Posts Tagged ‘Gone with the wind the musical’

Review of “Marguerite – the Musical” – Theatre Royal Haymarket

June 13, 2008

Tonight my uncle, my husband and I went to see Marguerite – the Musical at the Theatre Royal Haymarket. The reasons we went to see this show were simple: it was brand new (world premiere in London less than a month ago) and it was a musical. When it seems like 90% of what we’re seeing on stage in London is now either a revival, an American import, or some limp fish composed of pop songs with a thin through-line, this made it rather a standout. It was also not Gone With the Wind, which for some reason I could never imagine being anything other than cheesy even before the reviews sent it to its early grave (tomorrow, in fact). (Weren’t the Marguerite cast members thanking their lucky stars that they’d put their money on the winning horse!)

It’s actually hard for me to figure out what to say about this show because I didn’t find it thrilling, which is what I’m always hoping for in a musical, but this wasn’t, in fact, what I was expecting. Since the creative cast drew heavily from Les Miserables, a show I’d rank as among the most disappointing things I’ve ever seen on stage, I figured I’d loathe the music, cringe at the singing, and shudder at a banal book. Me, I am a classical musical kind of girl. I consider Oklahoma and Anything Goes the height of the form, and think that Chicago marked the end of the era. The only new musical I’ve really been passionate about is Avenue Q – everything else has mostly just been adequate, or boring, or bad.

As it turns out, the music in Marguerite is actually fairly pleasant. I really listen to the words the cast members are singing, which is especially important in this show, and the lyrics were interesting – they moved the story along without using painfully obvious rhymes to get there. The singers didn’t do that cheesy swooping thing with their voices that I hate, and the ensemble singing (the whole cast but also the trio of Marguerite, Armand and Otto) was quite good. But nothing was interesting enough for me to catch the tune and be humming it after the show, and while Marguerite (Ruthie Henshall) and Armand (Julien Ovenden) had fine voices, I wasn’t wowed by them. (This is not the case for Mr. Ovenden’s biceps, which did have my full attention.)

The story itself is pretty interesting, though not exactly any surprise to someone who’s familiar with La Dame Aux Camellias (or La Traviata, though I felt like this story split pretty far from it). A gorgeous older French woman is being kept by a German general in WWII Paris; she falls for a handsome piano player half her age, a man who makes her feel alive again. (Somehow it was all very Demi and Ashton.) There is, of course, trouble, and the Resistance gets involved. I actually was more interested in the way they wove in the historical fact of people being attacked for being collaborators after the war – and the way many people hid their lack of support for resistance activities afterwards.

I loved the set – it seemed like it was entirely made of glass, a metaphor for “people who live in glass houses,” and the use of projections on the lightly mirrored back walls very effectively created scenes of Paris without being particularly heavy-handed. Armand’s garret was very effectively created with just a bed and a big window, and the transition from scene to scene was seamless. And the costumes were quite good – one of the few times when I wasn’t sitting in my chair complaining about a lack of historical research or inappropriate use of [insert accessory here].

Overall I’d say this is a good musical, nicely set in the jewelbox that is the Theatre Royal Haymarket. For people who like the modern musical style, I think it would be a good night out – it just wasn’t one I was enraptured by, but my uncle and husband thought it was fine (though not outstanding). If you’re debating between this and, say, Jersey Boys or Wicked, I would go for Marguerite in a heartbeat, and even though I personally love Cabaret and Chicago, it would be much better to give a new show a chance. While GWTW deserved its fate, this show deserves much better. That said, will someone please bring Xanadu the Musical to London for me?

(This review is for a performance that took place on Friday, June 13th.)

Advertisements

Review of “Rosmersholm” – Almeida Theatre

June 13, 2008

Last night my uncle and my husband and I went to the wilds of Islington (which is actually far less wild than Dalston, where Ibsen and I last crossed swords) to the Almeida to see Ibsen’s Rosmersholm. I’m on an Ibsen quest, like my Pinter quest, though Ibsen is making it easier by being dead and thus not making it possible to have new play added. We ponied up for a program, which revealed some important Ibsen tidbits for me, especially regarding the order in which he wrote his plays: Rosmersholm preceded Hedda Gabler by four years (1886 and 1890), and was written just before The Lady from the Sea. This gave me an idea of where he was in terms of his skills as a playwright – oddly, near the height of his powers, given that the nearly perfect John Gabriel Borkman was written in 1896 and his last play in 1899. (I can also now say that I have my list of plays to see: I’m going to plan on skipping the critical failures, which I don’t think will ever be produced anyway, but I also have a dire need to see Ghosts and Peer Gynt.)

