Posts Tagged ‘Rogers and Hammerstein’

Mini-review – Pipe Dream – Union Theater

August 24, 2013

It is not without reason that I have some fear of shows which have not been produced (or revived) over a considerable period of time since their debut: even more so shows which have never been done in London. There’s a good reason Ibsen’s Emperor and Gallilean never made a West-end debut; thus my suspicions about Rogers and Hammerstein’s Pipe Dream, making its London debut 60 years after the fact. But then, you know, it was STILL Rogers and Hammerstein. How bad could it be?

I’m pleased to report that, on the balance, the “Rogers and Hammerstein” outweighed the “but it never made it to
London” side of the equation. When modern musicals struggle to generate even a single decent song, old hands like R & H just pop out one good one after another. It’s the topic, then, and I think the structure that hamper this show. I’m a fan of Steinbeck and of his novels set in Cannery Row, Monterey; I’m also a big marine life enthusiast, so for me, a song about the reproductive habits of octopi and starfish was a dream come true. I am probably not in the majority in this view, however.

The material also struggles with the natural up-beat nature of Rogers and Hammerstein. They’re really not about struggling with poverty or the harsh realities that send women to work as prostitutes; they’re more about boy-meets-girl love stories. Steinbeck focuses on the innate human dignity of his characters; as transformed into the musicals format, I’m afraid they’ve had to become “cute.”

Director Sasha Regan and choreographer Lizzy Gee engage unironically with the material, giving us a great “On the Bus” dance number that unites the wastrel men and the ladies of the night, as well as a nicely executed “me and my reflection” silhouetted tap routine. But the characters stayed superficial, which was, well, not really reflecting its literary origins. Ah well, As a fine musical entertainment performed up close and personal in the Union style, Pipe Dream was still a good night out that repaid the effort it took to pry myself away from the long summer evenings of 2013 to take a trip back to an America that’s long vanished.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Saturday, August 17th, 2013. It continues through August 31st.)

Review – Me and Juliet – Finborough Theatre

October 31, 2010

I am depressed by the quality of new musicals. Jukebox musicals don’t express personality or plot, and all of the glorious costumes in Priscilla couldn’t compensate for tunes that were merely glued on; current popular musical stylings result in songs I can’t stand (Les Mis, Wicked) or, more insultingly, can’t remember. And then of course there was Paradise Found. It’s a desert out there, I tell you, with tiny little dandelions (Avenue Q, Drowsy Chaperone) just occasionally poking their heads up from the gravel. This has driven me further into the Church of the Classic Musical, where I can, at least, hear words that make my brain engage and tunes I can whistle as I walk out of the theater. Thus “Lost Musicals” has become such a thrill for me, and so has finding less-popular works by the great songwriting teams. Thus Finborough Theater’s production of Me and Juliet, a Rogers and Hammerstein show from 1953, went BING BING BING when I saw it bubble up in “what’s happening” lists for this fall … though perhaps I ought to have been a bit suspicious given my disappointment in State Fair. After all, if “Blink: and you missed it” taught any lesson, it was that any genius could still crank out a lemon. Still, lemons from this era are hot fudge sundaes compared to what’s on offer from modern composers: so off I went for the European premiere production of Me and Juliet.

The story (as you will not have seen the movie or otherwise been exposed to it, I feel it’s best to add a bit of context) is the kind I think appeals to theater geeks: it’s the back stage antics of a group of people involved in putting on a show (called “Me and Juliet”) in a Broadway theater in 1953. Jeanie (Laura Main, whom I remember from State Fair) is in love with Bob (John Addison), an electrician/lighting guy who seems determined to keep her at arm’s length. Jeanie is a bright-eyed, optimistic girl who is only working as a chorus girl “for the money” – really different from the usual “I’m going to claw my way to the top” character, but more of a “I’m just waiting to fall in love and be a wife” type. Bob reminded me of Billy from Carousel – short tempered, an easy liar, somewhat violent – not the kind of guy you’d pick as a sympathetic male lead for a musical. Much more appealing is Larry (Robert Hands), the assistant stage manager, who apparently has a crush on Jeanie and is trying to help her develop the talent he sees in her. Where will this all lead? (I’ll leave that question hanging so as to not spoil the fun. How often do you get to see a 60 year old musical about which you know so little?)

Most of the fun is actually provided by the interaction of the cast members – the stage manager who is a bully but gets his when an old flame gets in the cast; the fun Jeanie and new star of the show, Betty (Jodie Jacobs) have with each other, clowning around backstage; the debate the front of house crew and audience members have (via the song “Intermission Talk”) about whether or not theater is dead, which was the high point of the show for me. I loved that I cared about every word of the songs that were sung; the cast members generally sang well and the dancing done on the very small stage was both quite respectable and a good use of the space. In fact, I’ve never seen the Finborough looking so good (though it’s only my third visit). The costumes didn’t hold up to my standards (I’m very picky about 1940s/1950s looks and am convinced I could do better on whatever budget they had to work with, though of course I’d just pull it all from my closet) but were tolerable and even fun; and hey, there was a tap dancing routine!

Though the play itself occasionally was slow and the story not … I don’t know, iconic, I’ve got to mention one point that really raised the adrenaline in the room: the cha-cha/”south of the border” number. This seems to have been a requirement in nearly every musical created in the 1950s, though I don’t understand just what was going on culturally to make this happen. Think Desi Arnaz in “I Love Lucy” and of course “Who’s Got the Pain” from Damn Yankees: if you’re having fun, you’ve got to have some cha-cha/samba/Cuban fever happening. It’s bizarre: still, there were the actors coming out on stage with maracas, getting ready to experience some Latin rhythms. They all got into a circle for the big production number … and suddenly a maraca shot out of nowhere, heading straight for my head! It grazed my hair and disappeared, leaving me feeling like the angel of death had just passed by: back on stage, the man who’d been holding it carried gamely on shaking his empty hand, with that “deer in the headlight” look that heralded the near arrival of catastrophic on stage corpsing. How he held it together I do not know, but he got through the scene, ran away like his tail was on fire, and presumably found his composure somewhere backstage. As for the missing maraca, I dug and dug for it after the show but wasn’t able to figure out where it had gone. Still, it was a real moment of backstage (and on stage) high spirits, and gave me a good laugh. I’m pleased to say this wasn’t the high point of the night – but overall, this was a very enjoyable evening, worth the hike to Earl’s Court and well worth the cost of the ticket.

