Posts Tagged ‘Jule Styne’

Review – Bells Are Ringing – Union Theatre

September 30, 2010

Cross the Union Theatre, South London’s home of the brilliantly-revived-musical-on-a-shoestring-budget, with Jule Styne, creator of Gypsy, Funny Girl and the recent Forgotten Musical Darling of the Day, and what do you get? Bells Are Ringing, the giddy, well-crafted production currently marking itself as the show for fans of Golden Era Broadway song-craft as well as Mad Men-style plot and panache.

The plot is a “madcap caper:” lowly answering service minion Ella Peterson (Anna-Jane Casey, radiant) has made herself into a one-woman fix-it shop for all of the characters using “Suzanserphone” to handle their overflow calls, dishing out home cures, motherly advice, and “talks with Santa” to her clientele. Half-baked Inspector Barnes (Richard Grieve) is certain she’s offering shady services of some sort, and sets his aid Francis (Michael Bryher) to catch her doing whatever “it” is. Ella’s looking suspicious because she’s fallen for playwright Jeff Moss (Gary Milner); meanwhile bookie Sandor (Fenton Gray) is … but enough of the plot, having a few surprises makes it more fun!

What matters far more than plot is what it was like seeing the play. We’re crammed together on a long wall of the theater (go for the 2/3s of the seats away from the band), and a man & four young women show up and start singing in lovely harmony (really loved Aoife Nally’s voice) – and cracking jokes – and dancing! And the room comes alive, and the band is hitting it, for once it’s natural, mike-free voices and oh my God, it’s Man In Chair’s prayer “please let this show be good” ANSWERED! (Well, it does run a bit long as it’s nearly 90 minutes until the interval and 10ish when we left, but that’s forgivable.)

And there’s Anna-Jean Casey, whom I remember from last year’s Hackney panto, and she’s winning and she’s our heroine and she’s quirky and fun and she talks to the audience (“Hi there!”) and her voice is lovely and she dances effortlessly and I am totally caught up in “I wanna see her succeed!” She has 50s musical star charisma down perfectly and she has sold me on the show ten minutes after the lights have gone down.

And of course there’s MORE dancing (the subway scene!), MORE songs (every lyric worth listening to!), a cha-cha scene (inevitable at this time, remember Damn Yankees?), so many plots twists you’d think we were crocheting an afghan, in short WIN WIN WIN. And it’s all in your lap and in your face, a big Broadway musical so close you can touch it, and by golly, suddenly the Union has reminded me why I do this theater thing, ’cause I just went into a darkened room and watched magic happen. Well done all; you’ve restored my faith in the genre and sent me out the door with a song in my heart.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Wednesday, September 29th, 2010. It continues through October 23rd. Shows at this tiny house sell out quickly, so if this review caught your eye, I advise you to book NOW.)

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Review – Darling of the Day – Lost Musicals at the Ondaatje Wing Theatre, National Portrait Gallery

September 13, 2010

Discovery of the year for me has to be the Lost Musicals series at Sadler’s Wells. I was thrilled to see the genius of Cole Porter back on stage in a production I hadn’t only never seen but not even heard of before (Paris); I raced back two months later for the next offering (The Day Before Spring). Both were perfect Drowsy Chaperone-style plays with brilliant lyrics and completely comic plots, a far cry from the flabby shows of today.

This brings us to the year’s final production, The Darling of the Day. Darling is a far more modern show, from the 60s, and yet (to my joy) it was completely unpolluted by the forces of change sweeping across America at the time.The plot was as ridiculous as the others: an artist (Priam Farll, played by Nicholas Jones) returns to England, becomes promptly nauseated by the artificiality of the art scene, then takes the opportunity to switch identities with a valet (Henry Leek, one of many characters played by Paul Stewart). He also inadvertently takes over his arranged marriage to a working-class widow (Alice Chalice, Louise Gold). Much of the comedy is in Farll failing to fit into his new surroundings, amongst Alice’s lowbrow Putney pals; but there is also a great deal of charm in his very genuine affection for his utterly unpretentious wife. In fact, one of the highlights is the song “Let’s see What Happens,” which brilliantly solves the question of how two so different people could care for each other.

While both Jones and Gold seemed to be struggling with their vocal duties, I thought the duo of composer Jule Styne and lyricist E. Y. Harburg did a great job making music I wanted to hear; and I found the increasingly outrageous plot (which hit Gilbert and Sullivan-esque heights of absurdity before the end) a great ride. However, I could easily see where a more unforgiving audience might have found this all too much. It only ran for 32 performances on Broadway, and it’s only getting a total of five shows here, but I think it’s a fine show and I’m glad I was able to see it performed live.

(This is for a review that took place on September 12th, 2010. There will be one more performance on September 19th.)