When? Monday 26th November 2012
Where? Alhambra Theatre, Bradford, stalls
Who? Steven France, Thomas Howes, Karl Howman, Bruno Langley, Graham Seed, Jemma Walker, Jan Waters, Clare Wilkie
2012 has been a quite extraordinary year for Britain. Completely apart from the world of theatre and performance – a remarkable half-sentence coming from me – it has been a year we can be rightly proud of. The remarkable success and legacy of the Olympic games is plain for all to see – and Danny Boyle’s opening ceremony spectacular in particular was a joy to behold (well, that didn’t take long!). 2012 also marked a very special 60th anniversary for someone, a certain lady on the throne, known the world over as a British institution. That’s right, Agatha Christie’s The Mousetrap is celebrating it’s first ever full UK tour – and the Queen of Crime’s masterpiece is in positively majestic form.
Set exclusively in the grand hall of the newly established guest house Monkswell Manor, the set-up is classic Christie. A grisly murder has been committed in London amidst a huge snowstorm which is battering southern England. Newlywed couple, The Ralstons, are preparing to receive their new house-guests – each with their own secret reasons for visiting the isolated retreat. Before long, a police sergeant arrives – on skis – bringing news of the London murder, with the belief that one or more of the guests may be involved…
Sir Stephen Waley-Cohen and Adam Spiegel’s tour is a very timely tonic for the UK straight play touring circuit. One which is guaranteed to fill venues up and down the country for as long as the noted producers wish I suspect – but agreeably for all the right reasons. Director Ian Watt-Smith is no stranger to The Mousetrap, having directed the 38th, 41st, 58th and 59th years of the West End production and his intricate understanding of the piece is the key to this production’s success. Christie’s writing is sharp and witty, but in the hands of the wrong director can tumble into parody or, worse still, a ham-fest. Watt-Smith’s genius is in understanding what to play straight and what to send up; amusing and dramatically thrilling in all the right places, The Mousetrap absolutely flies by – and yet feels dense, tense and emotionally engaging.
The Diamond Anniversary tour of The Mousetrap is a brilliant, timeless and iconic production – and Monkswell Manor is positively lit up by one of the finest casts I’ve had the pleasure of seeing in a straight play in recent years. The entire company are strong: Steven France gives a hilarious performance as a flouncing, but deeply vulnerable Christopher Wren; Jemma Walker and Bruno Langley make a likeable and convincing Mr and Mrs. Ralston; Mousetrap regular Jan Waters makes a softer and funnier Mrs Boyle than I’ve seen previously and Clare Wilkie makes far more of Miss Casewell than could be reasonably asked of her, with a far subtler and considerably less angry vibe about her than many other actresses who have played the role previously as, to be blunt, ‘an angry lesbian’. Graham Seed as Major Metcalf shares some amusing first act banter with Mrs Boyle which earned hearty laughs from the audience; Karl Howman’s half-baked Italian-ish accent as Mr Paravicini is so ropey as to actually work in his favour, casting doubt on the character’s true identity…
The undoubted star-turn though comes from Doncaster born Thomas Howes as Detective Sergeant Trotter. Howes, known to television audiences for his performance as William in ITV’s Downton Abbey, shows his versatility and brilliance as a character actor and leaves a lasting impression on the audience with an outstanding performance. He looks, sounds and adopts mannerisms so far removed from his noted television turn that he is barely recognisable. And his performance is certainly not identikit, in fact, with director Watt-Smith, Howes adds quirks and traits to the character which help make the role truly his own – Howes will be a big loss to the production when he leaves the show at the end of the Bradford run. His replacement is yet to be confirmed.
The production values are superb and no expense has been spared in recreating the West End production for tour. Whilst the Diamond Anniversary tour is technically a new production, it is in essence a reproduction – Anthony Holland’s original sets, the costumes, lighting design and so forth are almost identically replicated from the West End, where the production is re-directed once a year – regardless of the frequency of cast changes – to help ensure freshness. From experience though it doesn’t, as the West End production housed less than a few hundred people the last time I attended, most of whom were tourists. The tour production feels infinitely fresher, the regional audience frankly better.
Admittedly, it does take a few scenes to adjust to some of the follies of ‘an Agatha Christie’ as one integrates oneself into her universe. Christie’s fictional settings are ones which surely felt old-fashioned even in her day, so in 2012 a fair amount of willing suspension is necessary for any audience. One such example are accents; most of the company adopt the tried and trusted attempt at 1950′s ‘BBC newsreader’ RP – a rather stifling necessity for an actor with a natural regional accent, perhaps straining to imbue their performance with credibility. It is fortunate, then, that Watt-Smith’s focus is on delivering fully fleshed out incarnations of each and every character and is hugely successful in doing so. The Mousetrap is more than a play, it is a tradition – a staple of British theatre. This sense of tradition is enforced by the company’s request to the audience at the curtain call not to reveal the identity of the killer.
