When? Tuesday 5th February 2013
Who? Hugh Jackman, Russell Crowe, Anne Hathaway et al – full list here.
In my life, I’ve made no secret of my love – some could even argue obsession – with Les Misérables. If I had to, I’m sure I could recite the entire libretto (and, even more worryingly, many of the stage directions and technical cues) by heart. I’m certainly not alone in being a young(ish!) person whose affinity with theatre of all flavours began with “The Glums”. As a child, I found musicals somewhat unappealing; all that dancing around, bursting into song – it’s just not cricket. Or, in my case, football. Sure, The Sound of Music, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and even Mary Poppins are fun, carefree ways to spend a rainy afternoon for many, including my older self, but to me they aren’t the musical theatre that I fell in love with. Les Misérables doesn’t trifle with flying cars, magic handbags or
singing nuns in convents (Ed. have you seen the movie?). Les Miz is a dark, dramatic and hugely emotional three hour journey into a world of war, death and famine, with a cast of characters it is impossible to view as anything other than tragic heroes. Les Misérables transcends the ‘musical’ bit of musical theatre; I view it as a majestically scored, entirely sung through play. The original, finest and unquestioned masterpiece of the last three decades of British theatre.
This is why I can’t keep away. I have seen the West End production in excess of thirty times – on occasion simply to see a friend or highly rated cast give their take(s) on a character already performed by hundreds of other actors around the world. Every cast change I am there, every new production. I am incredibly blinkered and defensive about a show – sorry, a franchise – a multi-million pound brand to which I owe and am owed no affinity – simply because it stirs such strong emotions. But last year, the love affair ended, or so I thought:
In August 2012 I made a simply horrendous visit to the West End production, a little over a month into the run of the new (present, as of February 2013) cast and was left feeling angry and bemused. Practically the only show in town charging full price, understandably given that the Friday night I attended was a sell-out, was looking tired and frankly in the worst shape I’d seen it since the dark, dying days at the Palace. The cast were too young; only a few experienced heads dotted inbetween the drama school leavers and talent show runner ups. The direction was loose and erratic, the wide-eyed Duracell Bunny youngsters, full of beans and trying very hard atop the barricade simply looked lost. Unforgivably, some key lines were even lost due to the incidental over-acting of the keen-to-impress young turns, randomly crying out ‘in character’ with such gems as “Yeah, kill him!” (after capturing the undercover Javert), and, best of all, a truly Braveheartesque “FREEEEEDOOOOOMMMMMMM” during the ‘Final Battle’ from one over-zealous student). Ken Caswell wouldn’t have stood for such hijinx. The cast themselves were just okay (not helped by the fact that star turn Sierra Boggess was off sick, despite spending most of the same day tweeting about yoga classes, yoghurt and Yogi Bear – ed. careful of libel).
I felt disheartened. The cuts were one thing, the thin, stretched orchestra were another. These are sacrifices one has taken on the chin over the years since Les Mis Lite opened at the Queens Theatre way back in 2003. But it felt like the candle had gone out, the love affair had ended. Les Misérables was no longer the vast, beautiful, soaring masterpiece I remembered. It had become a watered-down love story about a group of attractive, similar looking twenty-somethings fresh from Arts Ed and Mountview, with triple-threat abilities and great physiques who couldn’t look anything less like a group of malnourished, down-on-their-luck revolutionaries. From memory, the only cast member who looked older than thirty was Jean Valjean, Argentine Geró Rauch, who unfortunately had an accent so thick it deemed his performance unintelligible to most.
And then, in December, I was sent a demo copy of the Les Misérables movie musical soundtrack, and I declined to review it, such was my negative reaction.
How wrong I was.
Coming tomorrow… Part 2: The Movie Review
- Harry Zing
When? Wednesday 8th June 2011
Where? The Grand Theatre, Leeds, stalls
Who? Jason Donovan, Verity Rushworth, Marilyn Hill Smith, Jacinta Mulcahy, Martin Callaghan, Claire Fishenden, Chris Barton, Philippa Buxton
All time family favourite The Sound of Music arrives at Leeds Grand Theatre in style with a new cast, headed by Jason Donovan as Captain Von Trapp and local girl Verity Rushworth in the the role of Maria. I am happy to say this tour, which has been running since July 2009, is looking as fresh and vibrant as ever.
