Posts Tagged ‘Annie Get Your Gun’

Review – Annie Get Your Gun (with Jane Horrocks) – The Young Vic

October 7, 2009

Given that the Union Theatre’s Annie Get Your Gun was one of my favorite performances ever, and that Jane Horrocks is up there in the stratosphere of True Genius, I have to admit my expectations for the Young Vic’s production of Annie Get Your Gun were quite high. And as, after my long wait (probably got tickets three months in advance), as I sat down under the delicious wagon wheel chandeliers and behind a bank of four (count ’em, four!) piano players, I thought to myself this is going to be great.

Well, as I think about it two nights later, there were some great things about this show. Jane has a fantastic physical presence for Annie Oakley, not only managing small and scrawny, but also developing into glamorous and sexy as her character’s self-confidence develops. (I would have never imagined Ms Horrocks with flowing blonde locks and a white fringed and spangled cowgirl outfit, but she looked fantastic). And Frank, Julian Ovenden, was perfect, manly with that 1940’s stage vibrato that clearly _should_ have made all of the women fall all over him. Julian was much less of a “fathead” in his performance – he was both genuinely affectionate and genuinely concerned about his own career – and listening to him sing was a real treat, so kudos to him for his charismatic performance. John Marquez as Charlie and Liza Sadovy as Dolly were also a pile of fun and had that “big star” feel to them so appropriate for this era of musical – and this era of showbiz.

Buuuut …. it’s so horrible to say, and I never thought I’d be tying this, but Ms. Horrocks just wasn’t hitting it with her own singing. It wasn’t so much a matter of false notes, but just a lack of conviction and enthusiasm about what she was singing, a lack of oomph and pizazz. (Plus, I just gotta say, it isn’t “doing what comes nat’rally” no matter what Berlin wrote, he meant “natcherly,” just like the little girl was singing it.) She was also frequently overcomic to the point of woodenness (leading me to wonder if perhaps she was also affected by the misguided soul responsible for the poor choreograpy – whoever did “I’ve Got the Sun in the Morning” ought to be tied to a bronco and chased out of town). All of this meant her performance wasn’t selling to me in my 8th row seats. I mean, I should have utterly hung on her duets with Frank, but she wasn’t keeping up her end of the deal. Bah bah and bah!

So stupendously rotten that it deserves its own paragraph is the stage itself (catcalls to Ultz). It was some kind of horrible hybrid of a Cinescope movie house and a shitty 70s rec room – long, short, and shallow, with brown melamine walls and crappy white dropped ceilings of the very sort I go to the theater to get away from. This put serious limitations on the dance scenes, which, squeezed into this boxcar of a set, uniformly failed to gel. There were two peeps of what could have been – a bit where the top of the stage opened to show a little hotel room, making me think the entire upper deck of the set might open, or the back might open up, a hope that was crushed in the second act – and the great “Annie’s New Trick” bit, where the whole cast stood in front of the stage while a projection made bullet holes appear on the wall behind them. I thought that very convincingly captured the magic of theater, that we could “see” her flying by in an airplane and writing her lover’s name on the wall … but that magic was in might short supply for the rest of the evening.

Now, Annie Get Your Gun is a brilliant bit of writing and musicianship, and this was not so vile that I left at intermission, but there is no doubt in my mind that better versions of this show will be made, and this one, with its near community college production values and below par singing (by the star) is utterly worth missing. Two stars out of five.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Monday, October 5th. The production continues until January 2nd, 2010. For a more pointedly scathing review, see The West End Whingers; frankly, I just couldn’t be bothered to write that much about this show, but they were pretty damned accurate.)

Advertisements

Review – “They’re Playing Our Song” – Menier Chocolate Factory

July 27, 2008

I was quite intrigued by what I would find on my first visit to the Menier Chocolate Factory. Facility-wise, I’d heard them trashed many times by the West End Whingers (and since I don’t actually have other friends who go to see theater as much as I do, this was the only view I had to go on) … but show-wise, I’d noticed that the Menier seems to have a record for picking hot shows that go on to bigger and better places (and longer runs, i.e. Dealer’s Choice) … and win big fat prizes (Sunday in the Park with George,” Oliviers and more). So I was excited to finally check out the space, but also to see the venue strutting its stuff as the place where musicals, new or neglected, take their baby-steps before going on to bigger things. They’re Playing Our Song did not constitute a debut, but rather was marking its first London revival since it opened (thanks to ColouredLights for the hot tip). I mean, God, 1982, that’s a long time for a show to not be on stage in a theater town like this.

