Posts Tagged ‘above the stag theater’

Review – Bathhouse the Musical – Above the Stag Theater

June 26, 2014

As a woman of a certain age (and tastes), it’s probably completely unsurprising that my idea of a brilliant way to start my pre-birthday celebrations was to go to the Above the Stag’s newish home, have several glasses of pink wine and them hope to be deliciously, salaciously, and possibly filthily entertained by a musical … featuring gay men … potentially wearing very little. Yes, people, there is a target audience for Bath House the Musical, and I am it. While I may not share the gender of 95% of the target audience, still, we’re a group of people that know what we want and we’re not shy about going out to get it. SHAKE IT BABY!

In addition, as a theater critic, I was interested in seeing a musical that was, to me, completely new. On the other side, from a sociological perspective, I was actually really curious about what might actually happen in a bathhouse! I’d been to some steam rooms, but I don’t think the frequently gender-segregated Bethnal Green Spa is really about anything other than health and socialization: bathhouses, by contrast, have a serious reputation for being the kind of place where hanky panky happens. And, as a woman, they aren’t exactly the kind of places I can just sneak into and have a poke around. So I went in to Bathhouse with high hopes that I’d be both entertained and educated.

In some ways, the plot was perfect for a newbie like me: sweet young Billy (Ryan Lynch) is going to the bathhouse for the first time, and he doesn’t have the faintest idea what to expect either! So we get a song (“Bathhouse ABCs”) explaining some of the basics of bath house etiquette, all of which was completely new to me (even though I feel confident the bathhouse compere does not go around in a feather boa). We also got an eyefull of the variety of men who were our bathhouse patrons – but instead of casting the show with uniformly young, ripped gents, we had a nice variety: the very ripped and muscular Beckham-like Matthew Harper; extremely boyish Joe Leather (who, despite being young, is the one who is looking for – as the song title says – “Bear”); heavy-set, hairy Tim McArthur; flamboyant Alistair Frederick; and middle-aged, South Asian Royce Ullah, who made the production feel like a real London bathhouse rather than one that was, say, in Miami or Los Angeles. The fellow spend most of the evening wearing just towels, accessorized with wrist-or ankle-bands holding their locker keys … and, while you were perhaps dreaming of (or fearing) full frontal nudity, our brave performers quite modestly only provide the view from behind – although, when the lot of them are in a big clump on the stage with Frederick at the middle, well, not being able to see everything that was implied didn’t make it any less hot. AHEM!

In addition to the cheerful stuff, we hit some other elements during the show, such as the difficulty of trying to navigate your way through internet contact and the fun of being not partnered up for the holidays … although as captured in song, with “Clicking for Dick” and “Christmas at the Baths,” you could see that the authors weren’t wanting to wallow in misery. In fact, the overall effect of the whole show was of cheer and not taking it all too seriously – it’s meant to be a pick-me-up (see what I did there!), and it succeeds at this well. I laughed and leered and giggled and just let myself enjoy the comic air (and handsome performers). As a summer show, you couldn’t ask for a better bit of fun than Bathhouse – and it’s a good thing for the performers because BOY this would be a chilly one to do in December!

(This review is for the opening night performance that took place on Friday, June 20th, 2014. It continues through July 20th. Pictures to follow!)

Review – Jack Off the Beanstalk – Above the Stag Theater

December 8, 2013

Just how much booze do you need to imbibe to have a good time at an adult panto? Based on my recent experience at Above the Stag, I’d suggest at least two doubles before the interval and a second during. This all depends, of course, on what kind of stomach you have from for the vagaries of the Scratch and Sniff card. Jasmine? Pine? Oh my God … is that Stinking Bishop? PHEE-YEW!

Jack Off the Beanstalk is the opening production in Above the Stag’s new space, a railway arch about 5 minutes walk from Vauxhall Station. It’s very easy to find and not at all dodgy (no matter how much that would add to the experience, but, hey, there’s always Chariots in the other direction for the truly bereft). It was having some early days hiccups the night I went, but the bar was in full working order, the seating was comfortable enough, and the layout of the theater still worked just fine for a light-hearted show – I mean, we weren’t really expecting them to put a full sized helicopter in the rafters, were we?

Plotwise, we’ve got a hunky Jack (Chris Clynes) and his dorky brother Simon (Toby Joyce) trying to save the Trott family farm, with some help from the friendly fairy, Fanny Goblin (Stephanie Willson), and the amenable Maisie (Rosie Bennett). There’s a fair amount of rural vs urban and northern vs southern competition going on, but the corruption of people like Lord Fleshcreep (Ian Hallard, unexpectedly yummy) is universal, and ever so much more fun when he’s trying to repossess a farm so he can use it for a lame rock festival. And, bonus; we have the mockery of silly reality TV celebrities with Cillian O’Connell (the rather tasty Joseph Miller), whom you can’t help but hope will hit it off with Jack so we can watch them both kiss and perhaps take their shirts off. Phwoar! Er, or maybe that was just me.