It is a quality affair in every sense and clearly no expense has been spared. Robert Jones’ lavish sets are impressive throughout and noticeably enhanced since the previous tour of this production. The lighting design throughout is also superb, designer Mark Henderson particularly excels with his work in the closing scenes of both acts, creating some very striking images. The large stage at Grand at no time looks empty, filled with an ample cast of generally excellent performers.
Heading up the cast is Verity Rushworth, who took over the role from Connie Fisher in February of this year. Rushworth is very well cast; she is charming, funny and sings well throughout. Her solid performance and direction throughout is heavily inspired by Julie Andrews’ iconic turn, but this is no bad thing.
Unfortunately, Jason Donovan, who I have much respect for as a theatrical performer, falls somewhat short in the role of Von Trapp. Donovan sorely lacks the physical stature and natural refinement required for the role. Whilst not lacking in effort, he often overcompensates for his shortcomings by forcing the delivery of his lines, leading to a rather wooden delivery. His singing also fell a little flat, struggling with his lower range throughout. Donovan does have a couple of nice moments, however, such as his emotional reunion with his children, which was very moving. But, overall, his performance fell short of the mark.
The excellent Marilyn Hill Smith as The Mother Abbess brings the house down (twice!) with her spectacular rendition of “Climb Ev’ry Mountain”. The supporting cast are all of a high standard and special mention must go to the model professional child actors who won the audience over from the moment they stepped on stage. Do-Re-Mi was particularly impressive.
As a fan of the original Rodgers and Hammerstein score, it would have to be a very poor production for me to be disappointed, however, I am pleased to report (the two under-par new songs aside) that this production is a faithful and wholly enjoyable experience and a tour which will be around for a long time to come.
- Rebecca the Guest Writer
Hello and welcome to the first review in this new segment ‘Zing’s Record Collection’ – join me as I run my eye over the latest cast recordings and musical theatre album releases.
First up is a review of Helena Blackman’s début album ‘The Sound of Rodgers & Hammerstein’, released on February 14th 2011 by Speckulation Entertainment. Blackman, most recently seen as Nellie in a major UK tour of South Pacific, is perhaps best known as a runner up on the BBC’s popular 2006 talent show How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria?.
Whilst I am not a fan of the talent show format, I do appreciate it can help to occasionally unearth previously undiscovered talent; and Blackman is one such example. Given the chance to shine with this album, which features twelve of R&H’s most-loved showtunes, Blackman grabs her opportunity with both hands and produces an enjoyable and promising recording début.
Supported by a sumptuous 28 piece orchestra – unusually large for a recording such as this – Blackman’s voice is the definition of clarity and versatility. Singing in character throughout, Blackman is able to sing delicate ballads such as ‘Some Enchanted Evening’ (South Pacific) and ‘If I Loved You’ (Carousel) beautifully. Happily, she also possesses the ability to switch on the Broadway Baby quality for numbers such as ‘I Enjoy Being a Girl’ (Flower Drum Song) and ‘I’m Gonna Wash That Man Right Outta My Hair’ (South Pacific), the latter song especially making me regret missing her performance as Nellie in the aforementioned South Pacific tour.
Blackman’s strength is in the telling of a story; she excels at character performance and her decision to keep each song’s roots firmly in context is a wise one. Thankfully, there are no Michael Ball-esque liberties taken here, we are just given pure and uncomplicated musical theatre, mixed and produced to a very high standard.
The arrangements by Simon Hale, Michael Bruce, Tom Kelly and Chris Walker respectively are more or less faithful to the original scores and generally flattering to Blackman’s singing range and style. Blackman is occasionally caught out of her depth when trying to hit high and hard belt notes; specifically in the finales of ‘I Have Confidence’ and ‘Climb Every Mountain’ (The Sound of Music). That being said, I do still favour her renditions over those by Maria rival and winner Connie Fisher.
Blackman is joined by Jonathan Ansell for ‘I Have Dreamed (The King and I) and the impressive Daniel Boys for ‘People Will Say We’re in Love’ (Oklahoma!), the latter role suiting Blackman’s delicate and pretty voice particularly well. It doesn’t take a great deal of imagination to picture her in the role of Laurey, or any of the others recorded by Blackman on this CD (except maybe Mother Superior!) and I am sure that Blackman has a long and successful career in musical theatre ahead of her.
- Harry Zing