I appreciate that The Mousetrap is not without its critics; many commentators have bemoaned the sixty-year West End policy of refusing to discount tickets for a show that frequently struggles to put bums on seats – and some simply find Christie’s famous ‘cosy’ trademark style simply too, well, cosy for a 2012 audience. But there is no denying that in front of a packed Bradford Alhambra audience, some sixty years since it embarked on its West End run, we were caught up in a very special Mousetrap. A true masterpiece, dare I even say with Howes heading the company for his final few performances, in its prime.
- Harry Zing
When? Tuesday 3rd July 2012
Where? Alhambra Theatre, Bradford, stalls
Who? Faye Brookes, Iwan Lewis, Les Dennis, Ray Quinn, Tracey Penn, Hannah Grover, Sinead Long, Sophie Isaacs, Micha Richardson, Lewis Griffiths, Katie-Marie Hicks, Zak Nemorin, Jon Reynolds, Lori Barker, Gemma Baird, Graham Lappin, Mark Anderson, Rhona McGregor, Chris Milford, Nia Jermin, Antony Hewitt, Niamh Bracken, Michael Steedon, Barnaby Thompson, Amy Ross, Hannah Woolley, Andy Rees, Tara Young
Legally Blonde: The Musical is the campiest, fluffiest musical you could ever wish to see. The show has earned a cultish status since its 2007 Broadway debut, with no small help from the popular 2001 movie which inspired it, indeed many even arrived in costumes; long blonde wigs and bright pink sparklies were the order of the evening – and not just from the women! With the West End and Broadway sister productions now sadly gone, this 2011/2012 national touring production certainly hits the mark with laughs aplenty, some catchy tunes – and as much kitsch as anyone could possibly want.
The story sees Elle Woods (Faye Brookes) embark on a gloriously implausible journey of self-discovery, as she decides to enrol at Harvard Law School in order to impress her would-be boyfriend Warner Huntington (Ray Quinn); supported by her doting friend Emmett (Iwan Lewis), Elle discovers there is more to life than boys and designer handbags. Briefly. Heather Hach’s book is so delightfully passive so as not to interfere with the crux of the matter in Legally Blonde: The Musical, which is just good old fashioned Broadway style showbiz. In actuality, Legally Blonde: The Musical is a classic musical along the lines of 42nd Street – cleverly and attractively packaged for a younger theatregoer.
Despite being somewhat smaller in scale than the West End and Broadway predecessors, Legally Blonde: The Musical is a fantastically well-produced show in every sense. The production values remain exceptionally high, the bright, shimmering costumes (Gregg Barnes) are wonderful, as is the ever-reliable Richard Mawbey’s wig work, proving Legally Blonde doesn’t always translate to Literally Blonde. Director/Choreographer Jerry Mitchell gives the piece as much double entendré as the masses can accept and never crosses the bad taste barrier. His choreography work is exemplary as ever and, naturally in line with both the theme of the piece and this particular choreographer’s oeuvre, is absolutely screaming; hilarious, yet just as focused and appropriate as is necessary. The production numbers are the most memorable moments of the show without any question; the subtext laden second act opener “Whipped into Shape”, for example, sees the young company savouring some potentially tricky unison dancing with skipping ropes. Later on, we witness a hilarious ‘outing’ of a ‘gay European’ – under cross examination in court! With the kitchen sink all but thrown, I should mention the dogs – yes, dogs – which make several appearances throughout the evening to much adoration from the audience.
The cast fizz more than they pop; young Faye Brookes heads up the cast in just her second professional show. Brookes can sing and dance with the best of them, but at times struggles to find the humour in potentially hilarious scenes. Brookes is however quite likeable and believable in the role, thanks to her age and committment to her acting. As Professor Callaghan, Les Dennis – outstanding in 2009′s Eurobeat – has a similar opportunity to camp things up nicely. Whilst not in the least bit scary or as formidable as the book would have us believe, he is at least visibly enjoying himself and proved a surprisingly good singer, particularly in his first act ‘bad guy’ song “Blood in the Water”. Rhona McGregor performs admirably covering for Niki Evans as salon owner Paulette; McGregor has some impressive chops and rinsed every second of her act one number “Ireland”, an expositionary ditty which pays off in the Finale. The Greek Chorus of ‘Delta Nu’ ensemble ladies are nothing if not vocal throughout, whereas Lewis Griffiths gives something more of a visual performance as the comically virile UPS Man. Undoubtedly the standout performance comes from Iwan Lewis as the stolid Emmett Forrest, a performer I saw most recently in the Donmar Warehouse’s trite 2010 production of Passion. His characterisation and commitment to the moment belies his young age; if Lewis can truly bring life to a character as plain-Jane as Emmett, I would be fascinated to see him in bigger and better acting challenges in the future.