(This review is for a performance that took place the evening of Saturday, October 23rd, 2010. The last performance was Saturday, October 30th. My apologies if you missed it!)

Review – Carousel – The Savoy Theatre

February 27, 2009

Two nights ago I went with J, Jill and a random visiting American to see Carousel at the Savoy Theatre, a place I\’d never been and didn\’t even know where to look for! The show itself had been on my radar since November, when my uncle came to visit, mostly because I\’m a huge fan of Rogers and Hammerstein (the golden standard of the musical, in my mind – only Cole Porter and Kander and Ebb occupy the same heights for me) but also because it\’s a classic musical that I\’ve never seen, in the era which produced the most works I enjoy. However, it\’s also known as a bit of a dark musical due to the male lead being, er, a wife beater, and the fact that his wife sings about being okay with having him hit her. This kind of creeped me out, but I decided to just go and experience it and see how I felt about it later.

I am completely unfamiliar with the music of Carousel (it\’s part of my \”thing,\” to experience a show as if it\’s brand new if possible, no matter how forced it is to have such an experience – thus I avoid reading plays by authors I enjoy unless I\’ve actually seen them so that I can really enjoy the live experience, whenever it finally happens), so I didn\’t know any of the big songs, even though I knew the title \”You\’ll Never Walk Alone\” – but I had no idea what it sounded like! February, though, was the time for me to finally overcome my resistance to the story and indulge in my love of the classics – and £10 tickets from LastMinute were the final incentive to get me in the theater.

This, actually, turned out to be a real winner, as when we arrived, it turned out the Savoy house management had upgraded us to Row E! Now, I do believe there is no point in paying lots of money for a show in the hopes that somehow sitting closer will make a bad show better, but I was quite pleased that for once my frugal ways were really working in my favor. And it was a lovely theater to be able to admire in the full – all Art Deco to the hilt, gilded decor, a frieze of monkeys in the bar, the whole thing very OTT. We were also notified that \”Carrie Pipperidge\” was being played by Tasha Sheridan, which means this show\’s effective utilization of understudies was continuing full blast.

I was pretty put off at the very start of the show, when, after the women punched out of work (establishing the scene as a late Victorian era New England factory), the stage elements withdrew to produce … GAH animated projections instead of a real set! AARGH I was so frustrated. Is this the latest trend in cost cutting for shows, go for drops and send everything else off to Pixar? That said, I liked thet elements they did have – a man on stilts, three can can dancers, various other carnie types – but the projections irritated me continuously throughout the show, especially when movement in the background distracted me from the action on stage.

As \”center of the action\” Julie Jordan, I was quite taken with Alexandra Silber, who wasn\’t just beautiful, she was perfect for the role. She somehow managed to make the character believable – both independent, vulnerable, tough, and loving – and really kept my eyes focused on her. Maybe I can\’t figure out why she threw her life away for the sake of some silly man, but who knows what motivated girls of this era? At any rate, it was a real pleasure to listen to her sing, and I feel like she was an incredibly good choice for the role. Tasha Sherida also did a good job as Julie\’s best friend, being both cute and spunky and fun in a very Rogers-and-Hammerstein \”comic sidekick\” kind of way, but the person in charge of doing her hair really dropped the ball – it looked not just period inappropriate but ridiculously messy and half-thought-out.

Meanwhile, Billy Bigelow, Julie\’s love interest and the guy who slaps her around because he doesn\’t like her being right, certainly does a good job of being a rake and a flake and a ball of temper – but Jeremiah James wasn\’t as amazing in the role as I might have hoped for. The shoes seemed filled but not really full of personality. Lesley Garret, who plays Julie\’s aunt Nettie, was fun and well-placed in her role. That said, she could have taught the other girls a lot about how to sing correctly, as she clearly had a voice that would have made it to the back of the house, while the chorus of women singing along in the group numbers (i.e. \”Clambake\” and \”June is Busting Out All Over\”) just sounded painfully thin.

This, I think, is a problem with letting people sing with their voices miked, and as near as I can tell everyone in the cast was doing this. You could hear them sigh, you could hear them whisper – it was ridiculous! I\’m convinced this \”trend\” (if it isn\’t in fact just \”the way things are done\”) is completely ruining the quality of musicals and making stage singers weak. Seriously, if I want to hear people sing through a sound system, why not just fire up the home stereo?

Overally this was a \”good enough\” show and not a bad evening out, but it all just seemed a little done on the cheap and didn\’t overwhelm me. The dancing was okay (I did like the bit where the crew of the whaling ship faced off with the girls from Nellie\’s Soda Shack – it was kind of like \”Seven Brides for Seven Brothers\” but much better than the show I\’d seen in London two years back), and Billy\’s best friend was a great evil villain. The energy of the cast wasn\’t as up as I would have liked – I compare it with \”Hairspray,\” which was electric and energetic even from the second balcony – and can\’t help but think they were maybe a bit down about not being in such a popular show. It was a good introduction to this musical, and I\’ll probably see it again some day, but it didn\’t really blow my socks off.

(This review was for a performance that took place on Wednesday, February 25th, 2009.)