Posts Tagged ‘Jenna Russell’

Review – Urinetown – St James Theater

February 26, 2014

It’s tempting for me to write this review using as many tasteless puns as I can fit in. But I think I’ll hold off on that for now. Instead, I’ll share what was going through my mind as I watched Urinetown at the St James Theater …

“Right, so, okay, we’ve got a dystopian future here. Water shortage. Major tragedy as people are being extorted to use toilets as it’s no longer legal to have them at home. Um, but wait … nobody’s heard of a chamber pot? Oh god, this must have been written by Americans, right? Americans who believe in the God-given right to pee into huge quantities of water?

“Oh, look, now they’re ironically/post-modernically addressing the audience, actually talking about how to plot a musical and what they’re going to reveal in the second act. Pity they can’t get anywhere near the levels of irony of Starlight‘s ‘Poppa’s Blues.’ Oh, wait, God, so people are being brutalized by the police, so it’s supposed to be grim and funny and post-ironic? 1984 meets Thoroughly Modern Millie?

“But who would ever have wanted to see this thing? It’s not like it’s got really good songs or anything. Wait, is this actually a modern-day Springtime for Hitler? This show obviously was designed to be a flop! Who would want to pay to see a show that features people pissing on stage! It’s all a big joke!

“But wait, maybe it’s a big joke on me. I’m the one who paid full price for the ticket. On the other hand, I only paid 20 quid to sit here in the back row and I’m not really feeling bothered that I can’t see the heads of the people on the upper half of the set. Man, I can’t believe this was the same price I paid to see Finian’s Rainbow. Now there’s a show with some music.

“Heh, they got the joke about Urine Good Company. Hard not to make that one. But how come they missed making a joke about spending a penny? Oh yeah, American. And I can’t really say the producers pissed their money away because they certainly got in some talent to do this show. Rosanna Hyland, now she’s got some voice, great choice for the heroine. Jenna Russell, wow, I remember her from Merrily We Roll Along, she’s got pipes and is quite an actress, nice to see her again. And Richard Fleeshman? Is there really no reason for his character to take off his shirt? It would probably add another star to this show … Oh wait, interval, I bet there’s going to be a line for the toilets.”

“Right, somehow I made it back. It’s not wretched, right, I just am bored. Oh wait! Finally, a good song! And another one, one right after another! It almost makes up for … well, no it doesn’t. And people are really, really cheering. I guess they were desperate for something to like.

“Oh, god, finally, it’s all over. I guess the writers never read anything about composting toilets, either. Man, considering the way the utility companies screw over the citizens with the government’s blessing – saying they ought to “make less tea” or “share showers” to save energy, like staying warm in your house in the winter isn’t a matter of human rights – you’d think they could have made a really crisp, poignant show about corporate greed and government by the plutocracy. Instead, this show just feels stale and boring. But hey, at least I didn’t spend much on it, and I can get out the door quickly and go home.”

(This review is for a preview performance that took place on Tuesday, February 25th, 2014. Urinetown continues through May.)

Review – Merrily We Roll Along – Menier Chocolate Factory

January 28, 2013

It’s hard to figure out what to review when I’m writing up a show – the individual components (acting, set design, et cetera), or the impact of the prduction on me. I tend to stick to the second, but my experience is greatly influenced by whether or not I’ve seen the show before. I like to have shows be surprising for me, and part of the surpise is how the story unfolds. So this review, of a musical I’ve never seen before (Merrily We Roll Along), is going to be just as much a review of what was put on paper as it was how the actors, director, musicians, and so forth came together to make it all happen. And I realize this review is a bit late – the show opened in November – but shows at the Menier Chocolate Factory tend to be at the top end of my budget, and I decided to hold off going until the reviews came in. Once they did, though, it was a scramble to get tickets at any price, and I’ll warn you in advance if you want to see it that your best chance is to just check the website a few times a day to see if returns come in, because it is now VERY sold out (though talking of a transfer).

So! There’s a musical on at the Menier, by a composer I frequently have found irritating because of the tuneless nature of his show tunes. However, as I’ve been getting older, I’ve been finding myself enjoying his stuff more, because of the complicated textures of his … this is embarrassing … lyrics. OKAY! I’VE ADMITTED IT! Yes, I got to musicals and listen to THE WORDS. This is why I think Cole Porter is the best musicals writer ever, because his lyrics are so intelligent (and the music so singable). And, well, in an age in which lyrics seem to be getting stupider by the decade, tuning into a Sondheim musical at least proves intellectually satisfying. So when I heard that Merrily We Roll Along was not just supposed to be a good production, but had a story that I could get into (it’s about writing musicals, not very original but still the kind of thing I like on stage), I done went and ponied up and hoped against hope that maybe this time I’d walk out the door whistling a tune.

Okay, that last sentence was pretty much a lie. What I wanted was a show that pulled me into the story and made my brain fizz when people were singing, and even if it wasn’t the buzz I get from Irving Berlin, I thought this show would deliver. And so it did: starting with a scene of seventies success and excess, in a Malibu mansion, where producer Franklin Shepard (Mark Umbers) is having a big party to celebrate how awesome he is. He keeps feeling up a young starlet who’s there; before the evening is over, his wife and a mysterious fat broad from New York (Mary Flynn, Jenna Russell) have both told him off and walked out. What is this all about? Why are they so angry? Why was the New Yorker there at all? And there was a … songwriting partner?

From this point, the show starts rolling backwards, connected by a series of lovely announced date changes, telling the story of how Shepard got to where he was at the beginning of the play, how he made friends and lost them, how he had a family, how he had dreams, how he evolved from a man in love with music and the stars in the night sky to a man in love with fame, attention, and money. And because it’s told going backwards, because you know who his second wife at the start, you know there is a first: and when first wife (the lovely Clare Foster) is there congratulating Shepard and Gussie (Josefina Gabrielle) at the opening of Shepard’s first big success, your heart breaks that she won’t listen to Mary Flynn’s warning to keep an eye on her. In some ways, it’s wonderful to finally see when Shepard is friends with Charlie Kringas (Damian Humbley), in part because of the way it opens up opportunities for great duets and trios, but the hope and joy the characters show on stage can never be felt by the audience.

Let me be clear – there are a lot of really fun scenes and songs in this show – my favorites being the “composition” song (complete with the sound of typewriters, sung) and the Andy Warhol/Factory-esque dance party in black and white – but what really stuck was the feeling of infinite melancholy brought on by knowing where each scene, told going forward, would end up in the future. Thus a song like “Not a Day Goes By” hits you in the teeth on its reprise, because it’s not a song about how you can’t forget someone you hate … it’s about how your life is inevitably marked my someone you love. And then it changes. My God, what a show. I can see how I wouldn’t have enjoyed Sondheim so much in my twenties; shows like this, like Strindberg, really require a person to have had a lot more suffering and loss in their lives before they can really resonate. It was, really and truly, a great show.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Saturday, January 19th, 2013. It continues through March 9th and may have a West End transfer – God knows the talent was blasting off the stage like they were powered with rocket fuel. Unmissable in the Menier, I tell you.)