Legally Blonde: The Musical offers a fabulous few hours of pure escapism; musical theatre in its purest, campiest form – and I love it.
- Harry Zing
Hello and welcome to Zing’s Record Collection – join me as I run my eye over the latest cast recordings and musical theatre album releases. Today I’ll be giving a listen to the full debut album from one of British musical theatre’s top talents, John Owen-Jones, titled ‘Unmasked’ released April 2012 by Sain.
John Owen-Jones has been one of the top names in the West End for a decade. He has donned the mask as The Phantom of the Opera over 2,000 times in several different stints in the West End and, currently, the new touring production – and has donned Marius a similar number of times, carrying the felled student from the barricades as Jean Valjean in Les Misérables, a role he has played to much critical acclaim on Broadway and beyond. In ‘Unmasked’, ignoring the punny title, Owen-Jones chooses songs from a wide spectrum of musical theatre which includes all of his greatest hits, such as ‘The Music of the Night’, ‘Bring Him Home’ and ‘Hallelujah’ – the latter being a remix his 2006 debut EP’s title track. With his strong fanbase duly appeased, Owen-Jones can focus on showing off his fabulous voice in a number of songs new to his repertoire.
The vocal bravado of Frank Wildhorn’s ‘This is the Moment’ is perfect for Owen-Jones’ powerhouse style and he duly delivers, with the number proving the stand-out track of the album. ‘Til I Hear You Sing’ is beautifully realised and Owen-Jones really tries to make the number his own. ‘All I Ask of You’, with pop-opera soprano Natasha Marsh, is as well sung as any rendition I have heard over the years.
‘Down to the Sea’ from Kristina is a moment of understated clarity and beauty and a superb, if unexpected, choice. Kander/Ebb songs seem to be like buses; you wait an eternity for a quality singer to record one, then two come along in as many months; The beautiful ‘I Don’t Remember You/Sometimes a Day Goes By’ medley from the duo’s underrated musical revue And the World Goes ‘Round was also featured on Martin Dickinson’s debut EP, drawing a rave review from yours truly. Owen-Jones boasts a big name joining him the shape of opera singer Bryn Terfel, the result is a very well sung medley, which, whilst different in style from ‘storytelling’ approach of Dickinson/Abigail Jaye’s rendition, is equally as enjoyable in its own way and is supremely well sung.
It is not all plain sailing, however. The album gets off to an underwhelming start with two curious choices, the drab ‘Nature Boy’ from Moulin Rouge and a slightly bizarre resurrection of Tom Jones’ 1786 hit ‘Thunderball’. Owen-Jones has publicly stated his admiration for countryman Jones and I just hope he doesn’t try and audition for ‘The Voice’.* Sondheim’s ‘Being Alive’ – possibly my favourite song from musical theatre – is nicely sung, but perhaps lacking in the required emotive qualities required for the part and by definition the song. I must also confess to being a little bit disappointed that Owen-Jones opted not to record his singing live with the orchestra, which leads to some albeit minor errors with rhythm and slightly elongated notes to match the music. This is particularly noticeable in ‘The Music of the Night’ but is present throughout.
‘Unmasked’ is a hugely successful and enjoyable album and shows what Owen-Jones is capable of, outside of the two roles for which he is almost exclusively known. Hopefully, now ‘unmasked’, we will see Owen-Jones expand his horizons and explore other stage opportunities to no doubt further critical success.
- Harry Zing
*It would be very uncomfortable to see another top British musical theatre star get rebuked by the likes of William “Bill”.i.am.
When? Wednesday 11th April 2012
Where? Prince Edward Theatre, London, stalls
Who? Ryan Molloy, Matthew Wycliffe “Jean”, Eugene McCoy, Jon Boydon, Jon Lee, Nicola Brazil, Charlie Bull, Dan Burton, Mark Carroll, Michael Conway, Chris Gardner, Lucinda Gill, Trina Hill, Mark Isherwood, Tee Jaye, Ben Jennings, Howard Jones, Stuart Milligan, Edd Post, Jake Samuels, Ben Wheeler, Gemma Whitelam
This is an update of my previous review of this production from February 2011; the production has seen a major cast change since then and it is this change that I have focused on in this review. You can find the original review in full here detailing a lot more about the production itself. Check out the ‘comments’ section for a detailed explanatory reply from cast member Jon Boydon who clarifies a few technical details about the production.
