Posts Tagged ‘Landor Theatre’

Review – The Clockmaker’s Daughter – Landor Theatre

June 3, 2015

For me, the combination of “new musical” and “fairy tale” was a magical one, the kind that gets my expectations really high. I love fairy tales: I read everything by Andrew Lang, the Brothers Grimm, and Hans Christian Anderson I could get my hand on as a kid, and as an adult I’ve expanded to Hoffman, Nesbitt, Diana Wynne-Jones and Patricia McKillip. Fairy tales make me feel happy: they have beautiful imagery, tropes that can be worked with or against, and frequently moral outcomes that leave you in tears. So when I received an invitation to the opening night of Daniel Finn and Michael Webborn’s newly created show, The Clockmaker’s Daughter (at the very conveniently located Landor pub theater), I was panting to go.

In construction, the story starts off feeling like Coppelia or Pygmalion – clever man makes clockwork doll that comes to life (although I found the relationship of the man to the doll a bit ambiguous – was she intended as his wife-replacement or daughter-that-never-was?) – but ends, rather surprisingly, with a Frankenstein twist. In between, we get a lot of story that sometimes follows the plots of the original – apparently nobody wants a creature they have made, whether their actual child or their clockwork child, to have their own opinions and desires – but then also takes its own turns, the end result being an exceedingly original story that leaves the audience thinking about what it means to be human and how quickly people can turn against someone they decide to label as “other.” We also get lots and lots of songs to move us along – songs about love, not surprisingly, but also about working in a dress shop and aspiring to bust out of the limitations society sets for you. This is true not just for our robot hero Constance (Jennifer Harding), but for her would-be swain Will (Alan McHale), and it’s hard not to root for them to succeed both with making their lives into something that makes them happy and in finding love.

The Clockmaker's Daughter

The Clockmaker’s Daughter


From a set perspective, this is not just one of the most complex but also one of the most evocative constructions I’ve ever seen in the Landor. David Shield has not just made gears and springs for a workshop, but the gewgaws and frippery of a dressmakers shop and a rooftop with a nighttime sky, all done in the most compressed of spaces with a golden door and columns staying in place throughout. Really well done! Unfortunately such good luck was not had in the costuming – it ran the gamut from 1870ish through 1895 (early Gibson girl) and … it’s a horrible thing to get fixated on but hard to avoid since I’m obsessed with late Victorian clothing and this play had so much in it about dresses. I realize they must have been pulled from rental stock, but at the least the tears visible on opening night should be fixed, especially for the man who is supposed to be from a big clothing manufacturers – his trousers were destroyed at the heel and, although it was a small detail, it was so wrong for his character I couldn’t get over it. It was like the box that has a dress in it that is “thrown in a well” (a set piece with a hole in it, also used, when covered, as a table) – for almost half of the first act, every time the “well” appeared I could see that box peeking out of it … talk about ruining the suspension of disbelief! I also was unable to see why the clothes (especially the first dress) that Constance sews were supposed to be so special … just another hour’s effort with maybe some tiny bird and flower figurines might have really put that first dress over the top, and the rest of them, I don’t know, needed to have a more unified “magical” feel to them. And Constance needed to look a tiny bit more mechanical – perhaps a blatantly artificial wig would have done the trick.

In the end, I found this “steampunk fairytale” a rich evening out but not as rewarding as I had hoped – the good singing and palatable melodies still didn’t succeed in sweeping me along the way I hoped (I’m like hummable melodies and the songwriting wasn’t as catchy as I’d like), and my grounding in fairy tales left me fighting against being force fed a 2015 message. But I think lots of people will enjoy it, and in the intimate space of the Landor it’s an overwhelming experience of the kind that makes it hard to keep your critical faculties front and center instead of just sitting back and letting the luscious wall of unmiked sound wash over you. It’s certainly a good evening out and well worth the effort of visiting the Kingdom of the Claphams.

(This review is for an opening night performance that took place on June 1, 2015. It continues through July 4th.)

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 – Get Aladdin – Above the Stag at the Landor Theater

January 8, 2013

Well, darlings, we are simply at the DREGS of panto season, the very BOTTOM of the barrel, and if you’re scraping it looking for a few last sad laughs I can’t express what a SURPRISE you’re going to have if you manage to get one of the few remaining tickets for Get Aladdin at the Landor Theater, which was sold out SO FAR AHEAD way back in November, darlings, that I couldn’t find a single pair of tickets until all the way in January. Apparently people LOVE the Above the Stag pantos, and God knows I’d been trying to get into one for YEARS, but I’m really not that fabulous, you see, just some hack hag with a blog and theater fetish, and I was NOT their scene.

