Posts Tagged ‘John Marquez’

Review – Once in a Lifetime – Young Vic

December 11, 2016

Tell me what the movies Singing in the Rain and Prix de Beaute have in common? What, you haven’t heard of the second one? Well, this 1930 Louise Brooks film, made in two versions, is a real treat. So the secret is that both films are deeply immersed in the effect that the introduction of sound had to the evolution of the movies … and, if you look over your shoulder, to the effect that movies had on the support for live theater (as it’s sound cinema that killed vaudeville/music hall culture, putting Gypsy on the stage and making Norma Desmond mad). I am very interested in the change that The Jazz Singer brought to the world of cinema … and having the chance to see a play set during this fruitful era was one I could not let pass me by. And it was written by Moss Hart and George S. Kaufman … my hopes were high!

I’ll warn you that this show will go down best if you have a taste for the “screwball comedies” of 1930s Hollywood – with plots built around things like debutantes taking care of chimpanzees (or maybe cheetahs) while wearing an improbable series of expensive dresses. Yes, reality isn’t really a consideration, and the sooner you stop expecting it, the easier it will be for you to enjoy Once in a Lifetime.

The show opens in the hallway (?) of the tacky hotel the vaudeville troupe of May (Claudie Blakley), Jerry (Kevin Bishop) and George (John Marquez) are sharing. May has some bad news: they’re running out of money. It seems like this group has run out of steam. But suddenly Jerry bursts on the scene and announces he’s sold the act so they can run to Hollywood and, somehow, make a fast buck out of the rise of the talking picture. He’s just seen The Jazz Singer and he’s sure there’s money to be made in Hollywood. Give him credit: he has certainly seen the sea change moment. However, he has no idea WHAT to do, and it winds up being May who comes up with the idea of running an elocution school. While the trio are on a train to the promised land (Hollywood), May somehow manages to convince an influential friend of hers, film critic Helen Hobart (Lucy Cohu), to get behind their crazy idea, and suddenly, boom, it’s Hollywood at one of the most chaotic times ever, and our silly little play is off careening down an iced slalom with a complete disregard for logic.

Along the way, we get to see all of the people constantly thinking they have something that ought to be in pictures, tons of glamorous dresses (no cheetahs or chimpanzees, alas), an endlessly rotating stage, way to many Indian nuts, a complete simpleton running an expensive Hollywood production, and an endless paean to the idea that it’s not skill but luck that leads to success.

The acting is not as energizing as it could be (and neither is the script at first), but there are so many astoundingly comic characters for the rather bland leads to bounce off of that I began to feel like I was, actually, watching a 1930s movie, with the incredible depth of character actors they had to choose from. Throughout it all, though, I maintained a high degree of ironic separation from the unreality of what I was seeing on stage … only, underneath it all, it seemed the lesson that the monkeys are actually in charge at the zoo seemed as correct in real life (say, in banking, business, and politics) as it was in this play. Oh, it’s all so funny because it’s just all so true. Skill and talent mean nothing; the ability to spin a convincing line of bullshit and get powerful people on your side is everything. And how can that not make you laugh? This play may have its faults, but I found it an effervescent slice of topsy-turvy reality wholly suited to the end of this most topsy-turvy of years. Who needs panto when you’ve got Once in a Lifetime?

(This review is for a performance that took place on Saturday, December 3rd, 2016. It continues through January 14th.)

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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.)