It is no exaggeration to say that my first, belated visit to Jersey Boys back in February 2011 was one of the most enjoyable experiences I have ever had in the theatre – and at a matinée performance with several understudies, no less. A return visit had been on the agenda ever since; primarily to see the highly acclaimed multi award winning Ryan Molloy as the Italian-American street kid turned mega star Frankie Valli, who was unfortunately indisposed last time around.
The show is in even better shape than it was for my last visit. The cast feel incredibly fresh, each scene is more delightful than the last and some moments which went relatively unnoticed last time were sensational, mainly thanks to Molloy’s quality and commitment to the moment. His second act heartbreaker ‘Fallen Angel’ actually moved me to tears, the conviction in Molloy’s performance and passion in his voice remarkable; his talent undeniable. Equally astounding is Jon Boydon’s Tommy DeVito who draws conflicting emotions with his portrayal. Über cool but essentially a liability, his interaction with the other Four Seasons members as they discover DeVito’s flaws – which eventually drive him from the band he created – is a joy to behold. New cast member Matthew Wycliffe is wonderful as the songwriting genius of the group Bob Gaudio, full of wide-eyed innocence in the early stages but, as the side-deals and politics of the group start to surface, his business savvy side shines through and much of the child-like gloss has been scratched away giving the character a well-rounded story arc. Eugene McCoy completes the line-up as Nick Massi who, since my last visit, seems to have crossed the line from ‘a bit slow’ into ‘painfully gormless’, delivering his lines with mush-mouth through a rather ropey accent, although he still earns plenty of laughs with his recurring ambition to ‘start… my own…. group’ in typically deadpan tone.
The supporting cast are still brilliant, there is not a hint of boredom or fatigue with long-serving cast members Stuart Milligan and Tee Jaye giving good, fresh turns, Charlie Bull (Lorraine), Dan Burton (Joe Pesci) and Howard Jones (Bob Crewe) are also right on the money with their respective performances.
Unfortunately, the performance I attended was plagued with technical problems, something which fortunately didn’t affect the performers too much, although several numbers were played without bass guitar (the wire having dropped out) and there were a few microphone failures, which the cast handled professionally as you would expect. As with many of the ‘big name’ West End shows such as The Phantom of the Opera, Les Misérables, Mamma Mia and so on, there were a large number of international tourists at Jersey Boys, many of whom had bought discounted tickets to see ‘a show’. The audience were extremely flat throughout, despite the cast’s superb efforts and energy levels, which I attribute to many not understanding what was being said and therefore being unwilling to engage. This performance of Jersey Boys is the finest show I have seen not to receive a standing ovation – the cast looked visibly exhausted at the curtain call with perhaps even a touch of disappointment on display, which says to me just how much pride they take in giving their all for each audience, night after night in this particular show.
I know it is old hat to rave about Jersey Boys, Ryan Molloy, Jon Boydon et al – but this show remains one of, if not the best all-round experiences the West End. If you haven’t seen it, then check the performance schedule for Molloy’s performance dates and book now!
- Harry Zing
Hello and welcome to ‘Zing’s Record Collection’; join me as I review the very best (and worst) of musical theatre recordings, past and present. In this edition, I will be taking a look at the debut solo album from musical theatre star Martin Dickinson (Assassins, Jekyll & Hyde) titled ‘Encore’, out now from Goodge Entertainment.
Recorded at the world-famous Abbey Road Studios and featuring a twenty piece orchestra (a rare delight in the modern day), ‘Encore’ is a ten track album of the finest love songs from the world of musical theatre, beautifully performed by Martin Dickinson, undoubtedly a musical theatre star with an exciting career ahead of him.
The album kicks into life with a lively and powerful ‘Love Changes Everything’, possibly the quintessential musical theatre love song, of course from Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Aspects of Love. But it is the album’s second track ‘I Don’t Remember You/Sometimes a Day Goes By’ which perhaps better showcases Dickinson’s biggest strength – and probably the most highly sought-after quality in musical theatre – the ability to earnestly emote through song, whether it be desperation, apathy or sheer joy. The arrangement (Martin Higgins) from the Kander/Ebb revue ‘And the World Goes ‘Round’ initially tells the story of a man in denial about a love lost in ‘I Don’t Remember You’. As the story progresses, with time having seemingly healed old wounds, we hear a more upbeat reflection from the character as he proudly yet ruefully declares the yearning he feels for his lost love in ‘Sometimes a Day Goes By’. As the arrangement concludes we hear the two conflicting emotions battle (not unlike the ‘Confrontation’ from Jekyll and Hyde, but with more love and less schizophrenia); at this point just sit back and soak in the brilliance of both Kander and Ebb’s work (among their finest) and Dickinson’s soaring vocals.
