Posts Tagged ‘Cole Porter’

Mini-review – High Society – Old Vic

August 24, 2015

Oops. Looks like I let this one slip. I saw High Society the night before I started my new job and it turns out one of the things I can’t do is write reviews while I’m at work. So: the music was brilliant, there was some nice dancing, and I went home cheerful and very interested in seeing Philadelphia Story. As for the production itself, I’m glad I was able to get a half priced ticket, as it didn’t blow me away – still, it was a good way to celebrate financial solvency, if a bit unmemorable.

Review – Anything Goes – Sheffield Theaters at New Wimbledon Theater

February 6, 2015

There was little to excite me about the revival of Anything Goes that was wending its way to the New Wimbledon theater for a late winter run. I’ve seen so much watery tat on stage there that, despite the fact it’s closer to my flat than any other full size house, I just automatically assume that anything they have there is going to be poor. I mean, it’s like they don’t really use a quality filter before they accept a booking (Russian State Ballet’s Swan Lake?), as if they think that living in Wimbledon kills people’s critical faculties and all they need to do is stick stuff on a stage and people will come look. You wonder, really, in the age of movie and TVs, how this could possibly work as a business model, but for profit theater is a bit of a mystery to me.

But then a sneaky thing happened, with word of mouth creeping in to change my mind. First, I got a direct, personal recommendation from TootingGareth, then PaulinLondon and JohnnyFox gave it a raving AudioBoo. I really trust these guys’ judgments, and Gareth apparently has a solid understanding of what I like from my musical theater: excellent productions with great dancing and songs you sing as you walk out the door. And this, I’m pleased to say, is a musical that ticks everything on my list. The talent they’ve recruited are snappy and professional, the costumes and set design are swoony, and they just went wild with the choreography. I was unable to tear my eyes away from the juicy delights in front of me: it was like the most exquisite of buffets, with every table featuring a different collection of sweet or succulent dishes. And it wasn’t just the “main courses” (“Anything Goes,” “Blow Gabriel Blow”) that were good – the forgettable “side dishes” had been transformed into memorable, exciting numbers that did far more than provide filler between dialogue. I mean, every time I hear “Gypsy In Me” on my copy of the soundtrack, I cringe a little, but with a scene stealing comic as Sir Evelyn (Stephen Matthews) bullfighting with Reno Sweeney (Debbie Kurup), suddenly the whole number rose to a level I never thought possible. It was funny, it was clever, it was engaging, it wriggled and jiggled, it crackled and popped. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing: it was the National Gallery, it was Garbo’s salary, it was Ovaltine. And before it had always been filler. Wow.

I’m going to do my best to do a song my song review of this at some stage – oh, the yellow loungers the Sweeney girls reclined on while the crew danced the “Sailor’s Chanty!” – the pool the chorines “swam” out of on stage for the little dream ballet number! – but instead I’m going to pass on the great good news: this show is going on tour all over the UK, to Bristol, Torquay, Belfast, Cardiff, Aberdeen, and all sorts of different spots. It might even come back for a little time on the West End. And me, I’m going to make a road trip or two to see it, possibly to Southhampton and definitely to Woking. Yep, it’s that good. And if you like musicals, this is one production you won’t want to miss.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Wednesday, February 4, 2015. It closes in Wimbledon on February 7. Tour dates follow.)

Anything Goes Tour Dates
9 – 14 February
Aylesbury Waterside Theatre
16 – 21 February
Regent Theatre, Stoke on Trent
23 – 28 February
The Churchill Theatre, Bromley
3 – 7 March
Alhambra Theatre, Bradford
9 – 14 March
New Theatre, Hull
16 – 21 March
Empire, Liverpool
23 – 28 March
Congress, Eastbourne
30 March – 4 April
Mayflower Theatre, Southampton
6 – 18 April
Opera House, Manchester
20 – 25 April
Kings theatre, Glasgow
27 April – 2 May
Orchard Theatre, Dartford
11 – 16 May
Royal & Derngate, Northampton
18 – 23 May
Swan Theatre, High Wycombe
25 – 30 May
Grand Opera House, Belfast
1 – 6 June
Grand Opera House, York
8 – 13 June
Theatre Royal Plymouth
15 – 20 June
Theatre Royal, Nottingham
22 – 27 June
Playhouse, Edinburgh
30 June – 4 July
Grand Theatre, Leeds
6 – 11 July
New Theatre, Cardiff
13 – 18 July
Grand Theatre, Wolverhampton
20 – 25 July
His Majesty’s, Aberdeen
3 – 8 August
Bord Gáis Energy Theatre, Dublin
10 – 15 August
Princess Theatre, Torquay
17 – 22 August
Pavilion Theatre, Bournemouth
31 August – 5 September
New Victoria Theatre, Woking
7 – 12 September
New Theatre, Oxford
14 – 19 September
Hippodrome, Birmingham
21 – 26 September
Milton Keynes Theatre, Milton Keynes
28 September – 3 October
Empire, Sunderland
5 – 10 October
Hippodrome, Bristol