Rosmersholm (the home of the Rosmer family is the correct translation, I believe) is an odd play. I ended the first act feeling elated, but the second act left me dissatisfied and the third disgusted. As in Lady from the Sea, this comes down to problems with the script. The first act was very naturalistic, mostly concerning a confrontation between Mr. Rosmer (Paul Hilton) and an old friend of the family, Doctor Kroll (Malcolm Sinclair, last seen in Dealer’s Choice – boy, can this guy act!). Listening to Kroll go on about the values of conservatism, the ignorance of the masses, how wives should get their opinions from their husbands, how liberals are evil and a force of corruption to true and noble values, and how wretched the press is was (etc.) was actually a blast. He was strongly opposed to many of the things I personally believe in, but, even though some of his opinions were merely dated, so many of them seemed to still hold relevance today and I found his rants quite intriguing. I was also fascinated by how quickly he shrugged off Rebecca’s (Helen McCrory) attempts to engage him in conversation – after all, what could a woman know about politics! Then Rosmer dropped his bomb on Kroll, the shit hit the fan, exciting debates about atheism and what liberals believe in ensued, and I was hooked, and ready to recommend this play to all of my friends.

Unfortunately, act two descended into, I don’t know, something like “truthyism” but perhaps better described as “writeryistic.” Plot points need to be made, and what better way to do it than two letters sent by a dead person! (I was kind of reminded of the arrival of heralds in the Greek plays, describing off-screen action, such as murders and wars.) We just weren’t buying it and the endless exposition was beginning to grate. I couldn’t buy Kroll rejecting Rosmer’s friendship outright in act one, and his subsequent return in act two layered a second thick improbability on the first. C’mon, this is all supposed to be naturalistic, have the people actually act naturally!

Speaking of which, I was really having problems with Helen McCrory’s costuming and performance. Victorian women didn’t keep their hair in modern office girl fluffy half-twists, they didn’t slop their bodies all over the place, and, in general, I just think she didn’t do her research on properly playing a woman of the era, even if she was a free thinker. I also found the way she made herself tremble when she was confronting Rosmer just a little too much. How is it that an English actor can go to so much effort to get an accent right and then totally drop the personal representation of a historical era?

The penny finally dropped in the third act, when Ibsen threw reality out the door and suddenly went for a sort of Young Werther gothic drama. Rebecca’s revelations were all a little too much to be believed, Rosmer’s endless mood changes were completely over the top, and the ending was just … ridiculous and as over the top as a pasted on Hollywood ending a la Lady and the Sea. If Ibsen has gone to all of this trouble to create real people with real problems, why have them start acting like silly ninnies just to wrap up the show conclusively? All three of us grumbled as we left – such high hopes, so cruelly dashed! I’ll still keep seeing Ibsen, but I’m hoping he doesn’t let me down as roughly as he did last night.

In other news, my esteemed colleagues the West End Whingers have been blamed by a cast member of Gone with the Wind for that show’s “untimely” demise. I think it’s ridiculous to think that anyone who pays to see a preview as putrid as the one they described should be considered in anyway obliged to keep mum about it – in my mind, they were doing a public service! If you want it to be a secret, then workshop the show or have more dress rehearsals, and if you’re genuinely concerned about what to add and what to keeep and how it will play in front of a live audience, then for God’s sake do what they did for Hairspray and trial it in some smaller theatrical markets (Seattle and Chicago in this example). Could this show have succeeded? Possibly, with months more of rewrites – but from what I heard about the songs, I think perhaps not.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Thrusday, June 12th.)

What? Theater on Sundays? What about my day of rest?

June 5, 2008

In what I think will pass as the best theater news of this week, this month, and, possibly, this year, it appears that The National Theatre will be doing shows on Sundays starting in September. This is fantastically good news to me as Sundays have traditionally been slim pickin’s, and this policy has been a real thorn in my side when entertaining out of town guests. On the other hand, it’s made it easy for me to make Sundays the day where I literally don’t plan on doing things, letting me go to musuems, visit friends, and (heaven forfend) clean house and do grocery shopping. (Which reminds me – I need to get on this before my uncle comes to visit next week, but since I’m seeing Peony Pavillion on Sunday it’s going to be hard to find the time!)

In far less shocking news, Gone with the Wind is calling it quits. This is, in my mind, a total gift to any unwary theater goer – I prefer my turkeys on the table at Thanksgiving, thank you very much. It did provide the opportunity for some truly spectacular blogging, but, yet again, if I’m looking to strip the paint off of the walls, I’d rather go to the hardware store. Wait, no, that’s not true, such blistering reviews are actually really fun to read, but, still, it’s good to hear it’s being put out of its misery. One wonders what’s held Lord of the Rings up for as long as it has – sticks? I saw a woman on the tube with a whole bag full of merchandise from the show last night and I was really wondering just what had come over her.