Posts Tagged ‘Leeds Grand’

Mini-review – Rocky Horror Show – New Wimbledon Theater (UK Tour – also Liverpool Empire, Edinburgh Playhouse, Leeds Grand and more)

January 23, 2013

While I’ve gone many times to see a movie version of a musical, I’ve rarely gone and seen the live version of a movie. This is not, of course, the order of genesis of The Rocky Horror Picture Show and The Rocky Horror Show … but back when I was going to see the midnight movies in Phoenix, Arizona in 1983, I had no idea that this clunky, disjointed film had anything to do with a stage musical – it was just a fun, late night party with all of my freaky friends. Dress up, sing along, throw toast … in a land without pantos, this was as much fun as you could have in a theater (especially if you were under the drinking age, not that people didn’t sneak booze in). I was never so advanced as to make it to the group of people who stood in front of the screen performing along with the show, but that required more dedication than I had, plus your own car.

Ah well. Fast forward (well, slow forward) thirty years to 2013 … and the Rocky Horror Show was coming to Wimbledon (well, it’s still there as of the time I am writing this). I couldn’t be convinced to go see the movie again, but I’d come to wonder: what was it like as a musical? How did it fit together? Were there songs I hadn’t heard, as happened with Chicago? Did the extraordinarily bad dialogue of the movie have its origins in the play or was it just the most god awful adaptation ever? Were there cut scenes? What might the dance bits look like with actual talent performing them (not that Little Nell wasn’t amazing in the movie, but on stage she must have been a sight!)?

However, what I NEVER thought to question was that this was going to be a STAGE SHOW and NOT a recreation of the movie going experience! So there I wound up, underdressed (with neither fishnets nor a feather boa to lighten up my winter attire), surrounded by WILD AND CRAZY YOUNGSTERS who were in gold top hats, corsets, the occasional “good girl” sweater set, and many clutching sacks full of props. I had a real laugh early on with the five kids in front of me all pulled out their newspapers to cover their heads during the rain scene. And the talking back to the performers! My God, the atmosphere it created was QUITE different with a real live actor there who was able to either pretend to ignore you OR talk back, either using it as a chance to mock you (“That’s my mother”) or to just go on a comedic riff (“Yes, down like my career … sad that it’s all come to this”). I was amazed at the tension it created, and actually a bit bothered that it was happening at all … I actually wanted to see the show as it was written, not as it evolved. But this was not to be, and clearly the Narrator (Philip Franks, who had the worst of it) had had a chance to warm up to it, as he appeared to not be thrown off stride at any point by the heckling and had even worked up some clever barbs to toss back out into the audience.

As it turns out, while the Rocky Horror Show is quirky (kind of a cross between Little Shop of Horrors and Saucy Jack and the Space Vixens), it did actually work pretty well as a stage show. The whole thing comes off much more clearly (than the movie did for me) as an homage to the bad science fiction movies of the 50s, with a bit of a 70s, post-women’s/gay/sexual liberation twist. Maybe I should have been insulted that a transvestite was set up to be a villain … or that, at the end, everyone has to show that they’re liberated because they’re willing to let themselves cross dress. Were minds really so little when this show was written? But it was really fun, not in the least because, well, phoar, Frank N Furter (Oliver Thornton) was just as yummy as the character in the movie – and possibly a little bit more naughty and decidedly better muscled. Meanwhile, without the horrible camera angles making everything swoopy and dizzy, I was able to focus on what I wanted to … so Frank chasing Rocky (Rhydian) around the lab was really very comic, Eddie (Joel Montague)’s big number could be really appreciated as a 50s number, and giant green lasers shooting around the auditorium made the whole thing very energizingly rock and roll. Plus Janet (Roxanne Pallett) had some pipes. “Sing it!”