Dickinson is then joined by Helena Blackman (whose own album I reviewed here) for ‘All I Ask of You’; Dickinson makes a terrific Raoul, the older quality to his voice makes it a joy to listen to him singing the role; unfortunately I find Blackman perhaps a touch too squeaky in this number. Some My Fair Lady follows, as we get Dickinson’s awfully priggish Freddie, who even goes as far to omit the word ‘arse’ from the slightly unnecessary intro. Once the number starts proper, the performance is again excellent, his high baritone ringing loud and clear through the sumptuous orchestra.
For ‘I Won’t Send Roses’, Dickinson is joined for the first of two duets with second guest star Abigail Jaye (Evita, Joseph), a performer I very much admire. The classic number is the best from Mack & Mabel and, like with the rest of the song choices for the album, is absolutely spot on. Jaye’s singing does not disappoint, singing with the crystal clarity and power that I have come to expect from her. The second duet featuring Jaye, ‘You Should be Loved’ from Side Show is a slightly more obscure but equally as enjoyable a number. A lot more epic in scale, the song is a beautiful love power ballad duet which has actually tempted me to give Side Show another chance! ‘Til I Hear You Sing’ from Love Never Dies is a song very much in vogue; I must confess though this song, although well sung, is not my favourite number. Whereas the hyperactive ‘She Loves Me’ is actually a completely new one for me and thoroughly enjoyable. The album comes to a close with the only non-thematic number of the album; ‘It’s Better with a Band’ a joyous upbeat celebration of music, which Dickinson can only pull off with the help of the superb orchestra. The album doesn’t fizzle out – it goes out with a bang!
Dickinson has a very expressive deep timbre to his voice which belies his young age; he is certainly best when acting through song, ‘I Won’t Send Roses’ and ‘I Don’t Remember You/Sometimes a Day Goes By’ possibly highlight this best, but ‘Encore’ is an album of the very highest quality across the board; the production values are second to none and the song choices are uniformly excellent. Dickinson’s decision to perform each number ‘in character’ is a very smart one, he is wholly believable in the parts he sings with no exceptions and there are no liberties taken here. It would have been possible to record and put out an album with a lot less investment – both emotional and financial – but that would not have done justice to Dickinson’s talent or, indeed, his potential to secure the top roles in British musical theatre.
- Harry Zing
Shortly after writing the above review, I had the opportunity to speak to Martin and he told me a little more about ‘Encore’ and his plans for the future..
Q: So, after a lavish gala event in the West End, your debut album has just been released. Could you tell us a little about the album’s creation and what listeners can expect from ‘Encore’?
We set about the project in July last year, I’d just finished a run in Jekyll & Hyde and I’d been lucky enough to step into the title role, when Marti Pellow got bumped on the nose by one of his fellow actors! A friend of mine, Dorothy Seymour, had previously offered to help me put an album together, but I didn’t really take her too seriously. I suppose going on in Jekyll & Hyde just gave me the extra confidence and after being asked again I went for it! I decided to put together a selection of love songs from musical theatre plus a nice bonus track on the end, ‘It’s Better with a Band’ which is a just a lovely celebration of music generally. So, I went to Abbey Road studios and had a chat with Jonathan Allen, who’s responsible for a lot of the live broadcasts from the Royal Opera House as well as recently working on the soundtrack to Michael Jackson’s ‘This is It’ – I wanted to feel as if I was in safe hands, because I had never recorded an album before. We signed a deal and decided to do it with an orchestra as opposed to backing tracks, because I wanted to really make it a celebration of live music. We used an orchestra of twenty and got some lovely orchestrations together – I’m actually on a bit of a mission to bring back live orchestras, I used to listen to the MGM orchestras and the symphonic sound is just amazing.
Q: You have chosen ten excellent songs from the world of musical theatre, was there a particular inspiration behind the song choices you made?
I wanted to choose songs that I had grown up with, songs that had inspired me along the way and a couple of others that people had suggested to me. All of them were inspired by love; either love for musical theatre, or love for each other.
Q: Just in time for Valentines Day…
(laughs) Yeah! and Mothers Day!
Q: I noticed there is no ‘This is the Moment’?
