Posts Tagged ‘Landor Theater’

Review – Thoroughly Modern Millie – Landor Theater

August 30, 2015

Thoroughly Modern Millie has a bit of an odd pedigree. It’s a musical based on a movie, a movie that was set in the 20s but written in the 60s. The original movie actually didn’t have many original songs; it was filled with hits from the teens and twenties. So how do you make a sixties movie with lots of dancing but not so much singing into a stage musical? Thoroughly Modern Millie “the musical” actually has a bunch of new songs to flesh it out – even lifted one from Gilbert and Sullivan – although it sticks pretty closely to the original madcap plot (you really just have to call it that) and includes the tap dance number in the elevator (to great effect). But … how does it work?

To my surprise, the net result of all of this flim flammery (now playing at the Landor Theater) was a completely engaging night that actually improved on the rather incoherent plot of its predecessor. We are flown right in from the start to the life of our lovely Millie, Francesca Lara Gordon, who, with her doe eyes, glowing face, and trim ankles seems destined to succeed at her stated goal: marrying a rich boss.

Francesca Lara Gordon as Millie Dillmount in Thoroughly Modern Millie

Francesca Lara Gordon as Millie Dillmount in Thoroughly Modern Millie

This is supposed to happen despite the many obstacles in her way: no money, no place to live, and no connections, but with her first mishap (and second dance number) she’s well on her way to finding a place for herself in New York. And we’re plunged into her world of glamorous dance numbers and ridiculous situations – an heiress who wants to room with her? A landlady (in New York) who’s willing to take credit? Unbelievable! – yet it’s impossible to push back too hard when so much screwball is hitting you between the eyeballs. Sam Spencer Lane ups the ante with fine choreography and a well-cast chorus of hoofers (special marks to Charlie Johnson, I look forward to seeing her dance again very soon) that had me hoping for the magical sound of taps being worn on stage at nearly every turn.

To make it all so much better, for once I got a musical with great songs (tuneful AND witty lyrics) delivered by high quality talent (such a voice from Sara-Marie Maxwell as Millie’s best friend Dorothy – where do they hide these people?) and even snazzy costuming (close enough to accurate for me and not done on the cheap), all of this unmiked and stuffed into the intimate confines of the Landor – and for about twenty pounds a pop. It even has a happy ending. There’s simply no excuse not to see this show and it may be one of the little twinkling stars I go see twice – Millie overdelivered value and that’s about as modern as it gets.

(This review is for the opening night performance that took place on Wednesday, August 26th, 2015. It continues through September 13th.)


Review – Damn Yankees – Theatrica Limited at Landor Theater

October 11, 2014

Growing up in the US, when I heard the title of this show I always assumed it was some kind of comedy about Northerners moving to the South. So typical of me, a non-sports-lover, to completely miss the thought that this might be a references to the New York Yankees baseball team! If you’re also completely in the dark, I’ll fill you in on the plot (in part to tempt you to make the time and travel investment): Damn Yankees is a 1955 Broadway musical – this is the golden age, people, when the very best stuff was being written – about a dumpy, middle-aged real estate agent who, in a moment of frustration, shouts, “I’d give my soul to see my team win the pennant!” In best style, this summons the devil (or some version thereof – he’s called Mr Applegate), who promptly transforms flabby Joe Boyd into super athlete Joe Hardy, a 20 ish young man with a winning smile and an even more winning hitting arm. He promises to have Joe be the man who takes his team to the top – with “the standard payment” (it’s not discussed in much detail). The rest of the show involves Joe trying to win over the team, its manager, and the nosy reporter Gloria while Mr Applegate, with a little help from she-demon Lola, tries to get Joe to give up on his escape clause. Comedy, baseball, hummable songs and unexpected mambo dancing ensue.

If you’re a regular reader, you must be going, “Webcowgirl! What’s up with ruining the ‘go in looking for surprises’ approach?” Although my normal approach to shows is to keep myself in the dark, this just isn’t true for musicals (or Shakespeare). This is a classic, a standard, and while there’s occasionally a show I won’t know, I have to be honest about the fact that I go in with expectations. I am excited to see how people will make the old shows fresh again. And I enjoy sitting in a room full of people singing their hearts out beautifully. It’s my guilty pleasure, only I don’t feel guilty about it.