If you want to be picky, you might point out that the stage dressings were very thin (what, two set versions, fleshed out with a cardboard car, a castle/church, and some mylar curtains?) and that the “big ensemble” feeling wasn’t really happening with only four supernumeraries. But hey, when it was time to do the Time Warp, did not the whole audience (in the half of the auditorium where people were sitting when I went) jump to our feet? Yes we did, and a good time was had by all. It wasn’t meant to be deep and it was very, very entertaining, and sexier than I expected – in short, a good cure for the January blues, ideally priced at £10, and perfect with four shots of vodka mixed with J2O.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Tuesday, January 22nd, 2013. It continues at the New Wimbledon theater through January 26th, then tours through October 2013.)

Mini-review – Beauty and the Beast – Northern Ballet at Leeds Grand

December 29, 2011

In these days of fewer dance companies and more reliance on the “tried and true” in choreography (I counted four Nutcrackers in London this December, all of them remounts), it’s a cause for celebration when a new ballet is choreographed. So when I saw some photos for Northern Ballet’s production of Beauty and the Beast, I saw dangled before me a great opportunity to see a completely new ballet (a story I’d never even seen danced before) as well as a wonderful excuse to travel to the lovely city of Leeds. Tickets were bought (not for opening night, alas, but a convenient Sunday matinee), and off I went to figure out what story supported the rather intriguing costuming.

The show starts with some fantastic scene setting, as our almost Dorian Grey-like Beast-to-be (Kenneth Tindall as Prince Orian) preens and enjoys the fun of being shallow, pretty, and popular. This scene was great storytelling, effectively communicating the idea of his incredible ego and selfishness – in essence, the monster he is inside – is laid out perfectly clearly to us. It seems fitting for an evil fairy (I think called La Fee Magnifique – Victoria Sibson) to turn his outside into a creature that matches his inside – the Beast (Ashley Dixon, most astoundingly muscular in a rather X-Men style).

The story then switches to that of Beauty (Martha Leebolt) and her family, her luckless, feckless father (Darren Goldsmith) and her shallow, selfish sisters (Georgina May and Pippa Moore). While the sisters are obsessed with clothing and dances, Beauty (in a Matilda-esque turn) is a great reader – noticed by her sisters’ suitors but disinterested in the milieu. Of course, this means that when financial disaster falls (comically done with a cleverly designed moving van and some handsome debt collectors), she’s much better able to handle sudden poverty. The scenes of Beauty’s family in the woods post-financial crisis are great, with a wonderful rusting camper van adding a very modern touch to the set while giving Beauty plenty of opportunity to show her practicality and selflessness.

I could go on with describing the story – there’s a rose, Beauty goes to the Beast’s castle in her father’s stead, happy endings all around – and the nicely done sets (such as the rose bower where Beauty sleeps – sadly the costumes seemed generally flimsy and not worth discussing) – but in summary, I was hoping for much better choreography and I just didn’t get it. There is a lovely sequence with Beauty dancing with her dream prince – the Beast in his handsome incarnation – with the envious and sad ugly Beast watching on – that had the kind of emotional complexity expressed through movement that I can really get swept up in. But so much of it was just … well, it seemed to be moving us along from plot point to plot point, getting the tale told, and not giving us a chance to revel in the joy of ballet. I often tell people that the whole point of story ballets is providing us with a plot that allows us to string a lot of wonderful dancing together, but in this case, the story really took over. I did enjoy myself, but I felt like somewhere there will be another choreographer that tells this story in a way that speaks to me more deeply as a lover of dance.

(This review is for a performance that took lace on Sunday, December 18th, 2011, where it continues through December 31st. The show runs for about 2 1/2 hours with two intervals; I consider it to be very suitable for families due to the sustained drama keeping energy levels high. There is a review of it in the Telegraph should you care to read it. It will be touring extensively: Edinburgh, Festival Theatre; Sheffield, Lyceum theatre; Hull New Theatre; Milton Keynes Theatre; Cardiff, New Theatre; Canterbury, Marlowe Theatre.)

Review – Top Hat (the musical, not the movie) – Milton Keynes (transferred to the Aldwych – was Birmingham Hippodrome, Southampton Mayflower, Plymouth Theatre Royal, Leeds Grand etc.)