Yes, I toyed with it, but because I went with concept of love I thought it’d be a little bit cliché.. I actually did it at the launch … but hopefully it’ll be on the second album!
Q: And the album features not one, but two guest stars in the shape of leading ladies Helena Blackman and Abigail Jaye, the latter of whom you knew from working together previously…
That’s right, I worked with Abigail Jaye in Joseph where she was my fantastic Narrator. Abi is such a talented actress with amazing vocals – she’s somebody who can just tell a story through her singing. I trained with Helena at Guildford School of Acting and it was natural for me to ask her to do it, as her vocals are stunning. Both Helena and Abigail have such wonderful voices, you can just listen to them and they will tell a story without even needing to see them.
Q: You are perhaps best known on the stage for covering and playing the lead in ‘Jekyll & Hyde’ in the recent UK tour. You were understudy to Marti Pellow in the production, can you tell us about your experiences on the show?
Jekyll & Hyde was probably the highlight of my career up until now. We had a fantastic team and it was a fantastically dark version of the show. Frank Wildhorn’s music is epic and so well written that the numbers stand both alone and in the show, the whole experience was fantastic from the beginning of rehearsals to the very end of the run. Working with Marti was fantastic; I had to take a little rain check when I was in rehearsals, I was sat with him in the stalls and thought back to my childhood when I was watching ‘Wet Wet Wet’ on the TV! Thinking back, ‘This Is the Moment’ was actually the song I used to get into drama school. It is one of those songs that you grow up with, so actually getting to do it on stage in front of Marti was great in one way – but also nerve wracking in another.
We are briefly interrupted by a dog barking..
Oh that’s Todd, my little mascot – he tours with me as well!
Q: And how was it stepping in for Marti Pellow..?
Well, Marti unfortunately got elbowed on the nose by a fellow actor during Act II of a performance and I had to go on. I was sat up in the dressing room and the show had stopped, so I ran down and they were trying to find me, saying ‘you’re on!’. They dragged me into wardrobe and makeup and wigs and on I went – within five minutes of hearing about it, which was bizarre… it was one of those moments when you’re stood behind the gauze waiting to go on and your whole career to date flashes before your eyes, and you’ve got the voice of your acting teacher at college in your head…it was the most memorable point in my life to date! Marti and his management were so supportive, he sent me well-wishes and afterwards and his fans were lovely and very warming. I played it for nearly two weeks after that, so I was really lucky.
Q: Your musical theatre career has taken you from being a singing pirate to serial killer in just three years – quite a career change! What roles would you love to play in the future and why?
Singing pirate? Was I?!
Q: I think you played Smee in Peter Pan the Musical..?
Oh right, yes! (laughs), I played the role of Smee up in the Gordan Craig Theatre in Stevenage – it was fun actually! It was more of a musical version of the show, rather than a pantomime version. I’ve never actually done panto, but I would quite like to do it!
Q: What roles would you love to play in the future and why?
I would love to play the one everybody wants to play, The Phantom, just because that’s something I’ve grown up with. I know there’s kind of a stigma about Andrew Lloyd Webber musicals, but the guy is just brilliant really. He has created this commercial vehicle which is still going strong today, and I think The Phantom of the Opera is one of the best musicals out there, because it’s stood the test of time. The role of the Phantom is just such an epic, heart-wrenching role that is so demanding as an actor – it’d be great to do that. I’d also like to play Javert in Les Mis, I’d have loved to have played Marius but I think I’m getting too old now!
Q: And in the immediate future is 2nd Company’s production of Assassins from the 20th of March…
Yes that’s right, I shall be taking on the role of John Wilkes Booth, which is one I’m really looking forward to. I mean, Sondheim’s just fantastic, isn’t he? The music is so well written, but it’s a bloody nightmare to learn! Ray Rackham, the director, has this amazing vision and the way he directs is fantastic. He really has a way of pulling all the ‘artistic juices’ out of you!
Assassins plays the Pleasance Theatre, Islington from 20th March – 8th April 2012 – http://www.2ndcompany.com/
When? Tuesday 27th September 2011
Where? Alhambra Theatre, Bradford, stalls
Who? Alice Coulthard, Katie Murray, Justine Michelle Cain, Paul Nicholas, Philip Childs, Paul Clerkin, Josephine Kiernan, Chucky Venn, Andrew Grose, Andrew Piper and the voice of Richard Baker
Stage and screen veteran Paul Nicholas’s latest project arrived at the Alhambra this week. Keeler, Gill Adams*’ new play, based on Christine Keeler’s ‘revealing’ 2001 autobiography, is woeful in all departments from start to finish. The one-sided re-telling, from Keeler’s perspective, of the famous ‘Profumo Affair’ is brash and trashy theatre at its worst. Wantonly exchanging passable dialogue for full frontal nudity and a concise narrative for portly showgirls; frankly this play is one of the poorest I have ever seen on a professional stage.
