Posts Tagged ‘A Little Night Music’

Review – A Little Night Music – All Star Productions at Rose and Crown pub

October 14, 2015

The Rose and Crown in Walthamstow is not an easy location for a show if you’re a south Londoner. Nearly ten minutes north of the terminus of the Victoria line, it’s about as far away as you can see theater as you can get while still staying within zone 2. But again and again I find myself making the trek to this pub for the fantastic productions All Star Productions keeps mounting in the upstairs space. It’s like Lost Musicals has decided to make fully fledged shows in a bijou venue – while you don’t usually get slumming West End stars, you do get deliciously unmiked singing and dancing so close that the skirts brush across your knees if you’re in the front row. I love this.

For A Little Night Music, I was, for once, not seeing a show pulled from the depths of obscurity: no, this Sondheim musical is probably his best known. It is even one that I had seen before, at the Menier, so the expectations were high – high enough that I got a ticket for previews because I wanted to make sure I didn’t miss it. But that was nearly eight years ago now – and settling down in my (front row) seat, I realized I remembered about three things about the play; it’s about an aging actress hosting a party in the country (the other things I won’t mention as they’re spoilers). It’s got one famous song (“Send in the Clowns”) and another one that’s at least hummable; by Sondheim standards, this is fairly big news!

I’m pleased to report that, among other pleasures, this version of A Little Night Music feels as refreshing as an autumnal breeze after a stifling summer. The acting is genuinely comic: Sarah Waddell (as Desirée Armfeldt) is full of mischief and joie de vivre; while, in a surprising turn, Jamie Birkett’s (as the Countess Charlotte Malcom) had us nearly busting our corsets with laughter. I’d struggled to keep the stories straight before, but, even with the numerous dancers adding energy to the scenes, I never lost sight of the core: Desiree, her old lover Frederick (Alexander McMorran), and his young wife Anne (Maria Coyne). Coyne didn’t entirely hold up her end as she tended toward shrillness rather than subtlety and even managed to drown out McMorran’s first solo; well, that was alright in the end, because McMorran himself smoothly convinced me of the sorrows (and passions) of late middle age.

Although I could nearly complain that the show just became too busy (and even needed some softening), my suspicion is that a few more nights will have taken care of a few of the lumps, leaving the show stripped down to its core; a romance more bittersweet because of the passing of time. In some ways, in people’s ability to change their futures, this is more of a fairytale than Into the Woods: only with the dark burden of death hovering over it all, much like it does in daily life if we bother to raise our heads from our desks and realize the future we have to face. I recommend this well-sung evening – but do cushion your chair with a sweater as the first act is around ninety minutes on its own and the seats at this venue are NOT comfortable.

(This review is for a preview performance that took place on October 8, 2015. If wishes were horses I’d like to see All Star Productions put a cast list online for this and all future shows so penny pinching reviewers can more easily credit cast members.)

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Review – A Little Night Music – Menier Chocolate Factory

December 3, 2008

Last night I headed off with my uncle, J and Sue to see A Little Night Music at the Menier Chocolate Factory. Now, I approached this whole show with some considerable misgivings, chief among them that, though I am a big fan of musicals, I do not care for Sondheim. I base this on seeing two of his works and finding them not very good (“Into the Woods” and “Sweeney Todd”) and the fact that I generally find his music “tweedley” and just generally not very hummable. Me, I want to walk out of a show singing something, like I did for “Drowsy Chaperone” and “Anything Goes,” but Sondheim doesn’t really leave me with a single memorable musical moment … it’s just kind of noise, like modern operas, though not to the extent that I want to stick an icepick in my ears like I did for “Pierrot Lunaire.”

My second major misgiving was that this whole thing was directed by Trevor Nunn. Now, chances are that if you know anything about musical theater, you’ve probably heard his name before. Unfortunately for me he is forever linked with “Les Mis,” which is stuck in my memory as the very first time I realized a musical could be complete crap. Nowadays I realize that pretty much anything can get hyped beyond all realms of belief and yet still be a steaming pile of poo, but twenty or so years ago this came to me as a tremendous shock. So I figured that once again I was likely to be signing myself up for something that was overdesigned beyond all belief and also hollow at the core.

Well, okay, there was one reason that I did not absolutely believe that this would be the case, and thus bought the tickets in the first place, and this was because this show was being produced at the Menier. Now, my first visit to the Menier was a bit of a disaster; the show (“Playing Our Song”) was a turkey and I left the theater with huge scrapes on my knees from the overly close seating arrangement. However, I loved the space; intimate as all get out (a bit much so in regards to the other audience members) and a really amazing place to watch people singing big songs to you from ten feet away. I’ve also been pretty impressed by the Menier’s record at getting its shows transferred elsewhere; while I can’t imagine why I’d ever bother with “Sunday in the Park with George” (as transferred to Broadway) its “La Cage,” now on the West End, is apparently quite the thing, and I thought that chances were better than not that this would be a good show and I’d be pleased to say “I saw it when” etc.