Then again … some times shows don’t get revived for good reasons. My big advance warning was – well, it’s embarasing, but _ it was the name Neil Simon on the credits (as script author). WHAT WAS I THINKING? I have read many of his shows, and I’ve got to say, I just can’t stand his writing style. Wooden, clunky, predictable – he writes like he’s creating sitcoms. Everything is right there in your face, the characters have whimsical flaws, there are some jokes thrown in (my favorite being the one about the dress from Pippin), there’s a happy ending, bleh. For me, it’s like eating lunch from McDonalds: sure, it’s food, but are you going to sit around afterwards thinking about what you just ate? Hardly. (I think the English equivalent is Alan Aykborn, who seems to have crapped out as many shows as Mr. Simon has. I mean, really, you see Pinter and start thinking all of the writers here are blazing geniuses, but it’s just not true. I guess someone’s got to write dull old stuff that works for people who have to be talked out of spending a night in front of the television, but me, I want something that makes me excited about being in a theater and willing to spend an hour or two talking about it afterwards. No luck with this.) I felt pain for the actors watching them mouth out this dreck. Were they feeling it any more than I was? I was not convinced.

My experience of actually watching the show was fairly pleasant, though (something which I’m finding a bit embarrassing in retrospect). The leads (Connie Fisher, who’s name I found familiar for some reason, possibly the same as Phillip Whinger although perhaps I was thinking Connie Frances) and Alistair McGowan (no bells ringing there – sorry, guy) had some pretty good chemistry, despite their cheesy 70s hairstyles and clothes and, er, less than convincing command of New Yawk American English. (Connie’s accent was just gratingly heavy and off throughout, though rather like a typical American actor’s failed New Yawk-ese; McGowan’s was smooth enough but when he got out of bed and said “Good mo’ning” or something along those lines, it was just as painful as if he’d pronounced the H in herb). There was a lot of production fun-ness, like the disco dancers in the restaurant scene, the drivable piano, and the silly outfits Fischer wore (McGowan’s were hideous but not as over the top as hers), and, really, I did enjoy watching their relationship progress and got a little emotionally invested in their success (career-wise and as a couple).

But … the songs. While they fit with the show (no surprise), I got absolutely no hint that this was a musical about two people who were pop rock geniuses (or “genii,” if you prefer). The lyrics weren’t memorable, and the tunes weren’t hummable. There was an utter lack of pop magic! What a contrast with Annie Get Your Gun, with its embarassment of riches (seriously, just WHEN do you walk into a musical and find you already know all of the songs?). I actually found myself sitting in the theatre, kneecaps jammed into my femur, thinking not of the permanent loss of mobility I expected as a tragic result of watching this show from the second to last row (perfect view of the stage, but only ten inches clearance between the edge of the seat and the back of the bench in front of me – picture of injuries sustained upon exit here), but rather pining away for Avenue Q and its endless series of wonderful musical nuggets (“Schadenfreude,” “It Sucks to be Me,” “The Internet is for Porn” – when was the last time I went to a show and could name so many songs that I had, in fact, only heard for the first time?) As I sit here writing this, I can’t remember one song from this show (other than maybe a hint of the title tune, which is thankfully fading fast), and I’m the kind of person who sits singing showtunes in my house when I’m in a happy mood, so I consider this a major failure in a musical.

So They’re Playing Our Song was a mixed bag for me – boring dialogue, forgettable songs, but decent performances and entertaining enough while I was sitting there with a friend who loves musicals. (Do bring water if it’s over 20 C outside as you will be melting, and forget eating in the restaurant beforehand – it’s a sauna!) But, really, if you haven’t seen Avenue Q yet and you’re a musical theater fan, go see it instead. When it comes to adding to your lifetime treasury of wonderful shows, They’re Playing Our Song isn’t going to put a penny in your account, and since there’s shows out there that will, I highly advise going to see them instead. Me, I will happily fly Air Menier again, as it’s a great space for shows (aside from our row, which I noticed the other six people abandoned after the interval), but I’m hoping next time I find a bit more gold while I’m sifting through the sand.

(This review is for a matinee preview performance that took place Saturday, July 27th.)