Posts Tagged ‘All Star Productions’

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.)


Review – Face the Music – All Star Productions at Old Rose and Crown

June 17, 2015

I wear my heart on my sleeve, and if we’re talking musical theater, that heart clearly reads “GIVE ME THAT OLD TIME MUSIC.” I like seeing shows that leave me walking out the door singing a (newly learned) melody, and it’s all the better if there’s a tap dance number (or three) to lift my spirits during the show. Hey, I’m not saying I don’t enjoy Sondheim, but so much music these days is just so introspective and, I don’t know, fashionably boring – what ever happened to writing songs with a hook?

This was a talent Mr Irving Berlin, premiere 20th century American tunesmith, had in spades. So when I read that a show he had written with Moss Hart was going to be making its UK debut at the Rose and Crown, well, I just about slapped a hat on my head and ran out the door so fast there was a little cartoon dust devil left swirling behind me in the hallway. It absolutely helped that it was being produced by All Star Productions, whose How to Succeed in Business without Really Trying, One Touch of Venus, and Flora the Red Menace had shown such a skill at squeezing out the core joy and musicality at the heart of the shows (while operating on a tight budget, still not stinting on talent). A trip to Walthamstow has never been so appealing – and they are actually easier to get to than the Gatehouse. Go go Face the Music!

In every way, this show exceeded my expectations. I just went for the music, but the story was slap-me scintillating, positively prosecco-esque in its perfectly targeted wit. This, my friends, is a play that makes fun of making plays, a topic I find hilarious, and it had me guffawing and hee-hawing like a ticklish donkey being ridden by a contortionist. Everyone was hamming it up so much that it was impossible not to believe in them as, well, the actors they were playing (favorite comedians were the effervescent Laurel Dougall as Mrs Myrtle Meshbesher and gigglicious Samuel Haughton as producer Hal Reisman), and to make it even better the full investment was done in lively choreography that kept your eyes riveted to the stage (Sally Brooks). A nice bonus was chorine/dancer Joanne Clifton, a bright star dropped surprisingly into this production to all of our benefit (gorgeous movement and just smashing in all of her costumes – no wonder the cops couldn’t stay away from her!).

The fantastic songs kept rolling in, the jokes slammed us harder and faster, and the ridiculous events of the play layered on each other like a rainbow cake, every slice hysterical. I’d sit around and quote the play to demonstrate how funny it was, but why make you miss out on a single laugh? Let’s just say … I loved this show and I’m going back. There’s no Lost Musicals this season, but there’s a Found Musical just up the road in Walthamstow, and if you can’t afford to go to Gypsy more than once, you can find just as much joy and fun at the Rose and Crown at a much better price.

(This review is for a preview performance that took place on June 11, 2015. It continues through July 3rd.)

Review – How to Succeed in Business without Really Trying – All Star Productions at Ye Olde Rose and Crown Theatre

May 11, 2014

In the cost-benefit analysis of theater going, there are three items to consider: the price of the ticket, the quality of the production, and the length of the show. Sadly, “length of the show” must take into account the location of the theater, since this element ultimately figures into the painful calculus of, “Is this show so good that it’s worth losing sleep over?” For that reason, even solid houses like the Hampstead Theater, and the Royal Stratford rarely see me, as they need to have a five star production AND an affordable price before I even consider making the trip.
Another house that suffers from distance from the center (for me) is Ye Olde Rose and Crown, situated rather unfortunately at end of the Victoria line furthest from my home. Sure, it’s zone three, I live in zone three, but we’re talking a full hour’s travel here, likely only doable on a non-school night.

And yet, this year I’ve seen them do several very good revivals of lesser-known silver age musicals with performances and production quality that went far beyond what I expected of a “pub theater.” Fun costumes, good choreography, and great singing on top of an already strong score and book? It’s an irresistible combination, so much show that when I found out they were doing a revival of How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying – which I’ve never seen before – during a month when I had almost completely locked my schedule thanks to two bank holidays and the Lufthansa Early Music Festival. Gah! When could I go? How could I make the time? There seemed to be no option but to *gasp* go on a Wednesday night. At least the Tube strike had been called off.

After the disappointment of the Pyjama Game a night before, I can’t tell you what a relief it was to spend the night watching a show where I was eager to go back after the interval. Of course, the producers had picked a really good script – How to Succeed is unapologetically comic, but not because of silly accidental meetings or an overly forced romance. The story of a young man (J Pierrepont Finch – a fresh-faced Adam Pettigrew) trying to become an executive by following the advice of a self-help book is ripe for laughs, and the script takes full advantage of the opportunities presented (rather like Mr Finch himself). We have a love interest (Rosemary – the winning Alyssa Nicol) who dreams of keeping his dinner warm when he works late, and a giggling, smarmy villain in Bud Frump (Josh Wilmott), the boss’s nephew, who’s always willing to call Mother when things don’t go his way. The machinations of the three of them – Finch trying to get his next leg up, Bud and Rosemary trying to get Finch – keep the action moving forward nicely. Then add a bombshell (Hedy LaRue – the gigglicious Amy Burke) who’s trying to seduce Finch while keeping the big boss, J.B. Biggley (Mark Turnbull) happy – well, there’s lots of conflict, broken hearts, bad behavior, and fun for us lucky folks sitting in the audience to enjoy.

The songs, while not being as well known as those from Loesser’s Guys and Dolls, are comedy classics – “Coffee Break” (in which the entire staff goes mad because there’s no more coffee), “A Secretary is Not a Toy” (obvious) being excellent examples. They’re helped along by a fully engaged triple-cast backing cast, amongst whom I really enjoyed Nicholas Devlin, who gave each of his characters personality and quirks – not an upstager but one of many shamelessly hamming it up. It worked great for me – I love having something interesting to see no matter where I look when a big dance number is going on. And we got lots of those – don’t ask me how they fit so much into such a small area, I thought the dancers were going to bounce off of the lights!

Since I was new to the show, I had no idea what was going to happen in the second half, and I rushed back to take my seat. Then suddenly it was 10:30 and we were all saying our goodbyes, and I couldn’t help but wonder where the time had gone – I’d been having so much fun that I just lost track of time passing. I ddn’t regret for a minute the long hike home or being a bit groggy the next day – I was completely cheered up and practically tap danced my way back to the tube. Now this is what going to a musical ought to be like!

(This review is for a preview performance that took place on May 7, 2014. It continues through May 24th.)