But then of course there was the Sondheim angle. Bit of a roll of the dice, eh, but the tickets were bought, and, if nothing else, my uncle was quite pleased to be going to see this show while he was visiting, and, well, the company would be good, so my fingers were crossed.

New to this trip was an Assigned Seating System (woo!) which ensured we could actually relax with our dinner and glasses of port at the Boot and Flogger prior to the show, all the while knowing we’d not have to sit in the row with the four inch wide aisle because we had seats waiting for us. Hurray! Unfortunately, “front row” meant “in the seats designed for people who are under five feet tall,” as we were ridiculously low to the ground and spent the whole time watching the show from over the top of our knees. Oh well, at least we had leg room – though we were a bit worry we might trip up the performers.

The show itself was actually a quite interesting little frippery (based on a Bergman movie – one of the happy ones, apparently) about a middle aged man wedded to an 18 year old girl (Anne Egerman, played by Jessie Buckley), who have an unconsummated marriage; he is attracted to a lush actress (named Desiree, my!) with whom he had a liason some years back, while his religious son is in love with the wife (who’s much closer to his age) and hating himself for it. All of this contained sexual energy goes wild when the unhappy family is invited to the actress’ country house for the weekend, at which point the play suddenly turns into one of those Shakespearean comedies of errors in which all true lovers are united at the end and we are sent home with smiles on our faces.

So there I was, hunched in my front row seat, watching these people sing and dance close enough to me that I could see the wrinkles on their faces (except for the 18 year old, whom appears to be actually … well, 19), listening very closely to the music and laughing at the clever libretto (who’d ever think to use “Titian” as a rhyme with “Venetian?”), and I realized … I was actually enjoying myself. Sure, I couldn’t stand Desiree Armfeldt’s (Hannah Waddingham’s) hairdo, which was too “1960s sex goddess,” and the miked voices made me want to tear my OWN hair out, and the actress’ aged 10 or so daughter was just verging on nauseatingly cute and precocious (though I did admire her for singing with so much hair in her mouth – was it all about the hair for me?), and my uncle was gagging a bit on the cigar smoke in Act Two – but wasn’t it all just rather lovely, with the simple, yet effective sets, the 100% professional cast practically sitting in my lap, the very interesting and believable characters? I mean, wasn’t it pretty much the whole package other than some niggling bits?

Anyway, by the intermission I’d perked up quite a bit, and by the end of the show I was thinking, well, who knows, maybe this Sondheim guy isn’t so bad after all. Maybe the fact it was a community college cast I saw performing “Into the Woods” affected how I feel about it. Maybe … maybe Sondheim is a taste best appreciated with age. When I found myself comparing the libretto to Cole Porter’s work, it did make me think I’d turned a corner. At any rate, it was a good evening out, and I do very much encourage people to take themselves down to Southwark and catch this show – it’s on for three months so you should have a bit more luck than you would at the typical Donmar production.

(This review is for a performance on Tuesday, December 2nd, 2008. For a far more thorough review, please read the West End Whingers, who got a lot of benefit out of buying a program. Too bad I could find so little information about the cast on the Menier’s site – perhaps they’re shy.)

Great deal on Wayne Macgregor’s “Infra” tonight; and preview review (November)

November 13, 2008

Well! That Facebook membership has paid off at last, as the Royal Opera group has posted half priced seats for Wayne Macgregor’s new work, “Infra.” These are even realistically priced tickets as it’s £30 and £22 balcony seats for £15 – reducing a £117 seat to £55 (like for Electra) doesn’t really help me much! Unfortunately I can’t really take advantage of it as I’m going next week – tonight I’ll be settling down in a riad in Morocco and ballet’s not really an option.

Meanwhile I noticed that I’m doing a poor job of attending fresh content to my blog, in part because I’ve been travelling an awful lot – but also because I’ve got my uncle coming to visit at the end of this month and I’m stocking up for when he gets here. The schedule for the rest of the month looks like this:
Nov 18: First, Linbury Studio, ROH
Nov 19: The “Wayne Macgregor New Thing” at the ROH (and some other works but … I know why I’m going)
Nov 20: Sankai Juku butoh program at Sadler’s Wells
Nov 28: August, Osage County at the National (so excited!)
Nov 29: Cinderella, Lyric Hammersmith
Dec 2: A Little Night Music, the Menier Chocolate Factory
December 5: Mother Goose, Hackney Empire
Dec 6: Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea – Battersea Arts Centre
Dec 12: Christmas Carol (the musical), some pub in Islington

And that will be it until we go to New York over the holidays. I’m realizing a lot of good theater time in my schedule is also being blocked out by apartment hunting. Well, that will be an incentive to find a place soon – the sooner I have one, the sooner I can start going out again!