I have never found myself unintentionally cringing and wincing so much as in Keeler. The play feels as if it has been written by a sex-mad pervert with a limited vocabulary. We hear about botties, bots, boobies, bums and tits – and see them all – as well as one of the most cringe inducing sex scenes since this atrocity. Despite the rather uninspiring title, it is in fact Producer/Director/Self-Appointed Star of the production Paul Nicholas who has the most stage time as Keeler’s creepy keeper Stephen Ward. Playing Ward as a horrible, lecherous old man Nicholas does not help his characterisation by giving some of the most wooden acting imaginable. In the opening scenes, his delivery, along with the ‘showgirls’, was entirely reminiscent of a primary school production, the stilted ‘reading’ of lines only improved by the lack of a script in front of their faces. Nicholas also sports the most outrageous rug I have ever seen. A bizarre, bouffant monstrosity, I wasn’t sure whether to laugh or call pest control. Alice Coulthard as Christine Keeler is, as the biggest complement of the evening, not as bad as Nicholas and at least has nice legs. A horribly racist caricature was provided by a black man called ‘Lucky’, the Caribbean knife-wielding, drug dealing rapist. I’d strongly suggest against taking a bite from Lucky’s apple or letting him smell your honeysuckle.
Despite reservations about the quality of the cast and the standard of acting, the worst crime is in fact the book; that is to say dramatically it is all over the place. The characters are universally unlikable and their motives vague at best. At no point did I feel any empathy for any of the characters despite witnessing a rape, a botched abortion and a suicide in under two hours – quite a mean feat. The dialogue is frankly laughable from the get-go, some corkers spewed out by the (rightly embarrassed) cast members included treats such as; “Pull down your little panties and let me smell your honeysuckle”, “Don’t close the door, darling, you know how I love to hear you changing” and this classic exchange;
“Am I correct dear?”
“Indeed I do, dear”.
In the closing exchanges things brightened slightly, when the previously horny Russian attaché transformed into a rather impressive barrister for the prosecution against Ward. Andrew Grose can at least hold his head high knowing that when not forced to wear a tight red speedo and adopt a cod-Russian accent, he is entirely believable. Moments later the brightness faded again as Mandy – Keeler’s Scottish friend – without a hint of irony, considers the defendant’s destiny to be judged by someone other ‘than him with that daft wig on’ – I assumed she meant God, not Paul Nicholas. Although Paul Nicholas did once play Jesus, so who knows?
Keeler is one to avoid. If you are interested in Christine Keeler’s story I would imagine the book is a much more worthwhile way to spend your time. I’ve come away from the play none the wiser and certainly a little grumpier. I would be amazed if this production completes the planned West End transfer – not only is it a dog of a play, it is a particularly poor production.
- Harry Zing
Adams’ omission from the programme notes (not as much as a reference, let alone a full biography) is a curious one and immediately piqued my interest. One wonders if Gill Adams’ is theatre writers’ Alan Smithee?
When?: Sunday 20th February 2011, matinee
Where?: Prince Edward Theatre, London, stalls
Who?: Scott Monello, James Winter, Jon Boydon, Eugene McCoy, Simon Adkins, Charlie Bull, Mark Carroll, Michael Conway, Ben Evans, Michelle Francis, Jye Frasca, Lucinda Gill, Mark Isherwood, Paul Iveson, Tee Jaye, Stuart Milligan, Joseph Prouse, Zara Warren, Jayde Westaby, Ben Wheeler.
It is somewhat incredible in hindsight, despite Jersey Boys opening almost three years ago to the day, that this was my first visit to the phenomenally successful multiple Olivier Award winning biographical musical, which tells the story of the meteoric rise of sixties badboys the Four Seasons. I think I had always considered Jersey Boys equal to We Will Rock You, Never Forget or even Tonight’s the Night in being a shallow jukebox effort, only truly enjoyable for hardened fans of the featured artist. How very wrong I was – Jersey Boys is an absolute delight and masterclass in its genre from start to (spontaneous standing ovation) finish – and I cannot wait to visit again.