Review – Around the World – Lost Musicals at Sadler’s Wells (then to Mint Theater New York)

November 2, 2013

What? You say Orson Welles and Cole Porter wrote a musical together? How is it we have never heard of it! Well, per the folks that put on Lost Musicals, the original production was so expensive – with a cast of seventy, movies, and a nicely realized circus midway through – that it only made it for seventy-five performances. It never made it to London, its sets were burned, and it appears there was just not much left besides the script and the songs. And there it sat until the 90s! For me, it was like a GIANT PILE OF CASH that for some odd reason had been left sitting in the middle of the street for fifty years. WHY? Did Porter suck? Was the plot no longer conceivable in the, er, post-atomic world? (Not likely as it debuted in 1946.)

As reassembled by Ian Marshall Fisher, Around the World is a show with some really great songs, lively performances, and – it has to be said – a bit of a gap in the storyline. How does Phileas Fogg (David Firth) get from Hong Kong to California? How did his American manservant Passepartout (Lance Fuller) reunite with his Oirish girlfriend Molly (Rebekah Hinds)? The running time was still a substantial (near) three hours, but perhaps a little more exposition was called for. (Apparently in the Pacific gap, Wells had a Yokohaman circus …. somewhat beyond the budget of this performance but fun to imagine.)

The songs, though, are just really great, if occasionally shockingly racist. I had a pretty hard time stomaching “Missus Aouda” – a comic song about suttee. It was just black, black, black, but on the peformers carried! Truth be told, there were only nine songs in total, all witty in the Porter style, but my how sensibilities have changed. I enjoyed greatly the outrageous policemen (Michael Roberts and James Vauight, I believe), with their choreographed bouncing and twitching, but when we had Egyptians who were all dishonest and smelled, and a Chinese woman who was, of course, selling opium while waving her fan and acting completely “inscrutable” – was this really acceptable 70 years ago? I’ll say that the Americans and British were also mocked, but we (Americans) were only portrayed as ignorant, not subhuman. It just all left me flabbergasted.

That said, there was still lots to enjoy in this production, and I was pleased that they’d gone the extra mile and added more choreography than for the normal show. For a fan of Cole Porter, or someone who’s curious about those gaps in musical theater history, this show was a good investment of both time and money … the kind of thing that made you wonder, “What if?”

(This review is for a performance that took place on Sunday, Octover 20th, 2013. It continues at Sadler’s Wells Lilian Baylis studio on the 3, 9 and 10 of November, then moves to New York City’s Mint Theater from December 6-12th.)

Mini-review – Kiss Me Kate – Old Vic (transfer from Chichester)

December 14, 2012

There’s nothing like the feeling of going to see a musical by one of the best composers EVER for the VERY FIRST TIME and knowing NOTHING about it but excitedly anticipating how very WONDERFUL it will be! All of those instant classic songs waiting to become earworms! Those characters you can’t forget! The dancing! The magic!

And then, I’m afraid, there was my trip to Kiss Me Kate at the Old Vic. I admit, my primary reason for going was actually seeing Clive Rowe – my number one theatrical pal was in town and we were both hoping to catch Clive on stage (since he was taking a break from dame-ing at the Hackney Empire). Oddly, my friend and I have exactly opposite tastes when it comes to Cole Porter, as I love him, while Jonathan … well, he likes Rent.

But … but … I walked out of this show scratching my head. What was really so great about the songs at all? Now, both “Too Hot” and its associated dance number were fabulous, and “Always True to You in My Fashion” was classic bad girl material, but … I love Porter for his fantastically witty lyrics and rhyme schemes, which seemed generally NOT PRESENT. Did he just run out of creative juice between 1934 and 1948? Who in the world pronounces “Bianca” the way he suggests?

And, I hate to say it, but … the show dragged. I got bored. I’d be briefly engaged again, and there’d be some kind of uninspiring dialogue. Then FOOF there’d be some great stagecraft (I loved the sets and the costumes ALERT DAMNING WITH FAINT PRAISE) but AGH OH NO it’s Holly Dale Spencer overacting Lois again MAKE IT STOP MAKE IT STOP!