September 2, 2011

UPDATE: Top Hat has now transferred to the Aldwych Theater, but according to The West End Whingers, my review seems pretty sound still – though you may prefer to read theirs. (The following review is from August, 2011.)

There’s been only one musical on my mind this summer – Top Hat, a brand new staging of a musical that’s previously only existed on the silver screen. For me, it was the chance to see my idol Summer Strallen in a part that actually took advantage of her triple-threat talents that I’d last seen put to their full use in Drowsy Chaperone. A dancing role previously held down by Ginger Rogers? Sign me up! Summer seemed like the perfect person for the role. Even better, there was a whole plate full of Irving Berlin songs fleshing out the original five. Sadly, though there wasn’t a London date in sight, so I was stuck going to Milton Keynes to get my fix – but, hey, nothing like seeing a show early in its run to put you ahead of the blogging pack, right? Plus, truth be told, I just couldn’t wait. Woo hoo tap dancing on the big stage SIGN ME UP!

Now, as it turns out Milton Keynes was actually way more of a hike than I’d expected – a full hour out of London (and I live an hour south of Euston so my trip back was a real marathon) and expensive as it’s on one of those weaselly train lines that charges peak fares in the evenings as well as the mornings. But, well, the running time was short enough (just about 2:30) that I could be ensured of getting back before last train, so all is well.

I’m not familiar with the story of Top Hat, as I must have seen it well over twenty years ago, so I was pretty empty of expectations. The show starts with a lively musical number that introduces us to our lead, Jerry Travers (Tom Chambers), an American dance man whose been invited to come perform in London – the London of 1930s American musicals, which is all Cockneys and Art Deco and men in top hats, with bizarre rules about politeness and an obsession with scandal (very plus ca change in my eyes). There he winds up at a posh hotel where he just starts randomly dancing away in his room in my very favorite scene from the entire play, perfectly Fred Astaire as he danced with a hat rack, and perfectly zany as the maid and service staff joined in. It was beautifully choreographed and a real joy.

In the story arc, this dance is what provokes the meeting between Jerry and Dale Tremont (Summer Strallen) – he’s tap dancing on her ceiling, and when she comes up to complain, Jerry is instantly smitten. This leads to the rest of the silliness as former permanent bachelor Jerry chases Dale around London (most wonderfully in Hyde Park, with the number “Isn’t This A Lovely Day” and the comedy in a hansom cab) and eventually in Venice, with Dale fighting her attraction to Jerry due to a mistaken identity (she thinks he’s Horace Hardwick, the man who rented the original hotel room). Of course they wind up together in the end, and there are several more wonderful dances along the way, including the amazing one with around 16 male tap dancers, who are joined by a bunch of tuxedoed women. Wow!

Sadly, the thing that kept me from really buying this show was the lack of electricity between Jerry and Dale, which kept me from really being able to get into the rest of the show – crazy that what I came for was the dancing, but then it was the acting that frustrated me! As near as I can tell, this was probably due to a very short rehearsal time – it seemed like the background dancers had probably been working on it for ages, but the leads only got pulled in about a week before the show started. (And I saw this show AFTER press night, so no grousing about my seeing a preview, please.) I was also displeased with the costuming – while some of the outfits were great, there was a general cheapness to many of them – including the what should have been fabulous feathered dress Dale wears toward the end of act two – that made the dancers look dumpy when they should have been svelte.

Overall, this was a pleasant night, but it wasn’t the blockbuster I was hoping for. In retrospect, I much preferred Crazy for You, which had wittier dialogue and a much less wooden male lead (which I suspect was Chambers’ attempt to channel Astaire). Given a few more months on the road, I am guessing a lot of my complaints will have been taken care of, and there’s no doubt that the Milton Keynes audience ate it up – almost uniformly giving it a standing ovation. This wasn’t the American tourists screwing it up, it was English people expressing their appreciation for a show they really enjoyed. I anticipate a successful tour and I do hope that it makes a London transfer after it’s had several months to bake.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Thursday, August 25th, 2011. Top Hat will be touring the UK through December 10th, 2011.)