Told through narration and dramatic scenes interspersed with the hits of the Four Seasons, Jersey Boys never ventures into the realms of serious drama, keeping the action light and accessible. There is plenty of (genuinely funny) humour in Marshall Brickman/Rick Elice’s wonderful book to keep things bouncing along as we see the band develop from a failing group of crooning mobsters, into one of the most successful bands in music history. Des McAnuff’s ultra slick direction is flawless in ensuring no character is under-developed or over-exposed; McAnuff’s finger is clearly on the pulse in terms of pacing and character development. The versatile sets (Klara Zieglerova) and stunning lighting (Howell Binkley) are of the highest quality and make each of the cast look like a million dollars, no matter how small the role. I am frankly surprised that the production only managed four Tony awards in 2006 (Best Musical, Best Actor (John Lloyd Young), Best Featured Actor (Christian Hoff), and Best Lighting Design (Howell Binkley). Even more surprisingly it only managed one Olivier in 2009 (Best Musical) from the five nominated categories. If a modern production was ever going to ‘clean up’ the awards again, then this feels the one.
The cast (changing from 15th March 2011) are superb, with many ensemble members really standing out. I noted Tee Jaye (better known as Tommie Jenkins, who managed six weeks at #1 in the charts in 1995 with the dance hit “Let Me Be Your Love”) was excellent throughout, as were Stuart Milligan (Jonathan Creek’s Adam Klaus) as mafia don Gyp DeCarlo and Simon Adkins as the camp music producer Bob Crewe. Filling in as lead singer of the Four Seasons, Frankie Valli, was the scheduled alternate Scott Monello. Monello’s acting is decent enough and he does not lack in effort and characterisation; but his voice on the other hand was rather more disappointing, especially when compared to Ryan Molloy’s incredible falsetto. Monello also looks considerably younger than Molloy, this despite having been with the show since opening in 2008. He is believable enough as a young and naïve street kid in the early scenes, but rather less so as a harried father of two and superstar as the years roll by. The remaining three members of the band were perfect; Eugene McCoy plays the rather neurotic Nick Massi, excelling especially in his ‘angry’ scenes and narration. Understudy James Winter, as the brains behind the operation Bob Gaudio, is also dead on the money. Winter did not look or sound an understudy and compares favourably to clips of other performers in the role which I have seen – but I am sure this rather shambolic performance is probably not a fair comparison.
Reserved for special praise however is Jon Boydon as group founder Tommy DeVito. Boydon plays the role so well, it is almost impossible for me to imagine seeing anybody better in the part. Not only does Boydon have a great singing voice, he looks and feels the part in every sense – I am not sure how transferrable a skill naturally looking like an Italian-American mobster is, but it is definitely one he was born with! Boydon gives a performance of the highest order and I am delighted he will be staying for another year in the role.
It wasn’t always plain sailing for Jersey Boys; the show looked in trouble when ticket prices were slashed just weeks after opening (£25.00 any seat, any performance) and the show has been dogged by accusations of ‘unethical practice’, namely the use of pre-recorded tracks and that members of the cast mimed*. To overcome such adversity proves how important word of mouth truly is in theatreland – blogs and discussion communities may be the first to attack a very poor production – but they are also the first to tell potential patrons about an excellent one, which Jersey Boys most certainly is. A motion picture is now said to be in the works and if it is half as good as the stage musical, it should be a real treat. If you haven’t already been, what are you waiting for?! The chances are you’ll be booking your next visit on the way out of the theatre!!
- Harry Zing
*These accusations have been made long and loud by many in various chat communities and I believe the controversy even briefly reached the mainstream media. Allegedly, Ryan Molloy was so annoyed at this perceived sleight that he made of point of singing live on various shows (including “The Weakest Link West End Special”). Sources allegedly from within the show have given conflicting explanations about the use of click-tracks and pre-records. Having seen the show, there were certainly times when the final mix was considerably louder than others – and all of these occasions were when little or no falsetto was being sung. For example, in “Can’t Take My Eyes Off You” Scott Monello did sound considerably different to the first act segment featuring “Sherry”, “Walk Like a Man” and “Big Girls Don’t Cry”.
One explanation given is that ensemble members are singing into off-stage mics to create a ‘layering’ effect. The idea is to have understudies for the corresponding roles singing along to the performer on-stage adding depth, but also providing a back up should something go wrong (for example if Frankie’s voice should crack on a difficult high note). Another view is that recordings are played of the actual performer, made when they join the cast, which allow the performers to join in/drop out with themselves at will and again, act as a safety blanket in the harder songs (the riff in “Sherry”, for example, doesn’t appear to be sung live on various Youtube recordings I have watched in researching).
As a regular theatregoer (as well as having a good knowledge of click-tracks and their mechanics) I have concluded that (at the performance I reviewed) a mixture of off-stage vocal support, use of accompanying recordings and raising/lowering mic levels are all employed at various times to help the performers give the best possible performance.