Now, Hannah Waddington was lovely and had a great voice (and looked fantastic) and there was some (but not enough) chemistry with her and Alex Bourne but Clive was woefully underused, and it’s wrong, wrong I tell you, to see a musical of this position in the canon and walk out thinking, “I’m so glad I only paid £16 to see that.)

(This review is for a performance that took place on Monday, December 10th, 2012. It continues through March 2nd.)

Review – Cole Porter’s “Paris” – Lost Musicals, Sadlers Wells

March 29, 2010

Lost Musicals is a series that celebrates forgotten members of the Golden Age American Musicals. Back in the day, new musicals opened a lot more frequently than they do now, rather in the way these days we have a never-ending series of movies rotating in and out of the local cinema. So any given composer would be very likely to have created a stash of shows that met with differing levels of success; only a very few have carried their popularity forward.

This slow fade into obscurity seems especially sapping for the 20s; aside from Anything Goes and Thoroughly Modern Millie, they seem to have all vanished. Fortunately, one student poking around the archives of a California college managed to dig up the score and book for “Paris” (or so I recall from the pre-show discussion) and thus we are graced with an opportunity to hear fresh work by America’s wittiest composer, Cole Porter, as well as see “Let’s Do It” and “Let’s Misbehave” in their original setting*.

Now, the plot is just a bit of fluff, exactly of the sort mocked in “The Drowsy Chaperone;” American mother goes to Paris to convince roue’ son to abandon his utterly unsuitable actress fiancee; fiancee’s leading man gives said teetotaller mother her first sip of brandy; comedy ensues. It only needed a monkey to round it out. I laughed at its ridiculousness (it just kept piling it on), but another audience member couldn’t stand it. Oh well, horses for courses; I could only assume he wanted Sondheim, or, God forbid, Webber.

Perhaps he didn’t like the setting. My friend expected a movie; perhaps this man expected a fully staged show. I thought we were just going to get singing. In fact, Lost Musicals has the entire show performed, with the actors, in concert performance clothes, reading out of scripts. It’s kind of similar to how Brown Derby does their restaging of old movies in Seattle (but without the heavy sense of irony). I was actually surprised by how much acting was going on: Mom (Anne Reid) was definitely staggering around the stage when drunk, the butler (Stewart Permutt) was going to a lot of trouble to mime moving statues around actress Vivienne’s flat, and son Andrew (Richard Dempsey) looked in love when appropriate and then put out later. Poor Vivienne (Sian Reeves) even had to do a dance number. She, however, was decked out in 20s glam, with gold lame, a head-dress, and flapper-cut skirt – really outstanding given that everyone else was in their blacks, but, of course, perfect for the role.

The singing was uniformly very good. Mom Sabbot sounded matronly, son Andrew Sabbot looked (and sounded) like the callow youth he was (and transformed nicely over the course of the show); Guy Pennel (James Vaughn) may have been a bit old for the role but was enchanting as a French actor slash gigolo. Brenda Kaley (Clare Foster), who seemed to have been brought along by mom from Massachusetts just for the ride, had a great moment where she cut loose that reminded me a lot of Hairspray.

I bought the plot, I enjoyed the performance, I was unbothered by the lack of set, I loved the witty dialogue, I was thrilled to hear this music performed live. In fact, I liked it so much that at the interval I sat down and planned when I was going to see the next two shows in this year’s series. Forget trying to watch silent movies in a cinema; seeing live productions of musicals that have fallen out of favor is much, much more difficult. I will absolutely be going for the rest of the season, and, musical theater geek that I am, I think I’ve just been converted for life.

*I think, anyway. Don’t quote me on this; I wasn’t taking notes when the show was being introduced, but since it’s supposed to be a “faithful presentation of the original work,” I think this means this is the play in which these songs first appeared. Here’s the complete list of songs, which differs from what’s on Wikipedia:
Act 1: Vivienne, The Land of Going to Be. Act 2: Let’s Do it, The Heaven Hop (which reminded me of the song “Toledo Surprise” from Drowsy Chaperone), Don’t Look At Me That Way, Let’s Misbehave. Act 3: Two Little Babes in the Wood, The Land of Going to Be, Finalture.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Sunday, March 28th, at 2 PM. It continues on Sundays through April 25th at Sadler’s Wells; be advised Easter Sunday is sold out but there were probably 10 returns the day I went so it is probably not too difficult to pick some up on the day if you’re motivated. Running time is about 2 1/2 hours. Note that tea and snacks are very cheap in the Peacock, just 2.50 for tea and a muffin, so I advise you place your interval order in advance so you can take advantage of these great prices and have a nice natter.)