director of the Armonico Consort, started the all-Vivaldi concert notifying the audience that Benedetti was not feeling well, but has agreed to perform. The Concerto in D, ‘Grosso Mogul', RV208 was disturbingly bad with problems in pitch and balance. However, the Beatus Vir was a complete contrast. The choir and the orchestra came together beautifully and provided a performance that is grand and elegant.

The second half was composed of Vivaldi's The Four Seasons with violin superstar Nicola Benedetti. Benedetti delivered a competent, safe and pleasant performance. grandeur of the Beatus Vir and the drama of the Four Seasons, with rising violin superstar Nicola Benedetti.

HIRAETH, THE SOULD OF WELSH CHOIR
St. David's Hall (Cardiff), Saturday February 14


As if the title was not long enough, there was a subtitle to the the subtitle… "a spectacular performance of Celtic song, music & dance". I thought that since I am in Wales, I ought to check it out specially since Welsh people are somehow known for their musicality and choir. The truth however is, this must be one of the worst show I have seen for the longest time!

It was an extremely odd show, conceptualized and directed by a Frenchman Roger-Paul Cardot. It featured the L'Orchestre D'Arverne, a group of French dancers, and some French compositions by the son of the director. The only Welsh thing about the show is the combined choir of Cardiff Arms Park Male Choir and the Dowlais Male Choir. Also Welsh is the featured guest, Only Boys Aloud… and also perhaps the venue!

The worst aspect of the show was the concept and the direction. I don't understand why people in Wales would be interested to know what a Frenchman thinks of what Wales is about. The show was slow, with extremely tacky dance and miming. Even when the local choirs sang, they were out-volume by the orchestra. It brought back all the bad memories of watching regional French theatre performances.

MOZART’S THE MAGIC FLUTE
Wales Millennium Centre, Sunday February 15


I entered the theatre thinking that the opera will be sung in German, and totally forgetting that of course it will be sung in English; it is after all a Welsh National Opera production! The English lyrics were amazingly good! Unfortunately, there were no indications in the website or program on who wrote the English lyrics. I can only assume that it is by Jeremy Sams who did the Chandos recording of Opera in English.

Listening to the opera in English was a different experience. Because I understand the language (I don’t speak German), I tend to appreciate the opera on its totality. The feeling was more immediate and my mind was more in pace with the development of the piece.

The experience was most pleasant. While the production was surreal (think Magritte with appearances of bowler hats and blue sky), the story flows beautifully. The cast was competent, what they lack in voice were amply offset by their stage presence and acting. It was a performance that is worth traveling for.
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Conductors - Lothar Koenigs
Director - Dominic Cooke
Set Designer - Julian Crouch
Costume Designer - Kevin Pollard
Lighting Designer - Chris Davey
Movement Director - Sue Lefton

Cast
Tamino - Allan Clayton
Pamina - Sophie Bevan
Papageno - Jacques Imbrailo
Sarastro - Scott Wilde
Speaker - Ashley Holland
Queen of the Night - Samantha Hay
First Lady - Camilla Roberts
Second Lady - Máire Flavin

Third Lady - Emma Carrington

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