Posts Tagged ‘Philip Quast’

Review – Follies – National Theater

September 3, 2017

Imagine going into an attic, and finding a dusty Faberge egg. You open it, and inside is a music box, two keys broken. You wind it up and it starts playing pretty music while little jeweled characters whirl around in the semi-darkness. This is Follies. The story concerns a reunion of old showgirls in a crumbling Broadway theater; they reminisce about the old times, do some numbers in the guise of reliving memories, and perform a few things together as their current selves while the shadow of their past mirror them in the wings and disintegrating dressing rooms. Eventually the story focuses on two couples, Sally and Buddy Plummer (Imelda Staunton and Peter Forbes) and Phyllis and Benjamin Stone (Janie Dee and Philip Quast), whose lives have not quite matched the hopes they had back when the girls were on stage and the boys were wooing them. This leads to an entire suite of “The Follies” of these four people … which has a total “jumped the shark” feel to it, but hey, it’s a musical, when do these things make sense? If Sondheim was tired of writing songs in the style of old vaudeville numbers and wanted to do more emotional reveals, that suited me fine. And the dance numbers from this section were just completely nuts – probably closer to what an actual review would have been like back in the day but something I’d really never seen on stage – only in the movies.
faberge-egg
Are you reading this to decide whether or not to go? Then open a new tab and just get yourself some tickets now, because if you love musicals of the Sondheim variety, then you probably already knew you had to go and just wanted confirmation. I’m doing that. You’re confirmed. And remember the National releases rush seats every Friday for the next week’s show for 20 quid – so if it’s sold out by the time you read this, it’s not in fact too late – you just need to jump on the ticket buying next Friday. (And please remember it’s 2:10 no interval so save your wine for after the show.)

To me, the genius of this production is doing this show in London, where assembling some ten or so top shelf actresses who are out of the ingenue era is as easy as grabbing a handful of sweeties out of a candy barrel, and we, the audience, come out winners (while the actresses get some damned fine material to work with). Our cornucopia of theatrical riches spills out on stage, greatly enhanced by the National’s shameless expediture on brilliant costumes for the “young” versions of the various actresses – Miss 1930, Miss 1925, et cetera – which we get to sit and enjoy as they glimmer and shimmy behind or alongside their modern (1971) counterparts.

The various conceits – of having musical numbers done from this classic era of stage, of shifting the story between the “girls” and the two couples, of having all of the characters represented by both their modern and their much younger selves – does so much to structure this show that it feels like it teeters of the edge of having just gone too far but ends up feeling masterful. We are just as much in the hands of a person who is on top of their game as I was earlier this year at The Ferryman. And the four leads were … well, actually, I do have a bit of a beef, because although I came to see Imelda Staunton, I felt that as Sally Plummer she was too one note. Sure, the character is a bit unhinged, and yeah Ms Staunton can dance and sing, but … I thought there were more depths to be found, somewhere, especially by such a skilled actress as Staunton. Maybe I’m wrong; maybe Sally was just written that way. But as consolation we have the magnificent “Losing My Mind” … and Janie Dee’s “Could I Leave You” … and, my God, just SO MANY GOOD SONGS.

I know. I’m just a blogger. I’ve let you down. There are better words I could use to describe this show. But mind this: I have already bought a ticket to go back. And when I sat there watching it, goosebumps raced over my skin, and I thought, “My God, this is it, an honest to God five star show, perfection incarnate, and I am here seeing it at the National and people will be talking about this show for years.” I know I will.

(This review is of a preview performance that too place on August 30th, 2017. Follies is running through January 3rd, 2018.)

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Review – La Cage Aux Folles – Playhouse Theatre

July 31, 2009

On Friday I had the magnificent opportunity to see a well-reviewed play with a topic/theme I found intriguing at the WORLD’s best price ever. Let me be clear about what a screaming deal I am talking about: I saw the Menier’s production of La Cage Aux Folles at the Playhouse, from the third row, for the stellar sum of £5.

To be honest, rather than giving a rip about my review, I think more of you are going to be interested in how I pulled this trick off. It’s all due to joining the Ambassadors Theatre’s mailing list. They have a regular email alert with sort of unimpressive deals, £25 for shows normally £45 or so, which I ignore because it’s not such a good deal. But then this email came out saying “Quick! £5 for first 10 tickets to each show of La Cage for the next month!” And there I was with the email nice and hot in my hand and I was at my keyboard and work was quiet AND I had been planning on seeing this show for ages but just hadn’t done it because I wasn’t willing to cross the £20 price zone and voila magic happened. Seriously.

I’d been planning on seeing this show for ages but was pissed off because the “best seats available for $25” deals all came with a little * and a note at the bottom of the page saying, “*Well, no, not really the best seats, just the seats we’re going to call the best available, because we don’t want to sell you the other seats. You’ll note ‘best’ is ‘really not very good.’ Tough.”

At any rate, I’d almost bought seats a couple of times, and this time I jumped like a spider had just landed on my leg. WHAM. Four seats, 20 quid, HUZZAH! And then I had to wait.

So, after not having seen this show for nearly 7 months since I’d originally been thinking about going to it, how was it, really? Sad to say, I found it unpleasant for a variety of reasons, none of which had to do with the Cagelles, most of whom I wanted to take home with me (or be taken home by). No, it was the script, and the acting, that bugged me. First, Philip Quast (Georges) and Roger Allam (Albin) were … so camp it was positively panto. It felt like straight guys trying to act like how English comedy musical audiences would expect gay characters to be. And then there was the black “maid.” Nolan Frederick may have been an understudy (it seemed like half the cast was), but this wrist flapping, bubbly, squeeing and oohing black man to me was every worst stereotype of a black servant turned gay. I couldn’t believe he found this role within the scope of his dignity to play. I mean, I’ve met plenty of queeny black men in my life but they’ve never felt scraping and servile. It was like being stuck in some horrible revue written by the BNP. Did no one notice how bad it was?

Finally, and there’s nothing to be done about it (other than a major update), but I could not swallow the primary “twist” of the script, that Georges would allow his son to bully him into kicking his life partner out of the house they shared, even for a night. What The F**k. It’s just not done, and I don’t care if it was the 70s. He wouldn’t have put his mother or granny on the street for the night, how could he possibly be okay with doing it with someone he supposedly loved, even for one evening? IT WAS THE HOUSE THEY BOTH OWNED, YOU CAN’T KICK THE OTHER PERSON OUT. And for the son, Jean Michel (Ben Deery), well, he came off as so slimey and unsympathetic that it killed rather a lot of the “comedy,” but it was ultimately Georges betrayal that killed the fun in this comedy. I couldn’t get over the hump of this person being so horrible to his partner and I wasn’t really able to get my funny bone tickled during the show, even when the horrible in-laws-to-be showed up. The songs were kind of nice, I did enjoy all of the numbers with the Cagelles and the big silly scene at the restaurant, I really liked when Georges was wooing Albin at the seaside restaurant, but too much bothered me for me to really enjoy this show.

Here’s what I think. This show should be set to England (to get rid of the comedy element of 9 cast members with English accents and only one with French) and the show should be rewritten so “George” does NOT agree to kick “Al” out, but does agree to pretend to be married to “Gene’s” birth mother (Gene of course never asking for anything so caddish as to have Al turned out of his home). Then we could do the rest of the laughs without the pallor of heartlessness and selfishness that turned La Cage for me. While I can’t say it was a bad show, the way it plays now I found it was a far cry from the light evening of comedy and fun I was expecting.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Friday, July 24th, 2009. La Cage is booking through 2010. FYI, John Barrowman is taking over as Albin/Zasa come September 14th.)