Unfortunately the first act dragged a bit (way too much time in the farmhouse with Dame Trott (Matthew Baldwin), who was certainly funny and a good actor but didn’t have enough material), and I found myself, oddly, wishing for more songs. I was also wanting some more political jokes – oddly, something that seems even easier to slide into an adult panto than a family one, and something which I really enjoy. But I liked the gags that got us scratching the numbered smell spots on our cards, and I was having a lot of run booing Lord Fleshcreep (and watching him flirt shamelessly with the guy sat in front of me), and then the next thing you know it was the interval and I was all set for a good gossip. My guess is that since this was early in the run, it’ll probably tighten up a bit (insert joke here).

Act two pumped it up (snicker) with the introduction of “The Giant” (Steven Rodgers) who managed to ruin both my memory of what “golden” thing Jack stole from him (wasn’t it a harp?) and what exactly got him known as a “giant” in the first place (I swear it was HEIGHT!). We got the opportunity to see Jack dance around in a tiny pair of golden pants and the much more horrifying prospect of Dame Trott in a giant golden pinnie. And did I mention Kylie the Cow?

As anticipated, it all had a happy ending, especially for the various star crossed lovers. I’d say it was a good night out for everyone – except for Lord Fleshcreep – and can happily report that you did get to see the people you wanted kissing at the end. Hurrah!

(This review is for a preview performance that took place on Tuesday, December 3rd, 2013. The show continues through January 5th. Book quickly if you want to go as the groups of 5 and 10 that get block seats make it sell out long before the end of the run. And make sure you have a drink before and during the show.)

Review – Blink Again! (turn on the lights) – Above the Stag Theatre

June 30, 2011

It’s been two times lucky with the Blink series at the Above the Stag theater, and I wasn’t about to miss a chance to see the third round of this series of songs from musicals people loved to hate. The format is songs performed with small intros as to their provenance, enhanced this time with a digital projection showing pictures of the appropriate cast album cover or program.

Unfortunately this round just wasn’t as fresh as it could have been – too many shows were rehashed for my tastes (Grand Hotel, “I Want to Go to Hollywood;” Moby Dick, “A Whale of a Tale;” The Rink, “Colored Lights;” Children of Eden, “Wasteland”), decreasing the sense of discovery and wonder previous productions had imbued. Even the same songs were being rehashed, which I found particularly irritating given my feelings about Drowsy Chaperone‘s “As We Stumble Along.” However, there was a movement toward organanizing the songs in a more thematic way, which led to a pile of fun mocking the Disney enterprise (yes sure Lion King is still going wild but nobody’s crying about the unfortunate fates of Tarzan – represented by “You’ll Be in my Heart” – and the Little Mermaid, “Part of Your World” and “Under the Sea”) with new, camp versions well suited to a fringe venue (and didn’t Ashley Martin look fetching in his spotted tunic). We also had a fab disco interlude that hit Saucy Jack and the Space Vixens (“All I Need is Disco,” I forgive them for doing a repeat in this case as the musical itself is so terrible I was thrilled not to have to sit through it), Flashdance (“Gloria”) and 9 to 5 (theme song), ending with the entire cast (men included ) parading around stage in giant blonde wigs. I loved it!

The height of brilliance, though, was in their perfect sendup of Kneehigh Theater’s Umbrellas of Cherbourg, a show which I enjoyed but was so … misdirected (I think it was overpriced and overlong) that it made it only 40 some performances before closing. They ripped not just the bizarre performance of cabaret performer Meow Meow, but the entire premise of the show … in a manner that seemed to me very Forbidden Broadway-esque. It was all just so fresh it stung … and I loved it. Maybe, I am thinking, that where this show should focus is on the much more recent flops – God only knows I was expecting a mechanical pig to show up on stage any minute – and go for a performance that’s far punchier. The frequent references to another mega-flop (which I’ll keep a secret) made for a gag that kept me giggling all the way through – why not mock Greenland too, and for that matter all of the other shows that deserve a good swift kick for being expensive, badly cast, poorly thought out, and generally a waste of time? Hell, I’d sign up for that! I don’t want to discount the joy of hearing songs from Which Witch (they were great) or Batboy, but if there aren’t enough musicals to stick with the theme, I say change the theme and go for a better show.

Still, it was £14 and I had a good evening, the cast was talented, and the few songs I hated were short. Overall, this was a good evening and I do recommend it to the musical geeks out there.

(This reveiw is for a performance that took place on Tuesday, June 28th, 2011. It continues through July 2nd.)