Guilt isn’t the kind of feeling that would come to mind with Damn Yankees anyway, as it’s really just a giant ball of positivity with little drizzles of sauciness to make it fun. The songs combine soaring vocals with solid feeling and character development, getting you behind the perennial losers that make up The Washington Senators (a team long wiped off of the American baseball map) with “Heart,” making you laugh with blue balls anthem “The Game” (surprisingly racy for the time!), and just flat out entertaining you with “Two Lost Souls.” The theme of the devil and his seductive associate allows for a bunch of songs about ruining peoples lives – done comically – which contrasts heartbreakingly with Joe’s love song to his long suffering wife (“Goodbye, Old Girl”) and her return of his feeling with “Near to You.” Who would think a play about a negligent husband and a forgotten wife would leave you wanting to see both of them together again? But Damn Yankees does – it’s just a spectacularly well written show.

You can still screw this up, though: but I’m pleased to report this production was (pun alert) “pitch perfect,” from the thrilling singing all the way through to the prints of the women’s dresses. (Sure the guys had too long hair but I thought it made them look yummy.) And then the production ramped it up, with great dance numbers (the baseball team in towels! I didn’t know where to look!) and vibrant performances. I was especially impressed with Jonathan D Ellis as Mr Applegate, from the moment he appeared cozied up above the fireplace in a sharkskin suit to his burn-the-house down number “Those Were the Good Old Days,” in which he had us eating out of the palm of his hand – it was almost embarrassing but we were simply mesmerized. You could say the same for the backline on Poppy Tierney’s first dress – what a Lola! I think she had a rough job ahead of her – first, competing with the legacy of Gwen Verdon, and secondly, making a character work that has nearly three entirely different personalities to manage – while singing and hoofing her heart out. And you know what? She won me over. (I’m sorry Gwen, it had to happen eventually.)

Being Meg, the faithful wife, is hardly as exciting, but Nova Skipp kept us hoping for Joe to succeed, and both our Joes (old Joe, Gary Bland, and young Joe, Alex Lodge) were warm and winning with voices that sold the parts. Gosh, I want to be critical, but when it comes down to complaining about how Lola would have looked better in latex and Elizabeth Futter’s voice couldn’t compete with the men in the ball team, well, sometimes, in Lola’s words, you’ve got to “give in.” This was a great show, ridiculously underpriced in its unmiked glory, and I was planning my return about ten minutes into it. Don’t miss it.

(This review was for the opening performance on Tuesday, October 7th, 2014. It continues through November 8th and I expect it will sell out soon. Look, here’s the link to the Landor, if you don’t click it now you’ll only have yourself to blame!)

Review – Curtains – Landor Pub Theater

August 8, 2012

What? Another Kander and Ebb musical I haven’t seen? That makes two in less than a month – how fantastic! I saw an ad for Curtains when I was at the Landor Theater for Flora the Red Menace and I bought tickets to go see it within about 24 hours. I mean, c’mon! A murder mystery musical … by Kander and Ebb! I was surprised I hadn’t actually had someone knock on my door and direct market it to me, it was so perfectly suited to my tastes.

The night we came, the cast had the kind of electric air you get on opening night (and I think it was press night), all VERY on and broadcasting far beyond the tiny confines of the Landor (there are about four row total and room for about 80-100 in the theater). The stage was set up on the diagonal, so that a curtained proscenium blocked off a small triangle of the stage, creating either a big “front of stage” look for the scenes where we were “watching a show,” but allowing it to change the large space to being “backstage” by moving the props from in front of the curtain to behind (very clever!). Note that because of this, you may get a better overall experience if you sit in the corner area of the audience (the seats are on two sides in an L formation), though there is also enough action right in front of the “curtains” that this may be a matter of opinion. (I sat about the fifth seat in from the door, second row, and was generally happy with my view except for during the dance numbers.)