But there I was the Sunday after New Year’s anyway, keeping company with a VERY manly crowd that couldn’t help but remind me of my glory days back when I was 16 and used to spend the night boogieing away to Yaz and “It’s Raining Men” down at HotBods and Farrah’s in Phoenix, Arizona (yes, we’ve come a long way, baby). But it seemed VERY promising and I had a LOVELY companion with me with whom I was sure I could laugh uproariously at the most inappropriate things (yes, macing your ladybits when you thought you were using FDS was actually pretty funny in my book) and it seemed to me that we were going to have a GOOD evening.

Well, things initially seemed a bit ropey, what with the tawdry stage dressings and our single villain (Abanazar) looking like a milksop if ever there was one – he had the face of a young Rowan Atkinson and was parading around in a cheap pinstriped suit! Boo, hiss, BORING darling. And then the policewoman with her pre-PC Chinese accent – what century was this, anyway?

But then (at about the time the curtains were pulled away), things really started to come together. I mean, Abanazar was a bit comic as a bit of East End rough, but actually, a Chinese factory owner was perfectly situated to be a villain in today’s world; and our PC turned out to be an English lady pretending to be Chinese, thus doing it badly and making it a forgivable character trait rather than an incredibly inappropriate and racist directorial choice.

And oh, the gay! The lovely gay! Not only did we have a very sexy Aladdin, but his true love was the prince of the province of How Hung, whom the villain was also trying to seduce! And Widow Twankey was not JUST a dame but well and truly a Queen of the Drag, who perhaps didn’t have the kind of costumes she might have got with a bigger budget but had 10 times the personality of any of the dames I saw on stage this year. And so much witty banter! And SO much teasing of the audience!

Boys and girls, are we clear, this was a fabulous night out and top notch panto, unbeatable for raucous laughter, terrible puns, smutty innuendo, and … a finale with a hard hitting attack on modern day politics (let’s say it happens in London and ISN’T about female bishops) that was delivered in a 100% comic way that I found represented the best of British humor … laughing as we cry. Blow the bubbles, my cupcakes, and catch the sweeties (perhaps in your laps – ooh, I mean the genie of the lamp), and make sure that before January 13th you remember to Get Aladdin.

(To be clear I had just a wee bit to drink before I wrote this review and the spirit of the evening kind of took me away. Show seen 6 PM Sunday January 6th; it continues through January 13th.)

Review – A Winter’s Tale (musical version) – Landor Theatre

November 20, 2012

It really has been an extraordinary year for Shakespeare for me – not just two Henry Vs but two visits to my least favorite of all Shakespearean plays, A Winter’s Tale. Sure, Propeller could motivate me to get off my duff the first time, but what in the world would lead me to go a SECOND time, in the same year, to see it again, when I had been freshly reminded of all of the things there were to dislike about it (a completely unsympathetic male lead, a ridiculous alteration in his mental state, an ending even Disney wouldn’t dream of)? In this case, it was the promise of getting to see a new musical, and a genuine curiosity about what would be done with this flawed play as an adaptation. Would its faults be sanded away, like a bad novel in the hand of an incredible movie director? Would it turn out to be an amazing musical with a slightly strange plot? Might I be witness to the birth of musical theater history, a la Kiss Me Kate? With a complimentary reviewers ticket and a complete openness to magic happening, I walked into press night at the Landor and grabbed myself a front row seat.

Things that worked well about this production: the voices (Pete Gallagher as Leontes was entrancing; Abigail Matthews shone as Perdita); the costumes (sort of late 19th century but with an imaginative flair); the ensemble numbers that made good use of the Landor’s limited stage. There were some liberties taken with the text that didn’t seem to ruin the essential story (though I question why Hermione was renamed Ekaterina?), and certain changes even added to it (the reduction of jealous tension during the sheep shearing festival certainly allowed more comedy).

Despite its strengths, though, despite the fact the story flowed and the characters felt solid, I felt that this production was not what I hoped for as a musical. The songs were uniformly unmemorable if occasionally clever lyrically; it wasn’t ponderous or experimental but neither was it catchy or hummable. I enjoyed the singing and the music, but when it was over I couldn’t remember them. And by taking all of the Shakespeare out and just keeping the plot, the creators missed a big trick, of taking the words of the best poet ever in English and setting them to music, or even using them not set to music, as dialogue. Admittedly, Cole Porter didn’t need any help, and Shakespeare himself was doing adaptations from Holinshed’s Chronicles; but a musical of a play of Shakespeare’s should, I think, have some Shakespeare in it somewhere. This had none, and was, I think, poorer for it; left to its own devices, it was merely a musical version of a play I don’t like very much. Perhaps it will be attempted again with a greater talent, and then the complete casting-off of Shakespeare will be forgiven; but West Side Story was a long time ago and this was not its successor.

(This review is for the opening night performance on Monday, November 12th, 2012. It continues through December 1st.)