The story is fairly simple: a group of talented people are performing a show they hope to take to Broadway, and a member of the team is murdered. A detective quickly shows up to figure out “whodunnit,” but in a twist, he is a musical theater fan who decides to devote his efforts to fixing the show as well as fighting crime. So we get to watch the evolution of a musical while listen to the various people deal with their issues with each others (as actors, dancers, composers, producers, etc.) in high “musical” style … while the mystery unfolds. Particularly outstanding were Buster Skeggs as producer Carmen Bernstein (and the fantastic number “It’s a Business”) as well as Bryan Kennedy as director Christopher Belling. I felt like I was sitting in a West End house every time they were on stage – it was fantastic! Unfortunately the two female leads just weren’t able to hold up to this level of quality, but I found myself in a forgiving mood given the enjoyable material.

It’s hard to judge this show well as it is, in part, a musical about a bad musical. So some of the songs are insipid (the “In a Boat” song that is reprised several times) and some of the dancing is really not very good at all (i.e. “Bambi’s big number,” which I thought was heinous but was later referred to as the proof of her genuine talents), but I’m not sure when the not good elements were actually deliberate. Kander and Ebb’s fantastic musical style comes through at many points (and I couldn’t help but feel like I was being referred to in the very clever “What Kind of Man,” which slams theater critcs), but … some of the songs seemed soft when I thought they weren’t supposed to.

Yet, overall, I have to say I came out of this show both full of joy and (eep!) whistling the songs, and _that_ is the yardstick by which I judge success. Not every song has to be a miracle, not every performance needs to be at eleven. Curtains was a great night out, and a damned steal at £20 – one of the shows that makes me feel embarrassed at the riches London offers me for mere pennies.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Friday, August 1st, 2012. It continues through September 1st.)

Mini-review – Flora the Red Menace – Landor Theater

July 11, 2012

Two months ago, in May, I heard of a revival of a Kander and Ebb musical I’d never heard of before – Flora the Red Menace – taking place at a pub way up in Walthamstow. I adore Kander and Ebb, and I was willing to see it by myself and in a location that guaranteed I’d get home around midnight – but I saw a dismissive online review, I saw too many shows in a row, and suddenly I was exhausted and needed a night off (ten shows in nine nights is too much even for me). So I took a pass, figuring I’d listen to a cast recording some time and figure out where the Rose and Crown was some other night.

And then … it was transferred to the Landor Theater. Hurray! It’s only a few Tube stops away from my house so much easier to get to. So I headed over there only to find I’d picked a night the show was dark! Fiddle dee dee, and may I say that changing the website to show available ticket dates starting from the NEXT available date rather than all possible shows would have really helped me not waste a trip.

So now it was a mission, and yesterday I finally made it to the show. I was worried about an incoherent plot (per Wikipedia) and weak performances for the non=leads (per the review I read), but as it turns out I found the play completely coherent and believable – who doesn’t occasionally pick up with a nutty boyfriend in college? I found Flora’s struggle to hold to her ideals while her boyfriend attempted to make her toe the line on communism realistic and easily applicable to, say, religion or any other thing people get fanatical about. And while some of the song and dance numbers didn’t entirely make sense (why did Flora have an arts studio with tap dancers in it? Who cares!), the strength of the music just carried me along in a very pleasant evening. And to make it extra nice, the costuming was way above the level of most pub theater and the hair was just perfect (I wanted to learn how to do the styles).

One thing the other review got right – Katy Baker as Flora was a powerhouse, verging on a Ethel Merman style house-filling personality. And yet her coperformers weren’t slackers (one was very soft), but generally engaging. All in all, this was a good evening that not only gave me an opportunity to see a professional production of a forgotten work by my favorite songwriting team of all time, but did so in a way that made me happy I’d gone. It’s only on for a few more days, so catch it while you can.

(This review is for a performance that took place on July 10th, 2012. It ends July 14th. If you like Kander and Ebb, GO!)